You don’t know me – Why user interviews matter

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At USAGE, one of our favorite things to do, when doing UX evaluations, is to talk to actual users. But it wasn’t so long ago, in a land pretty much where we’re sitting right now, that considered user interviews around website usage inconceivable.

Them: ‘Our website users don’t want to talk to us about how they’re using the website! That’s crazy! Just make the website pop!

Us: “Umm… Ok.

Sigh… how many times have we heard that… Isn’t it great that times have changed and folks now understand the value of talking to your users; in fact a whole industry is growing around the idea. Excellent!

UX is growing and we’re excited to be part of it. Generally, we focus on the user experience of human-computer interaction, but as time goes on our user relationship with all manners of product and service is being scrutinized, evaluated and reconsidered. User interviews are a really great way to get to the core issues of their usage, but, as Jakob Nielsen, the Father of Usability states:

“What users say and what they do are different…”

It’s true that what users say and what they do are different, but it’s still one of the best ways to get into the mind of the user.

Admittedly, user interviews are more art than science and this is one of the reasons that some folks like them, while other folks would prefer to use moderated and unmoderated remote user testing, or some other form of quantitative testing — the classic qualitive (user interviews) vs. quantitive (A/B testing) research dilemma. At USAGE, we prefer both and take a mixed-method approach. The science is nice, but it’s kind of cold, we prefer the warmth of human interaction; this approach creates checks & balances that gives a space for the quantitative information but allows it to be tempered by qualitative information.

If you haven’t done a lot of user interviews they can be tricky to get off the ground, but Charles Liu gives some great pointers in his article Never Ask What they Want – 3 Better Questions to Ask In User Interviews, where he suggests these three questions:

  • What are you trying to get done? (Gather context)
  • How do you currently do this? (Analyze workflow)
  • What could be better about how you do this? (Find opportunities)

These are great questions to get the conversation flowing. You are quickly able to determine what a user’s expectations are around how something works, but also how they’d like it work. As the user talks about their experiences, you get an insight into their world and you’re able to get a feel for what it’s like to walk in their shoes. In our experience this is the best possible way to get to know your users. While a mixed approach is necessary and pros & cons abound, there’s no substitute for getting to know your users and having that one on one relationship with them.

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