Leveling Up Your Interviews with Therese Fessenden of NN/g

You’ve mastered the basics, but now it’s time to take your interviews to the next level. This week, we chatted with Therese Fessenden, Senior User Experience Specialist at NN/g about how to get even better at interviewing. She talked about how to master the basics, hone your skills, and become an A+ interviewer. 

Therese talked about…

  • The sign you’re becoming a better interview facilitator.
  • How to master probing questions.
  • What she sees for the future of inclusive research.

Psst—can’t get enough of podcasts? Here are 30+ more of the best UX and User Research podcasts to add to your listening queue.


[3:40] You can get more out of your interviews by going in with a solid plan.

[9:44] Mastering probing questions.

[20:36] Common mistakes people make when they get comfortable doing research, like oversharing.

[29:19] Staying objective as you get further into the research and learn more.

[33:52] How do you know you’re getting better at interviews?

[35:10] Doing inclusive research. 

About our guest

Therese Fessenden is a Senior User Experience Specialist with Nielsen Norman Group, host of the NN/g UX Podcast, and manager of the 1-Hour Talk program. Her research focuses on understanding human behaviors, attitudes, and expectations in order to better orchestrate system and service design strategies.


[00:00:00] Therese: That’s the beauty of user interviews is you get to learn from people who aren’t like you. Try to be open-minded. And even if you catch yourself try your hardest to ask people why they think something, even if what you think is wow this is ridiculous. There’s always opportunities to learn. 

[00:00:36] Erin: Hello everybody and welcome back to Awkward Silences. Today we’re here with Therese Fessenden. She’s the senior UX specialist at Nielsen Norman group and an expert on all sorts of UX-y things. And today we’re going to talk about something it is pretty shocking we have not dedicated an episode to yet, but here we are. We’re going to talk about interviewing participants, but not just your 1 0 1 stuff. 2 0 1 interviewing participants 2 0 1. Thanks Therese for joining us.

[00:01:05] Therese: Yeah, thanks for having me. I’m super stoked. And also it’s quite an honor to do an episode about user interviews with you guys. So thank you for bestowing that honor on me.

[00:01:15] Erin: Thank you for taking the mantle and we’ve got JH here too. 

[00:01:18] JH: Yeah. I feel like we always joke that user research has a little bit of an academic or educational bent to it. So I’m glad we were leaning into it with the 2 0 1 reference. So yeah, I’m excited. 

[00:01:27] Erin: Not your, Not your survey class. This is a more of a seminar, except I you’ll have to pretend you can interact

[00:01:33] Therese: No pressure.

[00:01:34] Erin: yeah. Awesome. All right. Well, let’s get started. So let’s get some of that. 101 out of the way we, you know what, we’re going to head to 2 0 1 pretty quickly, but just to kind of bang through.

What did we miss in the last episode of interviewing participants? You know, for folks who maybe want to just establish what we’re not going to talk about in depth today, let’s get some of that out of the way. So what should everyone know when they’re interviewing participants?

[00:02:00] Therese: So, I guess first and foremost, there’s like different kinds of interviews. Like obviously we’re doing kind of, you know, it’s meta here and that we’re doing an interview about interviews, but the interview that we typically hear on like a podcast would not be the type of interview you would necessarily do in a research interview.

So research interviews will typically have questions that are phrased in such a way that we don’t necessarily want to provoke a biased response, but we want to provoke a response that is actually representative of what someone really wants to say or what really is true about that person’s experience. So I guess that’s the first thing I would bring up, but I guess the other thing when it comes to 101 basics with user interviews is that interviews are awesome. 

And, And sometimes a bit underrated in their ability to tell us a lot about what somebody thinks and believes and you know, until we can plug into someone’s brain with a neural link or something, you know, it really is the only way that we can get into people’s heads about their life experiences.

So, I do think they have incredible value in that regard and you know, it can be a great resource when you’re trying to learn things like what someone’s going through. And you know, where areas of pain might be with your customers. So, so yeah, that’s kind of like the very basic stuff. 

[00:03:23] Erin: Awesome. So, okay. So I think the first thing you hit on was really like, know your goal, which is kind of like user research 1 0 1, right? Like these are the purpose of this interview is not to entertain or to like gotcha somebody, right? Like, you know, a media interview. You’re really trying to try to extract insight, right.

That is hopefully germane to some sort of project or research question you have, 

[00:03:47] Therese: right. Exactly.

[00:03:48] Erin: And then the second thing you said was, you know, they’re really powerful. You can learn about what people are thinking, but you know, where my head went when you said that is, you know, not it’s not an accident that’s going to happen.

