The SpoolCast with Jared Spool

The SpoolCast has been bringing UX learning to designers’ ears around the world since 2005. Dozens and dozens of hours of Jared Spool interviewing some of the greatest minds in design are available for you to explore.

Episode #99 Steve Portigal’s Deep Dive Interviewing Tips Revisited

May 11, 2010  ·  49 minutes

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We tell our clients this constantly: the organizations who are most successful are the ones who are on intimate terms with how and why their customers use their product. But how? To answer that question, we invited our friend Steve Portigal to host a UIE Virtual Seminar recently on the topic of interviewing. In this podcast we revisit the topic and answer several remaining questions from his seminar.

Show Notes

At UIE, we receive a steady flow of questions about user research. There is a staggering amount of information out in the world, just waiting to guide your designs. Best of all, it's nearly free for the taking. We're happy to reveal the key to unlocking this information:

Ask the right questions.

Getting out into the world and actually interacting with real people who use, or potentially could use, your product or service is incredibly valuable. We tell our clients this constantly: the organizations who are most successful are the ones who are on intimate terms with how and why their customers use their product. But how? To answer that question, we invited our friend Steve Portigal, principal of Portigal Consulting, to conduct the UIE Virtual Seminar, "Deep Dive Interviewing Secrets: Making Sure You Don't Leave Key Information Behind"

Steve's specialty is informing design decisions by getting on the ground and speaking directly with customers. And sharing how you can do the same. Today, we release the interview Jared Spool conducted with Steve after his seminar, following up with a number of additional audience questions. You can enjoy this interview without first seeing the Virtual Seminar, but afterwards, you're going to want to see it. You're in luck. You and your team can still access the recorded seminar.  (See special offer below)

Jared asked Steve, in the end, what does the interview process really boil down to for it to be effective? Steve's answer?

You have to really, really listen.

Jared and Steve discuss several points about the interviewing process, drawing on stories from both their experiences. Here are some brief highlights:

  • Understand the why behind what people are saying. This improves designs.
  • Transcribe your interviews. They can be used as a deliverable for a client and they allow you to critique your interviewing technique. Steve uses Chromolume Transcription, but there are many options (see note at the bottom of this post).
  • How do you deal with uncomfortable situations, like when an interviewee's supervisor wants to observe your interview? Steve thinks this is often an indication of a failure in the planning process. When you're in the field, there are a couple of tricks you can use to help steer the situation towards productivity.
  • How do you deal with interviewees who ramble? Try not to interrupt, Steve suggests. This may be their natural inclination and you should try to roll with it. Try to keep them on track with very focused questions.
  • How do you end an interview when you discover you're talking with someone that won't be helpful? Hopefully your planning will avoid this, but even so, you may find later that the person's insights help you more than you thought. Stay in the moment.
  • Can you interview well into the product design stage? Sure, you can even bring prototypes. Ask, "how does this work for you?" "How would you teach your (parent/significant other) how to use this?"
  • How do you deal with difficult interviewees? There's no saving some interviews, but you should attempt to build a friendly rapport that exudes professionalism. Many times they'll open up.

Have a listen to the podcast. You'll certainly pick up some tips for the next time you're planning research or are out in the field.