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How to conduct a good interview: Tips from a UX researcher

How to Conduct a Good Interview | UX research | Edgar Allan

Here’s a tip for anyone working on a digital experience: If you don’t ask, you won’t know. 

As a researcher, a significant part of my daily work involves interviewing people — i.e., asking them questions with a specific goal in mind. My interviewees are usually either users or stakeholders, both of whom play a crucial role in ensuring that we design the right thing. They offer valuable insights that influence design, content, product development, and even branding. However, conducting a good interview demands thoughtful planning and a solid understanding of human interaction. 

Here's a handy guide that will walk you through the key steps to ensure your interviews are effective, foster trust and understanding, and help you obtain the answers you seek, including some unexpected insights.

1. Get ready for the interview

Before the interview, take some time to get everything in order. Having a basic plan to follow during the conversation is key. I find that solid preparation is key — a safety net that helps me stay on track, even when unexpected things pop up. Before you step into the conversation, take a moment to clearly define what you're hoping to achieve. What specific insights are you seeking? What questions do you need to ask to gather the necessary information? Setting these goals and objectives not only keeps you focused, but also ensures that every question and interaction serves a purpose.

2. Build connection and create trust

Begin the conversation by creating a friendly atmosphere. Introduce yourself and highlight how valuable their insights are. Give a quick overview of the project — or as much as you can share from it — to show how their input matters. This sets the stage for a focused and productive chat. Also, be clear about how long the conversation will take and stick to it, showing professionalism and respect for their time. If recording is involved, ask for permission and reassure them it's for internal use only. This builds trust and openness in the research process.

3. Practice active listening

People tend to enjoy talking about themselves, and given the opportunity, they are likely to share their thoughts. Keep your curiosity alive during the interview and truly focus on what they're saying. I often reiterate something they mentioned, not only to ensure I understood correctly, but also to demonstrate genuine attentiveness to their thoughts. Furthermore, actively listen to their input. Make sure to show authentic interest and pose follow-up questions to gain deeper insights into their perspectives. This not only helps in collecting more valuable information, but also assures the participant that they are being heard and valued.

4. Navigate different communication styles

Understanding and "matching" the other person's communication style is an important interviewing hack. For instance, some individuals may be very talkative and cover a lot of ground without much prompting, while others may need a bit more support and guidance. Try to adjust as needed to get the most out of your interactions and learn to deal with quiet moments. It's important to resist the urge to jump in and fill the silence and give the other person some space to gather their thoughts. Rushing into the next question too soon might make them feel pressured. This approach creates a more comfortable environment for genuine and more insightful discussions.

5. Balance structure and flexibility

Create an interview guide to provide direction and ensure key topics are covered; keeping the end goal in mind will help keep you out of the weeds. However, you’ll also want to be open to unexpected insights. Being flexible and adjusting the interview based on your interviewee's responses is crucial. Sometimes, conversations naturally lead to valuable detours — recognize and explore these moments, even if they weren't part of the original plan. Stay focused and be ready to dig deeper. This balance ensures you capture crucial information while maintaining a structured approach. This may involve asking follow-up questions or letting the conversation flow naturally. By keeping both your goals and the actual conversation in mind, you'll be able to conduct more genuine, fruitful discussions, enriching your research findings.

6. Wrap it up

As the interview wraps up, take a moment to ask if there's anything else the participant would like to share. Prompting them with a question like, "Is there anything I may not have asked that you'd like to comment on?" can open the door to great insights. After this, taking a moment to say thank you is more than just a courtesy — it's an acknowledgment of the participant's valuable time and contributions, which helps to end the conversation on a positive note. I’ll also often ask if there’s anyone else I should talk to (depending on the scope of the project and how far along I am in discovery). 

Mastering the art of conducting interviews is an ongoing learning process. Every interview is a chance to refine your skills and get more comfortable with the process. By applying these tips, you'll not only gather valuable insights, but also forge meaningful connections with your participants.

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