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10 Tips for an Effective & Engaging Interview

Interviews are a fundamental research method that we employ in the design process. They are an essential part of the discovery phase in gaining a deeper understanding of the problems facing your audience, business, product or service. Often we assume too much about what our customers think, want and feel. The fundamental difference between success & failure is the capacity to understand and address customers’ real needs.

Conducting interviews help us gain a deeper understanding of people’s behaviour. When done right, they provide insights not immediately obvious about an issue, motivation, desire, or frustration regarding a specific topic that people have. The outcome of interviews provides a foundation for formulating insights, themes and opportunities to better engage, communicate and develop ideas to both solve problems and delight your customers.

Here are our top 10 tips to help you conduct an effective and engaging interview.

1. Make sure you know why you are interviewing people

It’s important to understand what the bigger problem is you’re confronted with and what you want to find out. For example, we conducted interviews for an organisation to gain greater understanding whether people understood what they do and why it matters. This was to answer the bigger question of whether their brand was the big problem or clarity of their story.

2. Decide on questions, but leave room for conversation

It is vital to not ask yes or no questions, as this will give very little insight. Instead frame questions that encourage conversation. This offers the possibility of uncovering personal context and stories that will give deeper insights. As humans we all crave a level of connection. Engaging in conversation, sharing stories and listening is a great place to start.

3. Create a journey for them

It should begin before you meet them. By providing some context and reason for the interview before arriving, puts your interviewee at ease. The interview itself has three main stages – introduction , questions and thank you. The introduction confirms the early contact and reason for the interview, but also offers an opportunity to establish rapport. The thank you should also provide them with some context of what happens next in the process and how they have greatly assisted.

4. Interview question DOs

It’s always good to start with easy questions to help make everyone feel comfortable. It’s important to listen far more than talk. Act like you’re a kid and keep asking “why” until you’ve gained a deeper answer to your question. Aim for extremes, whether they be positive or negative experiences, frustration or delight. And then ask “why”. Ask questions you think you know the answer to, in case you’re surprised by the answer.

5. Interview question DON’Ts

Avoid being too mechanical and keep it casual. Don’t ask questions that have a yes or no answer. Ensure you are not leading your interviewee to answers you’re hoping to hear. Never correct or educate your interviewee, as you they are the expert, not you. Don’t be afraid to follow your interviewees lead if it goes off script (but gently bring it back on course at the right time).

6. Listen & observe

Often how people behave provides more insight than what they say. Observe their body language; are they tired, interested, happy, nervous, upset, laughing or just plain bored. Don’t hesitate to ask how they are feeling in the moment to understand why.

7. Ask people to refer to real-life examples and stories as much as possible

Gaining context for people’s answers and stories behind them will give deeper insights than if they are answering how they think you might want them to.

8. Don’t be afraid of silence

After they’ve finished answering a question, but you think there is more to it, just let the silence hang. Sure, sounds awkward, but it can spur them on to add more vital information. Obviously don’t overdo it. Then it just gets weird.

9. Finish with a wrap up

It’s important to take this opportunity to thank your participant. After all they’ve been generous enough to talk to you. Ask them how they found the process. It’s always good to throw in a quick, frank and casual question at the end. It may give you a very honest answer. For example, “Would you ever even use this product” or “What do you think of this business”

10. Quickly download

After the interview is finished, immediately take the time to note down stand out insights or behaviour observations. It’s a great time to download things that standout, before time settles in.

The Main Point

The possible opportunities that can be uncovered from listening to people, both customers, staff and partners can be quite surprising. Delving deeper into why people act and feel a certain way helps us form empathy and understanding that can lead to new ways of delivering services, building products and supporting staff. In many ways it’s a great opportunity to get out of the building and connect with people who form such a vital part of your business. We are constantly surprised at how much people are willing to share, if you take the time to ask the right questions.

By Rusty Benson | Director

Original image by Jonathan Simco