Whether we realise it or not, research is something we do in our day-to-day lives. You may be chatting with a retail assistant about which oven to buy, or casually asking a friend about their experiences with their child’s swimming classes…it’s all research.

So recently, when I put my hand up to conduct user research interviews to investigate the process of organising team lunches as part of a special interest group, I felt confident I could achieve results quickly; after all, I am a Business Analyst.

But was I wrong…

I quickly realised that planning and preparing for user research interviews took more skill and experience than I expected. Here are my top four tips based on what I learnt that you can do to make your interviews go smoothly.

Tip One: Make it personal

Target participants directly and individually, as opposed to global spamming.

I’m a friendly, social butterfly, so I thought participants would be fighting over a spot to help my research. Unfortunately, this was not the case.

A company wide email with an incentive of a free meal failed. Several messages on our internal social networking app also failed. However, cold calling individuals that met our recruitment criteria was an immediate success. The big lesson here is that group emails have low response rates.

Tip Two: Lock it in and send a reminder

Once you have secured a date, time and venue with the participant, ensure you make an appointment in their calendar and remind them prior to the day. Don’t rely on participant memory.

I’m a very punctual individual, and I tend to have a great memory for honouring my appointments. However, it didn’t occur to me that not everyone is like me. A couple of participants forgot about the research interview or got caught up elsewhere and I found myself sitting in a café waiting for someone that didn’t turn up or was running very late.

Tip Three: Engage in conversation

Keep a summarised interview guide handy, but don’t rely on it heavily. Use conversational cues to help drive out information, rather than reading paragraphs of text.

An experienced colleague advised me to create an interview guide to aid me during the research interview. I spent hours perfecting this guide; writing a detailed introduction, the questions to ask and topics to cover with a checklist. But what I found was, due to the detail in the guide, I spent most of the interview reading and checking items off the list. Whereas I should have been having a free flow conversation with the research participant as well as maintaining eye contact to ensure the participant felt comfortable. There was also times where the participant would provide a response that warranted further questioning and elaboration, but I was too focused on getting through my checklist and missed the opportunity.

Tip Four: Interview without distraction

Choose a quiet and private venue. It may not be the participants first choice, but the aim is to gather data, not fight for the participants attention. For me, this was probably the most important lesson learnt.

Choosing a venue the participant felt comfortable in was my aim, however I hadn’t accounted for the noise level making it difficult to maintain a conversation. I continually strained my ears and asked the participant to repeat themselves, hindering the flow of the conversation. There was even one interview where the participants mates walked in and started to converse with the participant, who then forgot about me and ended the interview process prematurely.

Summing up what I learnt

Planning and preparing for user research interviews is not as easy of a task as I had originally thought, nor is it overly difficult. It simply requires some prior thought, a deep understanding of research goals and plenty of practice! So if you are a newbie to the world of research interviews and you need some advice, consider  my four tips:

  1. A personalised email is worth the effort, better yet why not call everyone individually.
  2. Lock in a date, time, location and send a reminder.
  3. Use conversation to drive out information.
  4. Choose an appropriate venue.