Best practices when interviewing people for product or service design

Experience design is all about understanding people, their behaviours, wants, needs and desires.

One of the best methods of research is to conduct an interview because it helps you to get information directly from the person – not relying on electronic surveys or forms.

Interviews also help you to eliminate bias and deepens your empathy for others. You might think your customers want one thing, but during an interview you may observe their behaviours or things they say which contradict their behaviours.


Types of interviews

There are generally two types of interviews you can conduct for experience design research:

  • General: understand people, their lives, needs, wants and desires and worldview with ethnographic research
  • Specific: learn about how people interact and experience a specific product or service by exploring specific interactions

Before the interview

  1. Set the topic: Do you know exactly what you need to find out about a specific product or service, or do you just want to understand a general population and their purchase motivations?
  2. Set a time: Generally allow 60 minutes, but prepare to talk for 45 minutes
  3. Set a location: For general ethnographic research, it’s best to interview in the person’s usual surroundings – for example their home, school, or workplace. Otherwise, select a location with minimal distractions.
  4. Select interviewees: Be mindful that if you are reimbursing an interviewee for their time (e.g. providing cash or a free product), that their feedback or insights may not always be genuine if their motivation is to receive payment. It’s best to get feedback from interviewees who are willing to do it for free – these are people who are most passionate about your product or service and provide the best insights.
  5. Recording equipment and documentation: It’s best to record the conversation, as there are things you will miss when writing notes. The more simple the recording equipment (e.g. iPhone), the more relaxed the interviewee will be. Using expensive, high definition equipment can make the interviewee feel like they need to be too composed and scripted with their responses.

During the interview

  1. Introduce yourself and where you are from, to build trust.
  2. If necessary, sign any Talent Release forms – especially if you are recording the interview.
  3. Let the interviewee know that you will record the conversation, simply to help you with your notes, and you may play the recording to your colleagues who aren’t able to be present at the interview, help them relax that you’re not going to publish the recording online.
  4. Begin with open questions, to get to understand the person: “Tell me about your home/work/school life”.
  5. Then ask deeper questions: “What would help to make things easier when you are travelling to work” etc.
  6. Take notes constantly, it’s OK to keep your eyes on your page taking notes while the interviewee is talking.
  7. If you’re conducting in-placement research (at home/work/school) and the interviewee mentions something, it’s ideal to ask them to show you – “Would you have that available to show me, or after we finish the interview?” so you can see exactly what they are talking about. A really good example was once a person mentioned about how their most valuable possession was their bike and if it was stolen with would really impact their life. However, after asking them to show where they keep their bike, it was left out the front of their house, without any locks or other security – clearly showing that they didn’t protect their bike as much as they said they did.
  8. At the end, thank them for their time.
  9. Afterwards, make sure you collect your notes about what you observed or any extra comments the interviewee made once the recording stopped – they’ll often tell you more things as you’re saying goodbye. Then, listen to the recording again to capture any additional things you may have missed in your notes.

Best practices

  • Avoid putting words into the interviewee’s mouth – say things like: “Tell me about…” or “How did that make you feel” NOT “Did that make you feel happy/sad/etc?”
  • If you are an employee of a specific brand, product or service that you want insights about, then begin by letting the interviewee know that you are from another team or department that works separately from the team that manages the product or service – this lets them relax and provide honest feedback or recommendations. Otherwise they may be simply tell you what they think you want to hear.
  • If there are long periods of silence, do not try to fill it with more questions, if you leave enough silence, the interviewee will often tell you something interesting that you may not have expected them to share.
  • Be mindful that what people say they would do vs what they did are completely different. Always ask “Can you tell me about a time when you did ..” NOT “What would you do if..”

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