Right. That’s where the skill comes in. And maybe that’s what we’re going to kind of get into with the 2 0 1 is okay. User interviews can be really good for uncovering all this amazing insight, next best thing to, you know, tapping into someone’s brain directly, but that takes some skill.

[00:04:17] Therese: Yeah, absolutely. So when thinking about how we do interviews, like you mentioned something really important, which is we don’t get to these insights by accident. They are insights that we get to by planning. And so there are of course research plans that you may put together for other types of research methods.

So for example, if you were doing a usability study, like you don’t just show up the day of the usability study being like, cool, we’re testing our product. You usually have a series of tasks that you want to test. You usually have a series of screens that you want to put in front of people. Now, when you’re doing a user interview, you can certainly jump in and be like, Hey, how’s it going?

And have no structure to your interview. But that would be a challenge for one if you don’t have a plan. When it gets to, to use the name of your podcast, the Awkward Silences, sometimes you don’t really know where to go next. So by having a solid plan for what you’re going to learn about, you know, that’s where you’re going to get the best impact or the best bang for your buck with your time.

So I guess the other thing to think about too, with interviews, there are different types, right? You’ve got structured interviews, semi-structured interviews and unstructured interviews. So a structured interview would be the most rigid, right? You have your interview script, and it really is a script.

Like you can not deviate at all from that script. And this is the type of interview you would do. If you were running a survey, like, you know, maybe the census bureau people would walk up to your door, ask you a series of very scripted questions.

And there are benefits to that. But the downside is that, you know, when you have a script, you can’t really deviate from it. And you don’t often get to talk about the things that are really important to people. So that’s kind of the flip side of the unstructured interview, but the semi-structured interview is kind of the hybrid of both, right?

Where you have a little bit of structure and you do have a set of goals that you want to hit. But you have the flexibility to really dive deeper into something that maybe seems important to your customer. And maybe that’s something you’ve discovered along the way. So, so yeah, having goals is really important.

And then how you structure your interview script, or your guide will really determine whether you get to those things.

[00:06:33] JH: Is the example of the structured questions where you really are following a script and it’s very intentional, like the census example it’s almost sounds like you’re kind of doing a survey like audio, you know, through conversation is is there a reason, like why somebody might want to think about doing that?

Cause I think some people go that route like, oh, I want to be really prepared and I’m going to write this. But they might actually be better served by the hybrid model. You’re describing like are there rules of thumb, like when you should stick to the script versus when you should allow for a little improv. 

[00:07:01] Therese: Yeah, so that’s a great question. I think structured interviews are best suited to topics where you already know a lot about the space. And you’re kind of trying to quantify like how often something happens, which is, you know, the same way you would use like a questionnaire for example, but where a structured interview would be better than like a survey like that or a questionnaire, maybe it’s where, you know, you need a high response rate or form completion rate.

For example, if you have a really long questionnaire, People might get partway through it and be like, “this is a waste of my time. I don’t want to do the whole questionnaire.” So, you know, if you want to keep people all the way through, by talking to them there, they’re more likely to stick around because it’s a conversation.

Now I guess when it comes to, you know, when you deviate a bit part of this is uncovered when you do like a pilot. So if you do a pilot interview, maybe with like one or two people, they can actually be real, you know, representative users or customers, or, you know, they could be people who you work with, but you just want to see, like, do these questions even make sense?

Like I would pick somebody who has not been part of your script writing process or your guide, a writing process. And I would see if you know, these questions make sense. But I would say if the question does not seem to make sense consistently in that pilot, then maybe you want to reword them a little bit, but as for when you would deviate from the script.

One, one example I can give you is I did a couple of interviews recently with some farmers and it was really fascinating because these farmers got on kind of a sore subject, which was about how they, you know, they had a commodity product and it’s really hard to make a living when you’re basically making a living on pennies.

Now I didn’t have any interview questions written about making money on margins. I just did not anticipate that it would really come up. And so when those moments come up, I might use like a probing question, for example, like, okay. Tell me more about that. Like, what do you mean by making pennies? You know, how do you make yourself make more pennies?

Right. So I might start to dig a little bit deeper and maybe use some of the quotes. The customer has said, and then I can kind of use that and probe more deeply without necessarily biasing. So that’s, I guess where we get into the 2 0 1 stuff, which is like, how do we ask questions in a way that preserves the integrity of that answer? And doesn’t inject our own biases into that. So, yeah.

