UX Insights: User Interviews

Published: 6 Aug 2015 by Matt Toback RSS

I’ve been conducting a series of chats with UX professionals in the Open Source community with the intention of publishing their perspectives and methods. My first chat was with the UX Lead at a very popular config management company.

Unfortunately, he never got back to me with approval, so I’ll refer to him as an anonymous source. I can say that the company described in this post is one I’ve admired for a long time, and has been doing exciting things for several years.

Our conversation focused primarily on User Interviews. User interviews are a way of better understanding how your customers use your product and the broader context in which is exists. A user interview can stay high-level or can dig into the details. It can be conducted one-on-one or a small-group discussion. It can be short or long. But most importantly, it’s a way to “hear what other people don’t hear, to see what other people don’t see.”

This company has a vibrant and engaged community, both in their commercial and open source offerings, and one of the best UX opportunities is their annual conference.

Use groups to see patterns.

Leveraging open discussion sessions at the conference, these well-attended sessions quickly turn into an active discussion of new features and functionality. There are always a lot of opinions in the room, and quite quickly, commonality emerges.

When working with groups of users, they’ll aim to find the patterns and similarities in the discussion. These trends can identify where most users may be stumbling, and the diverse group of users helps separate individual problems from widely experienced issues.

Use interviews for context.

They then parlayed the open discussion session into in-depth user interviews. The team collected the contact information for the participants in the room, and made it a goal to interview every attendee. They ask each participant to invite any members of their team that interact with the product, always encouraging a combination of dev and ops.

Each call starts with a small set of context setting questions.

 - Tell us about the makeup of your team.
 - Tell us about the scale (how many nodes).
 - Tell us about some problems that we solve for you.
 - Talk to me about ops at your company.
 - How are you using $feature, if at all?
      - If usage is low, what are the barriers to entry?
      - What do you need out of it?

The best interviews got through the context setting questions quickly, and evolved into a conversation about the devops culture within their companies – better understanding how they find new software, implement it and get team adoption – both with their products and the many other external products that are used in tandem.

Involve co-workers.

User interviews are insightful for the UX team, but quickly become invaluable when other groups in your org are involved. When adding some other folks to the call that may not be familiar with UX Interviews, my anonymous source will always reinforce the ground rules:

 - We’re not selling anything.
 - The user will say some critical things. This is not the time to be defensive or explanatory; it’s the time to listen.

While they have over 50 active employees committing code and answering issues on their github account, the user interviews provide an opportunity to understand more broadly the problems the user is trying to solve - rather than just squashing individual bugs or issues.

Make the results available

During these calls, his team takes copious notes, transcribing them into a shared google doc, flagged notes by customer. The results are summarized, with recommendations, and distributed to appropriate teams internally.

Now you…

If you have users, you should be conducting user interviews. Write down some questions, email a user that is interested in helping, and start chatting. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how insightful they can be.

Further reading:

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