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Hans Hoffman
Hans Hoffman

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12 observations from conducting my first user interviews and survey


Recently I conducted 15 user interviews and 1 large user survey on my entrepreneurial quest to start my own software company. Admittedly, I hired a freelancer to help since I felt overwhelmed and unprepared β€” there is both an art and science to research interviews. Yes, this sounds obvious, but it really hits home when you experience it first hand. Furthermore, my perspective is biased because this is my ugly baby after all, so I wanted to avoid confirmation bias as much as possible.

I am sharing below a few observations and lessons learned for others in a similar position because this is exactly the kind of wisdom I wish had been imparted on me before I spent 4 months conducting research. Again, I am no expert so I may be wrong on some/most/everything. I am open to learning if you would like to correct me.

  1. Start interviews establishing a common vocabulary to remove the possibility of confusion and/or assumptions.

  2. Terminate interviews that are not going well. E.g. the interviewee does not have the necessary language fluency to comprehend and/or articulate their opinions.

  3. Discuss internally how the interview went immediately after to make small course corrections. E.g. Are some questions commonly tripping people up? Are you even interviewing the right people?

  4. There is always at least 1 takeaway or golden nugget per interviewee. It is your job to find it; it does not always come easy.

  5. Having an observer helps. This individual can see/hear things that the interviewer might miss.

  6. Cultural differences will influence responses, therefore you need to understand these to better understand what you are being told.

  7. Always dive into the why with interviewee responses. E.g. what does this person care so much or so little about X?

  8. Be willing to abandon certain planned questions if you are presented with an opportunity too good to pass up to dive deep into something an interviewee says that "hits all the right notes" on one of your assumptions. This happens on rare occasions so take advantage!

  9. There is a real struggle between "reeling" in interviewees and letting them go off the deep end because you never know what unexpected ideas you may uncover in your early stages of research.

  10. Clear, simple, non-biased, open-ended questions are very hard to craft but critical to maximizing your research.

  11. I am going to make a bold claim: user surveys are a waste of time and $$$ in the discovery phase of the UX design process. They are best suited for narrowing your research which is counter productive to your efforts early on.

  12. Surface-only responses are not very helpful. A "cool cucumber" does not give very insightful answers. I discovered after re-watching all the recorded interviews that stoic individuals needed to be nudged somehow to break rank so to speak to give emotional responses. Only then were we able to really dive into our research.

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