[00:09:26] Erin: When something comes up, that’s off script, you know, whether it’s a structured script or somewhere the hybrid kind of in between, how do you know if it’s worth probing on or just like okay let’s move on back to the script, back to the outline. Yeah. How are you, these margins? These pennies. Okay. That’s something I want to learn more about.

[00:09:44] Therese: Yeah. It’ll be one of two things. First, I’m always paying a ton of attention to body language. If somebody seems to tense up a little bit I might be approaching a topic they’re not comfortable with, and that could be, One hint to either not talk about it, or if you are really trying to get at the root of why this is painful, you know, which I think is the real reason to do a user interview.

Then I think that’s a really good signal. Like, ah, I’ve hit a nerve here, but I don’t want to hit the nerve so much that I shut this person down. So, you know, I usually look for cues and body language, or if it’s the opposite, maybe it’s not a pain point for this person, maybe it is an area where this person gets super excited.

Like they’re just chomping at the bit, ready to talk about something. They’re just waiting for the opportunity. Sometimes those folks will bite their tongue a little and they’ll say something like, oh, well we’re going on a tangent here.

Not that important we can, you know, we’ll talk about that another time.  Sometimes I’ll say no. Tell me more, like what is this tangent? Because sometimes a tangent is just something that has, you know, started because they were reminded of something important in our conversation. So I don’t always dismiss things as off topic right away.

If they are truly off topic, then I’ll be like, okay, thank you for telling me that. But I’ll never say that was off topic. Like

[00:11:02] Erin: Right,

[00:11:02] Therese: nothing will make someone shut down more than just being like, so I’m going to stop you there. And we’re going to talk about something else. So I do try to honor whatever it is people tell me even if it is slightly off topic I just, maybe don’t spend as much time later in the analysis.

[00:11:18] JH: Cool. So there’s, it sounds like there’s almost two points here in the census. One is you got to kind of have that intuition and sense of when something might be worthy of some follow-up and some probing, but then I guess also there’s kind of the craft of the technique of you need some good probing questions in your pocket or ways to kind of start to unpack it and things like that.

Is it kinda like what you said, just tell me a little bit more about that. Is that, does that get you like the 80 20 or are there other ways that you’ll try to go deeper in a given area? 

[00:11:42] Therese: Yeah. I feel like with probing questions, I like to have like a bank of them sometimes, because you can only say, tell me how you feel about that. You know, so many times before somebody’s like, oh my gosh, you know, it feels a little bit redundant or annoying. So I’ll usually use a couple of different types of questions to probe.

And sometimes they’re you’ve done the probing that there is to do, like you stop learning anything new. At that point, I’ll say, okay. You know, I have a couple other questions that I’d like to discuss with you. I don’t make it sound like they haven’t given me anything useful. I just make it sound like, oh, I had this other thing I just remembered, you know, I kind of use that feigning ignorance a little bit or feigning a distraction. So that way it doesn’t feel like something they’ve done. It feels like something, this researcher is just all over the place about. So there’s a little bit of like, I don’t want to say manipulation cause it’s not really manipulation, but it’s about presenting your questions in such a way that even if they don’t flow normally they feel like they’re organic experiences.

And so that’s really where the craft comes into play.

[00:12:43] JH: Yeah, it sounds like you develop some practice where you kind of know how to transition and segue between. Okay. I want to probe over here, but I want to start pulling back and get back over here in a way that doesn’t come across as intimidating or like some sort of tell to. the participant.

Is that like a fair summary? 

[00:12:56] Therese: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. And actually you did a technique that sometimes I will use as a way to wrap up a topic, which is called summarizing. So it’ll be like, is that a fair assessment? You know, you kind of wrap up what somebody has said. pitch it back to them in your own words. Now, of course you have to do this in a certain way with a certain level of tact and skill.

Otherwise it sounds like you’re explaining someone’s own lived experiences back to them, you know? So, there definitely is, you know, some craft to it. But I do think, you know, asking that question, like, did I get it right? Am I accurate? Did I mess something up? It gives you a responsibility over that.

Over that summary. And can you take responsibility for any errors in that? And don’t really put the error on the user or on the customer?

[00:13:39] Erin: So Therese, what I heard you saying was that now if you want to move on to another topic, you can just tactfully kind of repeat back what the person said to you. Is that accurate?

[00:13:50] Therese: Yeah, I would say that’s accurate.

[00:13:52] Erin: Excellent. You also mentioned that you have like these banks of questions you ask, which I think this could be a great thing for us to maybe add to the kind of print edition of this for folks, but having that, those questions in your toolkit that, you know, you can come to, do you have any other favorites for either probing or trying to move on or in different kinds of scenarios?

