Voltaire once said that we should “judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.” As tools of truth, questions give us the ability to discover many treasure troves for our artistic endeavors, whether they be how a user feels interacting with our app or another person describing their experiences to our cameras. Let’s discuss a big secret for user experience interviews.
You will hear many tactics out there that are important and basic, like “Don’t ask yes or no questions,” “Manage your voice inflections”, “Never make value judgements in your responses.” These are all important to the process of uncovering the truth. However, there is one key way of approaching this that will instantly make your interviews better.
Everyone you interview is an alien.
That’s right, a clear die and cut alien that you’ve never met and clearly don’t understand (minus the translator microbes that were implanted at the base of your brain stem enabling communication). Things are going to spew out of their mouth that you don’t understand because they’re from a far away land, and you have to decode it, piece by piece. It’s safe to assume nothing that comes out of the interior of their being will make sense to you.
Suppose someone looks at your app wireframes, and says, “There’s something wrong about this button.” You can respond in a few ways, but nearly everyone will ask, “Well, what’s wrong with it?”
You see, you’re assuming you know what the word “wrong” means. On Planet Druidia, that could mean “without air”. On Planet Dagobah, that could mean “too humid”. Don’t assume here, because they will probably give you an answer they have to interpret from their feeling of “wrong”-ness.
Instead, ask them, “Tell me what you mean by wrong,” which opens up another full line of questioning, and gets to the heart of what they’re actually saying to you behind the words.
You can use this same tactic in interviews, so when people describe a feeling to you, ask them what they mean by that feeling, and you can start pushing deeper into the experience, i.e. “What do you mean exactly by ‘felt lost’”, or “Describe what this excitement looks like to you.”
If you get stuck, and they say, “I don’t know”, a great follow-up is, “Well, if you had to guess, what would you say is the answer.”
Much of this comes from the Option Process, a Socratic therapeutic process maintained today at the Option Institute in Sheffield, MA. You can read a book about Option and Power Dialogues here, or get the Option 12 CD set here (I have no financial interest in any of these). I would encourage you to check it out if you want to move on from UX and video interviews to find out how to ask some of the most important questions you will ever have come from your lips.
The ones about yourself and your world.
Hope that helps, and good luck with your interviews!