Complete guide to improve your UX research skills.

After years conducting user research for several companies, from start ups to big corporations, in-house and agency side, I’ve learned a few tricks along the way.

Whether you’re conducting user research interviews or usability testing sessions, you need to take into consideration a several things. Your mission is to get the most out of the precious time you’re going to spend talking to your research participants.

From planning to documentation, we’ll review the whole process end to end.

Let’s start from the beginning.

1. Good planning is everything.

This is probably the most important factor of conducting user research, we’ll go through what you need to prepare.

A discussion guide.

Don’t limit yourself to write down a list of questions. Write it in a way, that if you couldn’t come the next day to conduct the interview, a colleague can cover you by reading your discussion guide.

Start with an introduction to the session, where you should mention a few things:

At the end of the introduction might be a good moment to get the legal papers out of the way:

Once the legal stuff is out of the way, I suggest you to start with some worm up questions. Even if you’re conducting a usability testing session, I always use the opportunity to ask a few questions about the participant’s views on whatever it is that I’m working on.

If you’re going to test a checkout flow, you might want to dig into his online shopping habits, if the project is related to insurance, some questions regarding that, and so on.

The average duration of an interview session is 45 - 60 min, and presumably you’ll want to test several prototypes, at least a few.

For each flow/prototype you’ll prepare a set of questions, but before writing the actual questions, you have to start by writing down your objectives.

What is it that you really want to learn from this session?

Once you have these objectives, you’ll be in a better position of write the right questions. Some times you’ll need a scenario to put the user in context, in case you need it.

Objectives - Scenario - Questions

At the end of the session you might want to have some close-up questions, for any general feedback or questions the participant might have.

A nice trick I use here is to ask “what’s the most important thing you’d like me to take away from what we’ve discussed today?”

This might give you extra insights on the issue, positive or negative, that the participant experienced during the session.

And that’s all you need for a solid discussion guide.

2. Recruit participants carefully.

Think who the real users of your product are.

You’ll probably have different user types, and depending on who they are, recruitment will be easier or more complicated.

If you’re working on a consumer app, like a standard online payment, you might be able to run very cheap and cost-efficient research interviews. You can conduct guerrilla interviews in bars or other public places, in exchange for a small incentive. You won’t even need to recruit participants before hand.

On the other hand, if you’re working on a product for a specific discipline, let’s say, for cardiologists, you’ll need the help from professional recruitment companies.

Whatever your audience is, try go get to them. Testing around the office is fine, but it should never replace real user testing.

3. Choose the right tools.

There are plenty of tools in the market, and this is not going to be a review of these products. We’ll go through the type tools you’ll need to make sure you’ll get everything right.

You’ll need to record video and audio the session, the participant captured by a camera and a recording of the screen being tested.

Remote testing or in-house testing, I’ve found that there is no much difference in terms of tools. For many years we used More, but recently we’re having good results with Zoom.

To make things easier, you want a piece of software that records from a webcam and screen recording at the same time. Automatic audio transcript is recommended, as it will save you a lot of time doing the write up.

Specially on usability tests, you want to record the participant’s face to capture expressions that couldn’t be captured by audio only. You don’t need sophisticated tools to have a nice set up for user testing or interviews.

Eye-tracking

In our team we are skeptical about the insights you can get from eye tracking. Several studies confirm that humans absolve more visual information from the peripheral area than from the centre of our eye focus.

It sounds fancy and high-tech, and we understand if companies are using it on top of other types of studies, we’ve always had great results without using them.

4. Interviewing is much more than just asking questions. Focus mainly on behaviours, not attitudes.

You’ll have your list of questions ready but that’s just a guide.

First when meeting participants, make them feel welcome, keep it friendly and relaxed. They feel the pressure of an exam in some way, they need to feel comfortable to get the best results, which it’s their honesty.

Get the legal requirements out of the way, go through the interview like having a conversation, not like reading a list of questions. Engage with the participant, explore interesting avenues, dig deeper if you think it’s worth it.

Don’t be afraid of silence.

Sometimes there might be pauses during the conversation with your participant, and sometimes you’ll see that it’s worth having those silent pauses, because they some times might start talking, giving you extra insights.

Avoid yes or no questions.

As much as possible, these questions don’t add much value. You’re basically giving them 2 options, but what you’re after is the why’s and the how’s, and those are much more complex than yes or no.

Keep it casual and do everything you can so it doesn’t look like an interrogation. Some companies are transforming their hospital-looking research rooms into a much more warm spaces, to make participants feel like they’re at home, and not at the doctor.

5. Analyse and document properly.

Ideally user research interviews should involve at least one person conducting the interview and another one taking notes. To keep that casual conversation we need, we can’t stop after every question to take notes if you’re interviewing, you need someone else there to do that.

If you’re using a software which recordings have audio transcript, that’s half the write up job done. For research interviews, you’ll want to go again through the videos, filling the gaps on the notes taken.

This kind of qualitative research analysis is tricky, as you need to create a structure where there is none. You can create this by using affinity mapping with post its, and putting together key themes resulted from the interviews. These themes can be organised by groups creating clusters. This way you’ll see the main themes resulted from all the conversations.

In usability test interviews, we’ve had very good results using a behavioural matrix prepared before hand. Which is a spreadsheet with our assumptions and the list of tasks that the participant will be performing. Whoever is taking notes can use this to write down success or failure for each task and take some notes. Here’s more information about this from Monzo.

For both research interviews or usability tests, you’ll want to share the findings with your team mates in a digestible format. A slide deck with key insights in plain language is a great format for this.

If you need a hand with your strategy for A/B testing, we’re here to help.

We hope this is helpful and thanks for reading.

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