Questions that have the feeling of being organic, but also really are trying to do a job for you as the interviewer. Whether again, yeah, go deeper or go back to the heart of the matter.

[00:14:25] Therese: Yeah. So if, like, for example, if I want to redirect a conversation, I might say something like, oh, you know what? I just remembered, you mentioned blank before. Can you tell me a little bit more? You know, what made you think of that? Or can you tell me a little bit about that specific saying and what I’ll do too is I guess this is another.

Tip I would recommend is if you are the interviewer, definitely don’t take extensive notes. It is really difficult to take notes and then build rapport because you’re trying to make eye contact. You’re trying to really actively listen. And it’s hard to do that when you’re trying to transcribe the interview in real time.

So I guess first and foremost, don’t try to take extensive notes. However, if you want to use it. You know, a certain phrase is like a callback, so to speak, like if you were to, you know, say, ah, there was this thing that was interesting. You could write down on a piece of paper, a keyword that maybe serves as a memory like a memory cue for you, then, you know, that could be one technique that you can use later when talking to that customer.

[00:15:29] Erin: Yeah. Yeah. I love that. With note taking, right? So there’s a few alternatives to taking extensive notes for yourself. One is to get a buddy to do it for you. Another is transcription, and then there’s probably some others I’m not thinking of.

Do you have a preferred method for doing that?

[00:15:43] Therese: Yeah. I would say my preferred method, if I have the consent of our participant then I say, Hey, can I record this? And the way I usually pitch that to when I’m running, my interview is, Hey I’m a terrible note taker. And I really would like to, you know, keep some of the knowledge from this interview.

Is it okay if I record this so that I can try, I can transcribe it for myself. And usually people are very gracious about it. They’re like, oh yeah, totally understand. And they’ll let me record now I do, you know, if people show a sense of like, Uneasiness or nervousness about being recorded. I usually go on to say, you know, exactly, who’s going to have access to these recordings.

Like, oh, it’s just going to be me and one other researcher, or if it’s going to go to a client, it’s going to be between me and the client’s research team. So I try to reassure our participant that it’s going to be maintained confidentially and I do anonymize everything anyway. So, yeah. First preference is usually a transcription, which I kind of clean up later to remove any identifying information. But if I can’t get that, maybe the participant still doesn’t want to be recorded. I say, okay, no problem. My colleague here is going to help me take notes. So that’s kind of my backup option. But yeah, I would say in the worst case scenario where you can’t take notes or you can’t have someone there to take notes for you and you can’t get a transcription I try to take some notes, but I usually kind of consider it a little bit of a wash because you can only take so many good notes when you’re running an interview. So, yeah, but the transcription is awesome. I highly recommend it.

[00:17:17] JH: There’s a couple things you mentioned now that are kind of around like managing or having a good relationship with the person you’re interviewing. Right. So there’s explaining why you need to record something and being really transparent about who’s gonna have access to it. or being kind of self-deprecating or like, oh, I forgot.

Can we get back over to this thing and make sure you don’t shut them down? Where do you fall on the importance of building some of that rapport, doing things, you know, at the start of the interview to like, get that foundation or warm somebody up. Do you have a set of things you do there or is that very situational or how do you think about that? 

[00:17:46] Therese: I would say it’s kind of situational, but mainly it has to do with, you know, the medium that were operating in. So for example, if it’s an interview that I’m doing in person I usually will go as, as the researcher, I will go to the lobby of wherever it is or the waiting area, wherever we’ve designated a waiting area for participants, I’ll go and pick up the participant personally, and then walk them to the area where we’re running the interview.

This is sometimes a task that’s like delegated to. You know, interns or something like that, because it’s kind of a menial task, just walking back and forth and bringing somebody, anybody can do that. But I think it helps a lot with building rapport because it’s those first moments when somebody’s kind of not sure where they are, you know, they’re, they’ve gotten to this strange building to talk to some strangers about some intimate details about their life.

So it can be a bit stressful. So the more I can spend time talking about non interview things, the more I can make this person more comfortable. And when it’s online, of course you don’t necessarily have a waiting room. You can walk people with it instantly.

Usually they’re brought into the room and tada here we are face to face. So I’ll usually spend that time just getting to know the person, asking questions like, Hey, can you tell me where you’re calling in from, even if I know, like on the questionnaire I’ve seen on the questionnaire, like all of their details, where they work, even if I do know that stuff already, I’ll still ask it as if I haven’t read it.

