Want the perfect mix to solving virtually any business challenge? How to conduct user interviews with impact.
In the cocktail of innovation, design thinking is the secret recipe—the way to bring all the ingredients together to get the result you want. But how do you know the mix your customers are wanting? How do you make sure the product, service or process you’re looking to improve or build is the mojito with fancy umbrella they’ve been asking for? Thankfully the answer is simple—you can ask them.
We help our clients solve pressing and complex challenges—from an AFL footy club needing to design the perfect fan experience to a stockbroking firm needing to revolutionise the communication of market information. By putting the user at the centre of the process, it is difficult to stray from creating something that works.
Of course one of the most critical things about creating the perfect cocktail is getting the ingredients right. And one of the most effective tools in our design thinking mix (and the one we always recommend starting with) is the user interview. A one-on-one 15–60 minute conversation intended to understand a person’s habits, belief systems and behavioural triggers.
Here are three tips for getting the most out of interviews to generate insights and understanding.
You can use interviews from just a small number of people. In the first stage of a project, vow to interview just 3 users from your target audience before making any concrete decisions about the product. We have found this produces more grounded and insightful data than sending out one survey to a thousand potential users. This process will take half a day max and help you validate or reject important assumptions such as “Does this target market have this problem?”, “Do they already do something to try and solve the problem?”, “Is this current solution less effective/more costly than mine?”.
Ask them “when” and “where” rather than “why”.
The ability to rationalise is a uniquely human characteristic. It’s also one to which we can attach a tad too much confidence as well. Quite simply, people aren’t always aware of why they took a certain action. For example, one psychology study placed French and German wine side by side on a shelf and at the till asked shoppers why they had chosen that certain region for wine over dinner. Shoppers offered plenty of meaningful explanations, “I’m eating chicken tonight so this goes well”, “I went to France last year and I miss it”. The shoppers however were unaware that a bunch of sneaky psychologists were playing either German or French music as they made their selection. Over a two week period alternating the music, French wine outsold German while French music played and vice versa. None of the shoppers offered this as an explanation for purchase. The lesson: make it your priority to gather exact details of what happened, when and where to paint a full picture of potential behavioural triggers that might be out of the user's conscious awareness.
Find out what has been, not what will be. Another mission during a user interview is to extract stories of real past experiences connected to the problem you are solving, steer clear of hypotheticals. For example if you are opening up a gym, ask your interviewee, "How many times have you been to the gym this month?” rather than, “How many times will you go to the gym next month?” for a more useful baseline of behaviour around gym use. Your design decisions will only be as good as the data and evidence you base them on. The best possible data is the concrete truth. To illustrate this point best, read this great case study that used best interview practice to understand why homeowners wouldn’t buy houses they had told architects to make for them.
If you’re serious about understanding your customer’s experience or designing a process that works, consider user interviews as part of the tool kit. They’re a powerful technique that can be used to better understand almost any business challenge.
Get in touch with us if you’re interested in learning more about user interviews to bring user centred decisions to your company.
Co-written by Victoria Cullen and Erica Davis