A User Research FAQ

In Patterns in design research, Nick Bowmast looks at one of my recent talks and realizes that the Q&A discussion deals with many of the standard questions he often faces. He wrote up a tersely-worded FAQ based on the discussion. Thanks, Nick!

Q: One on one’s or Groups? A = One on ones. (Don’t say the other F word).
Q: How do you know when you’ve done enough interviews? A = Depends, but 30 is a big number.
Q: How do you avoid bias from the client or in the sample? A = Accept and work with it.
Q: When should we do it ourselves vs have other people’s go out and do the interviews for us? A = Depends, and collaboration can work in many ways. [Also see this – SP]
Q: How do you prioritize all the questions to be able to answer all of them right? A = Work with the client to nail it down.
Q: What would be the right team size in the field? A = Two
Q: Can you use something like Skype or Google Hangouts to interview them? A = Yes, but there are significant tradeoffs.
Q: How to deal with users who just keep on talking in an interview? A = Be polite but firm. Cut your losses if necessary.
Q: How do you go about recruiting people / how do you convince strangers to do interviews? A = Use a recruiter. Respect and honour people’s time.

Improve your Soft Skills at UX Australia

I’ll be in Melbourne next month as part of UX Australia, leading my
Soft Skills Are Hard workshop. I’ve been iterating this workshop for the past 18 months and have been very impressed with the people who have come and worked hard to assess their own goals and to work together to design processes, tools and habits for themselves and each other in order to improve those soft skills. I see that people have found it to be a profound experience that has made a difference in how they think about their work and their careers.

We’ve looked at literally hundreds of soft skills, such as

  • Collaboration
  • Permission to fail
  • Communication
  • Pattern recognition
  • Thinking broadly
  • Critical thinking
  • Listening
  • Focus
  • Respect
  • Coping with ambiguity
  • Visual thinking
  • Managing stress

For the areas that people find most relevant, they’ve developed a set of best practices to help improve that skill. For example,
Be More Patient

  • Give another person benefit of the doubt
  • Practice being patient at home or with friends
  • Listening – give others a chance to speak regardless of if you think they’re right or wrong
  • Breathe, pause mentally before offering your own point of view
  • Acknowledge that there are many ways to do one thing
  • Remember that people need/want to be heard
  • Reference past experiences when having patience has worked in your favor

If you’re around Melbourne at the end of next month, please sign up for the workshop!

Bonus: here’s some more examples from past workshops
Be Patient

Time Management

Compassion

Networking

David Isay on selective memory

Krista Tippett interviewed David Isay for her show On Being. He talked about interviewing his father and his story highlights the gap between what we remember from an interview and what actually transpired in that interview.

DI: I remember that I asked him when we were in the StoryCorps interview, “What are you proudest of in life?” And my memory of that was that he said “the books I’ve written.” And I always teased him. I said, “Dad, we’ve done, whatever, 10,000, 20,000, as time went on, 50,000 interviews, and everybody says their kids. And you, the one person, you said, ‘my books.’” And I just endlessly went after him, and the night he died, I listened to the interview, and I said, “What are you proudest of?” And he said “My kids.”

KT: Really?

DI: Yep.

KT: Was that exchange even in there? What you remember? You just didn’t remember it?

DI. ISAY: Yes, and then he said, “I’m also proud of my books.”

Takeaway: Record your interviews and go back to those recordings — don’t rely on your memory!

Keegan-Michael Key on Improv

When I speak about improv, I point out that despite what you may think, improv is not about chaotically doing WHATEVER BLAH WHOO but rather working with highly-constrained problems, with both axes of freedom and axes of constraint. In this video Keegan-Michael Key talks about this concept in a lovely and evocative way, describing a metaphorical notion of the camera pulling back and revealing more context, and as the performer, looking for (and incorporating) more information beyond what you are given.

(Thanks, Ian Smile)

A “first interview” story

Jennifer Kim talks about her experience in preparing for (or not) conducting her first interviews. She is honest about her mistakes, and what she’s learned. I found myself feeling critical of her general neediness: when a participant doesn’t react well to her unprepared interviewing, she is hurt; when a participant gives her feedback and encourages her, she takes that to heart. It’s her job to make the participant feel good, not the other way around. But that lesson may come later, she’s the rawest of beginners and is revealing her own vulnerability in the experience, and I give her full credit for that strength of character.

(thanks to Christina Wodtke)

It’s a wrap for Dollars to Donuts, Season 2

I just wrapped up the second season of Dollars to Donuts, the podcast where I speak with people who lead user research. Check out all the great interviews this season. Links include transcripts and links for each episode.

An interview about The State of UX Research

I was interviewed by Jen Ignacz of Topp. We spoke about the history of user research (at least how I experienced) and some of my thoughts about the present – and future. Check out the audio and/or read the transcript here.

I remember that we did this project with IBM that was very much like the future of the home PC, so for us that was really, really new and exciting. Maybe a lot of people might be rolling their eyes like yes, we’ve seen that we’ve done that, so that was this watershed moment where we were able to do a sort of an industrial design type of project, but it led with ethnography – it led with rethinking the whole purpose of this thing they were making. And right after that we got approached by a packaged goods companies that wanted to rethink breakfast, and that was the exciting part because their innovation part of the business was getting clients that didn’t look like industrial design clients. It was someone else coming through the door, and that was the moment where I think we thought “this is a real thing” – you know, companies – business is looking into this and we can work on all kinds of stuff. I think that was a huge moment. Fortune, BusinessWeek and other magazines were writing cover stories about ethnography or anthropology, and showing pictures of people in pith helmets or scientists or similar. The conversation turned a lot more serious and specific about how this kind of work was going to help business. I think the work we were getting and we were doing, and this kind of popular press shift, we started to feel like oh, this really is a viable thing for business, a viable service to be offering. We will see products made this way from here on out, so that was kind of the transition.

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