That way it allows them to talk about something they know themselves and to talk about details that maybe aren’t that personal. So, yeah, I do reserve some time for intros, but I do think it’s an important part, and for me I believe it or not, I’m kind of introverted. And it often drives me nuts to have to do small talk, but I know that it does help people. So when I do the small talk, I think of it as a means of getting them comfortable.

And that kind of makes the small talk easier for me. But yeah, that’s usually what I’ll focus on.

[00:19:37] JH: So we have a, you know, we have somebody who’s done the 101 they’re getting pretty good at the 2 0 1 stuff they’re learning. They’re learning all the basics. What is like, what would you tell that person in terms of like, just don’t do this. Like, whatever you, you start to get confident. You’re, you know, you’re feeling yourself a little bit as an interviewer.

Just make sure you don’t do this. Or are there any things that come to mind? 

[00:20:36] Therese: Yeah, I would say number one, and this is more, this is something I used to do a lot is I try to get really friendly and approachable and to some extent you should, but then there is a point at which you might be getting too familiar with the participant. And what I mean by that is there are times you might start agreeing with the participant being like, oh my gosh, I had the same exact experience, right?

Or like, you start to kind of gush about somebody’s responses and in a way you are empathizing with your participant, but now it’s starting to kind of taint the responses of your participant because most research participants are there too. You know, make the researcher happy. Like they’re kind of sad when they don’t make the researcher happy.

So a lot of researchers will, you know, in their excitement and in their confidence start to get a bit overly familiar, share a lot of details about their own life and their own opinions. But it’s really the researcher’s job to kind of keep a healthy level of distance where they’re still able to build rapport, but.

Not really dominate the conversation or change what somebody might say. So yeah, I would say definitely do not get too friendly. And I would also say don’t get judgy. It can be really easy and I know it’s easier said than done. But there are times you’ll have a participant where you’re just like, oh my gosh, I can’t believe they just said that’s horrible.

And it’s your job to really maintain a poker face the entire time so that this person still is willing to disclose more info because that’s how we really learn about people. And you know, there’s this saying that we have at Nielsen Norman group that, you know, you are not the user and there are plenty of times that you’ll have very different experiences from the people you’re interviewing.

And that is the beauty of user interviews is you get to learn from people who aren’t like you. So my other big tip would be to try to be open-minded. And even if you catch yourself yeah. I’m definitely one of those people that wears emotions on their sleeve.

You know, try your hardest to ask people why they think something, even if what you think is wow this is ridiculous. There’s always opportunities to learn.

[00:22:49] Erin: Yeah, it’s really interesting. I’m just thinking about, you know, depending on what the person might say, that, you know, you don’t agree with. There’s also the notion of, I don’t know, just your rights as a researcher to rare, like weird stuff can happen. And maybe there’s a response that makes you feel really uncomfortable.

Like that’s like not really something you should say to anybody

ever. Yeah.

What do you do when that sort of thing happens where it’s like, this is, I don’t know about how this is going.

[00:23:16] Therese: Yeah. So, that’s I mean, there are times that will happen, unfortunately. I would love to say that, you know, it doesn’t happen often. And I would say large by and large, it doesn’t happen that often, but a couple of ways you can avoid some of these uncomfortable situations is. I like to have a second researcher eat, whether they’re taking notes or not, it just helps to have another person there to be kind of a witness.

And that kind of keeps people’s behaviors in check a bit more. So like, another example might be, you know, in some cases you’re running an interview. In somebody’s house. Like you go to their house, maybe you’re doing a field study and you’re concluding your field study with an interview. And when you’re in somebody’s house, like that’s, that can be a really intimate setting.

And on the one hand, that can be a good thing to help people open up. But on the flip side, like I can think of one of my colleagues. Did an interview in a studio apartment in the UK, which if you can imagine studio flats out there, they’re tiny. And there’s really not that much seating. So there’s really only two places to sit, which is like the floor and the bed.

And so, you know, that might be really uncomfortable as a researcher. So, yeah, definitely having that second person there is key to keeping things professional.

[00:24:26] Erin: Yep.

[00:24:27] Therese: But I guess the other side of this is if somebody says something really uncomfortable or you’re starting to not feel safe in that environment, like definitely you want to keep yourself as a researcher safe.

So, you know, if you start to sense that this person’s doing strange things, like you can definitely end the interview early. Like I’ve certainly ended unhelpful interviews early where this person seems to be trolling or just, you know, Digging for a response or trying to, you know, press people’s buttons.

