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Conducting successful interviews are critical to gaining key user insights and experiences. The article below shares helpful tips that can improve the quality of your interviews. CK

Article written by Veronica Camara originally appeared in UX Planet on May 19, 2018.

User interviews help people create better experiences for a target audience by learning about their wants, needs and problems. They’re a common user research method, and when done correctly can bring huge value to your discovery phase.

As a content strategist, I’ve run user interviews to inform things like website redesigns and web applications, omni-channel campaigns, and even guide a brand’s messaging strategy. But I’ve also seen plenty of user interviews go wrong.

Here are 6 tips to help you plan and run successful user interviews.

Asking questions is easy. Gathering meaningful insights is not.

In a perfect world, we could simply ask users what they wanted and call it a day. But humans are much more complicated than that.

Some interviews participants might hesitate to offer negative (but important) feedback; others don’t want to seem stupid, and avoid telling you they don’t understand a product feature; others are people pleasers, and edit their answers to be nice.

Fortunately, there’s a lot that new user researchers can learn from fields like investigative journalism and psychology—and from each other right here on Medium.

In this article, I’m sharing six tips I’ve learned through research and practice for conducting winning user interviews while avoiding some common research mistakes.

1. Ask well crafted interview questions.

An open ended questions helps you avoid “yes” or “no” answers, and helps you draw more out of your interview subject. Getting a short or vague answer can be a big blocker in an interview, but it’s usually the fault of the person asking the question.

Avoid asking people to choose between two options, or answer one specific prompt.

For example, don’t ask: “Do you like reading Medium posts?”

You’re going to get a short answer.

Don’t ask: “What do you like about reading Medium posts?”

Still not good. You’re assuming they enjoy something, and you’re leading them to a positive answer.

Do ask: “Tell me about your experience using Medium.”

Win! No assumptions. Open ended. In fact, it’s pretty vague—but it’s a great starting point. See more on follow-up questions next.

2. Dig deeper with the right follow-up questions.

If your interviewee mentions something that is particularly relevant to your research, simply ask them to expand on it. It’s often tempting to paraphrase what they’ve said. But in research this can actually be a bad thing.

This was a mistake I made when I first transitioned into UX work from copywriting. I had studied communications in school, and would often paraphrase people’s answers because I was trying to be nice. I wanted them to feel heard.

But the point of a user interview is not to create a lasting relationship between you and your interview subject. It’s to figure out real, human needs and desires.

Consider this example: if a user describes a negative experience about a specific feature in your product, paraphrasing their answer will just get you a longer version of what they already said. You miss the nuances.

Not everything is black and white. Maybe they struggle to use one part of the feature, but like other parts of it; maybe they like the design, but not the language; endless possibilities. It’s your job to find the truth.

Don’t say: “You mentioned this is hard. Why?”

Do say: “You mentioned using the X feature. Could you tell us more about that?”

3. Avoid jargon of any kind.

Don’t ask people about their user flow, how they feel about a stacked navigation, or if you could improve their experience with progressive disclosure. Avoiding jargon may seem like an obvious tip, but sometimes when we work within a field so long we forget that certain terms actually are jargon, or we use them without realizing it.

This also applies to industry jargon, not just UX jargon. If you’re working on a product or experience for healthcare, don’t assume they’ll understand healthcare industry terms.

Have someone who is outside of your project team review your questions before you start interviews. Ideally, try to find someone who closely matches your user persona. You might be surprised by the words and phrases they’ll catch.

4. Embrace awkward silence.

One technique often used by investigative journalists is to embrace moments of silence, because sometimes the best answers come after a pause.

The interviewee may need time to think, and their pause could be a moment of reflection. Or, they might be equally uncomfortable in the silence—so they’ll offer more information to fill space. Whatever the reason, it works.

If you’re really feeling awkward in the silence, but sense that you’re on the brink of learning something useful, you can also just say something like “mmhm.” These small verbal cues let the other person know you’re listening while encouraging them to keep talking.

A little silence can go a long way.

5. Keep your reactions neutral.

As a researcher, you have to be conscious of how your own behavior effects the person you are interviewing. Try to avoid reacting strongly to people’s answers, because it’s likely to change how they’ll respond next.

Remember, people are generally nice and sometimes even nervous in an interview. It’s common for interview subjects to want to please you, whether or not they realize they are doing it. If one of their answers excites you, they’re likely to try to answer more questions in the same vein. On the other hand, if you react negatively to an answer, they could be less likely to share more information about that topic.

Or, maybe you’ll interview someone who is feeling disagreeable. Your negative reactions could sway the conversation towards more negative feedback. Human emotions make things complicated.

Either way, you end up moving the conversation in a specific direction without even realizing it. Try to have as little impact on the other person as possible to get the most authentic answers.

6. Don’t mention solutions until the end.

A mistake I often see new researchers make is asking people to validate their ideas flat out.

“Hey! Do you like this idea?”

Never jump straight to solutions instead of focusing on objective research into their needs and problems.

Again, remember that people like to please people—you’re likely to get at least some false validation. You’re unlikely to get an authentic answer about whether or not your idea really solves a need. And, you miss out on uncovering more meaningful answers that could help shape your solution idea into a better one.

That said, it’s tempting to ask. If you must, ask for feedback on specific solutions at the end of an interview. Don’t mention any solutions to their problems until you feel like you got as many insights into the problem first.

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