And so I’ll usually end those interviews early and be like, you know what great. I think we got everything we needed, you know, I really appreciate your time and then send them on the way. Now, there are gonna be those in-between moments where maybe this person can tell that they don’t agree with you. But usually it’s rare that someone is really truly aggressive.

It’s usually that somebody is more like closing themselves off because they’ve been vulnerable and now they’ve been burned by, you know, a sense of judgment. So I’ll usually, you know, if I send someone’s being too silly, I’ll just kind of be firm with them and be like, okay. You know, I have a couple more questions I’d like to get to, so, I’d like to ask them so it’s not really judging them in any way, but it’s being clear that, Hey, we’re here for a purpose and that’s the interview.

And doing it in a way that’s. Has some tact. So it’s tricky. It’s a skill. It really is like a craft 


[00:25:43] Erin: There’s so much balance here. It’s like, I hear you talking about almost like minimum viable friendliness, right? Like, right. Like you, you do want to be warm and human and have them open up but not so much. So a lot of balance here between things.

[00:25:57] Therese: Yeah, absolutely.

[00:25:59] Erin: What do you think about leading questions? I hear those are bad.

[00:26:02] Therese: Oh, leading questions. Yeah. I would say those are probably the big culprit of ruining in perfectly great interviews. So first of all, a leading question would be a question that implies a certain desired answer. So, an example might be, you know, what do you think of clean rooms and like, mostly.

Rational people will be like, I like clean rooms. Like it’s rare that someone’s going to be like, no, I deliver, I like to have a deliberately messy room. So leading questions will often be these types of questions phrased in a way that, you know, hints that there is a correct answer. So we want to avoid those in, and part of the way we can do that is by in our interview guide, we can somewhat script those questions in a certain way that, you know, we can ask them in a non-leading way.

So instead of what do you think of clean rooms? We might ask a question. Tell me a little bit about the rooms in your house. And then we might go another step in and say, okay, so you mentioned your bedroom is stressful. Why is that? And it might not even be because the room isn’t clean, right? It might be, oh, this room is stressful because it’s small.

And I have children here all the time. And so they’re, you know, they’re different reasons somebody might be stressed or, you know, different reasons. Somebody might behave in a certain way. So, I think the best way to avoid leading questions is assume you don’t know what’s going on and always assume that there’s stuff that you need to learn.

So yeah, I would always say playing dumb is useful both to get a good response and also useful just to keep your own biases out of the process of interviewing. So.

[00:27:34] Erin: Yeah. The more you can not put it on yourself and your own self control to control your biases the better. Right. Just having tangible tips you can use, like, don’t ask leading questions because it’s, you know, that’s a good way to night. Put your biases out there. Right.

[00:27:51] Therese: Yeah, absolutely. And I know it’s really difficult and this is why interviewing is difficult. You’re juggling so many different thoughts at the same time. How can I ask this question to get this person to probe? Or how can I pitch this probe? To get this person to answer more about this particular thing or how can I balance this so that I can learn about this without leading and I guess a good rule of thumb would be, you know, start as high level and broad and vague as possible.

And then as you go, as you work, you can start to increase the specificity of your questions.

[00:28:28] Erin: I wonder. So if you’re doing a, you know, a project, a research study that involves. You know, a handful of maybe doing 5, 10, 20, 30, however many user interviews are part of this. I wonder how the ability to stay objective and not judgmental. Does it change over the course of the project as you’re starting to, whether you’re doing, you know, iterative analysis as you go, or you’re just starting to see patterns emerge as the interviewer you know, how does that, does it become harder, easier to do that job of staying open-minded.

[00:29:02] Therese: That is a tough question. I would say it probably gets harder to ma to not make assumptions because after a while you’re starting to connect the dots in your research. So you’re like, oh, well, this person’s stressed. I probably know what their stress is. And then there are times you’re right. That is what they’re stressed about.

But there are other times where that’s not necessarily the case. So I would say it’s often hard. Not to project your assumptions as you go through the interviews, but on the flip side, as like, for example, I just did a really big project that had about 30 interviews which was a lot that’s definitely one of the larger interview projects I’ve done fairly recently, but you know, once you get to the interviews 15 and up, you have a lot more background knowledge, which can actually be very useful.

When you start probing so you can get very specific You know, one example might be if, as we went and we learned, wow. Farmers seem to really be concerned about the pricing and the commodities market and how the price fluctuates. So now I can start to adjust or adapt my interview guide to probe in those particular directions.

Whereas maybe earlier iterations, I didn’t have that question at all. So, it’s really a good way to keep your assumptions. But also have a planned way of getting into some of these concepts that we’re anticipating will probably come up. So it is definitely walking a tight rope of not assuming too much, but using what you do know to prepare for when that topic does come up.

[00:30:34] Erin: Yeah.

[00:30:36] JH: And so as a person continues to like to add to their toolkit, right? So they’ve got the basics they’re getting into this intermediary stuff. Like where does somebody go to become an even stronger interviewer? Is it you just get reps in different contexts, like dealing with, you know, you know, talking to them from different cultures or doing interviews with kids or children or something like that, or different formats.

Is that kinda where it goes or are there other techniques that as you become a more seasoned interviewer and researcher, you want to keep leveling up on and focus on as well? 

[00:31:05] Therese: Yeah, I think it’s two parts, right? I obviously think practice is the best teacher and I mean, practice will give you experience, but it’ll give you knowledge in a way that you won’t have, if you don’t experience it, like I can tell you to go to courses. And of course we at an NNG, we do have a class called user interviews, which I teach along with my colleague Maria Rosala.

So, I will plug that, but yeah, one thing I do appreciate about the class that we teach is we make time for practice because you can only talk about interviews so much before it doesn’t really help you anymore. So I think the best way to become a better interviewer is to practice. And then the other thing you can do is as you practice, you can have that fellow researcher in the room with you as an observer, both to take notes.

And to also tell you how you did as a researcher as a facilitator. So, you know, maybe that means, Hey, you know, I noticed, as you were speaking, you did a really good job with probing questions. Although this one seemed a little leading, so then you can kind of make a note for the next interview.

So this probe was good, but maybe we can reword it in the next interview. It’s An iterative process, much like, you know, research itself is iterative. You can make improvements also iteratively. But yeah, I, and I think that the other question you had in there was about, you know, leveling up, like, how do you get to a certain skill?

It is reps, but I also think it’s the variety of scenarios in which you’re interviewing. So, you know, if that means. Not just speaking to tech professionals all the time, like for us are our primary audiences as NNg is UX professionals. And that’s important for us as a business. But the way that we get better at interviews is not just interviewing UX professionals all day long.

But also interviewing people who are completely different from UX professionals. So obviously if you have projects that allow you to do that’s great. But if you don’t. Even if it means just talking to people who have different backgrounds, who come from different walks of life, and have different experiences that will still help you as a researcher later, because when you’re in those scenarios, those folks, it’s funny.

I find myself having these moments where I’m not really in an interview setting, but when I’m meeting someone who has different experiences from me, I’ll catch myself using certain facilitation techniques in a way that’s kind of like an interview. So if somebody says, oh, well, I hate this thing.

And it’s something that I don’t hate. I might feel like. Can you tell me why you hate that? And so I end up learning a little bit, even if I don’t necessarily agree with that person at the end of the conversation, I still have learned something about them, which I think is important. So, yeah. So I would say the more variety you can get with practicing these techniques, the better.

[00:33:47] Erin: How do you know if you’re getting better? How do you know if you’re any good at this user interview thing?

[00:33:52] Therese: Ooh. I would say part of it is you, you feel comfortable for one you kind of know which questions to bring up. I know when I first started interviewing, I was always so nervous. I was always concerned. I didn’t get the right questions. And then as I got better, I got more confident now, confident doesn’t mean.

Competence always, but certainly comfort level with probing questions, it becomes more second nature. But the other thing that helps you determine if you’re getting better is the quality of your interviews will get better, even if the quality of your participants doesn’t. 

So I do think some of the knowledge of your skill will come from your ability to get people talking about themselves and the less that you talk and the more that other people talk, that’s a good sign that you’re growing as a facilitator of interviews.

[00:34:42] Erin: There’s a big focus rightfully finally, on inclusion and diversity equity and just any quick tips on.

I guess, you know, interviewing someone may be quite different from yourself. You know, we talked about this a little bit and, you know, making people feel comfortable, but that looks a lot different when someone is maybe a lot different than you are coming from a very different context. So some tips.

[00:35:10] Therese: Yeah, so inclusive. I’m really glad that inclusive design and inclusive research is top of mind for people these days. And I remember when we started talking about this at NNg, there was this big question of, are we really being inclusive with research? What are the things we can do differently? And one thing that came to mind almost immediately is okay, well, when do we do our research studies?

And the answer to that was of course, when we work, which is nine to five. But if we think about a nine to five timeframe, or even if you took into account you know, Eastern time and Pacific time, that would probably give you a window to use Pacific time from 7:00 AM to 5:00 PM Pacific, which is still a pretty narrow frame of time.

When you think about the global scale of the people that exist in the world. So when it comes down to it, not only are we reducing ourselves to a US audience, or maybe perhaps a European audience a little bit, but even within that, we’re still limiting ourselves to people who are available to do a user interview between nine and five. Right? And so there are lots of people who can’t like people who work during the day. And you know, maybe I can’t take time during a lunch break to do an interview. So maybe that means we have to change the time of day to include people who work the night shift. Or maybe it’s to include people when they’re, when they finally have free time at like 7:00 PM.

Now of course, I don’t want to condone working insane hours, but it does mean we may have to adapt our hours when we’re doing some of these interviews. So that’s one way you can think of inclusivity, but yeah, with folks with disabilities, there was often this big question, like how do I recruit folks with disabilities since you know, it’s not like you can.

Find a whole group that happens to be huddled together. A lot of these folks tend to be distributed nationally, but nowadays we have things like social media where there are these support groups popping up everywhere for people with different disabilities. And we can leverage some of those to talk to some of the administrators or moderators of those groups and let them know that we’re doing research in these spaces.

Now I know there’s. Group, you know, rules and policies that we still want to honor. So we definitely don’t want to do anything that’s against group policies, but if we can start to include those folks, like it’s actually been pretty rare that I’ve been met with skepticism. I’ve usually been met with enthusiasm.

You know, like, Hey we’re happy to participate. Just tell us what the study is about and what it’s going to be used for. And we’re happy to help you find people for it. So, you know, I would say there are definitely resources out there now thanks to the internet that allow us to be a lot more inclusive than we used to be.

But yeah, as for different cultures my colleague, Maria, Rosala just put out this I believe it was a YouTube video about interviewing people with a translator. Like there are definitely ways you can have a translator as part of your interview process. Now, of course, that also means you probably need to build in more time to allow for the translation to happen.

But yeah, it also means that you may be a bit limited, right. In terms of how many questions you can cover. So. So there are ways that you can do it. You just may need to tweak your strategy from what you would conventionally do. So see, I’m glad that it’s something that we’re working toward.

But I do think the best is yet to come with inclusivity. You know, once we do finally start to make those adjustments.

[00:38:38] Erin: Yeah. 

[00:38:39] JH: With all the shift to things more and more being remote, you know, given COVID and the pandemic and everything else that has that from your perspective, kind of helped or hurt. Inclusivity front or, you know, kind of a wash like, cause my first thought is, well, you know, geography opens up quite a bit flexibility of, you know, who you might be able to talk to or when maybe it goes up a little bit, but I’m sure there’s some drawbacks.

I’m curious. If you have any thoughts on how to do that. 

[00:39:03] Therese: Yeah. Yeah. I would say it’s been kind of a boon in a way where we’ve been able to access. All over the world in ways that we probably couldn’t have done before. It was definitely not as easy for people to hop on a video call, for example, because not everybody had zoom, you would have to know, say, Hey, by the way, can you install zoom before we meet?

Like, it’s just an added barrier. So I do think now that the pandemic has been made. Remote work and video chatting are more mainstream. It has opened up a lot more opportunities. But yeah, the flip side though, is it still can be a bit of an exclusive medium. Because not everyone has a stellar internet. In fact, when I was about to start this interview, I was paranoid because I live in a very rural area where we don’t have the greatest internet, it’s like dish network stuff.

So rural communities can often be impacted by, you know, reliability and the internet, which could prevent them from joining a video call. So, sometimes you’ll need to adapt. Maybe that means doing phone calls or audio only calls. I do still think in-person is great when you can make it happen because you do have this ability to build rapport even more strongly.

But I do think remote work and remote interviewing is a lot cheaper, which means we’re able to do a lot more interviews. So the relative payoff, I think as a whole it’s a lot more beneficial now being able to do remote interviews. So, so on the whole, I think it’s beneficial, but definitely does have its drawbacks.

[00:40:32] JH: Cool. 

[00:40:34] Erin: Therese I think we’ve asked all of our questions. Is there anything else you wanted to share before we wrap up?

[00:40:42] Therese: I guess just that, you know, this is a craft and when I say the interviews are a craft, it’s a skill that takes a lot of time to refine. And even now as someone who teaches these courses, I still catch myself making these occasional mistakes. So my, I guess my one. Piece of advice would be, you know, don’t sweat it, just practice what you can learn, what you can and iteratively improve.

And then you’ll eventually, you know, get that mastery that you’re pursuing. But yeah, no, that, that was about it. Thanks for having me. This was a lot of fun.

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