Design research soft skills

Don't forget to smile
Don't forget to smile

Tips to use before, during, and after user interviews

So you’ve been assigned a new project and you need to learn about a new set of users and stakeholders. Here are a few tips that will help you create and maintain healthy relationships during the length of your design project.


Do your homework

Come prepared. Try to become an expert in the area that you are researching and go in to the first interview with that knowledge and industry language. Does the person you’re going to meet up with have a online presence? Scroll through their Twitter. Read their blog. Search for any articles or presentations they’ve given online. You’ll be surprised how much easier your conversation will flow if you have done your homework.

Keep your email/phone introductions short

When you are first reaching out to a user or knowledgeable stakeholder keep your introductions and requests short. Nobody likes reading a long email from a random stranger that rambles on about stuff. Introduce yourself, your team, and what you are working on. Tell them what hope you to get out of speaking with them. Finally, give them a few times and days that work for you.

Use their preferred method of communication

When you first reach out to someone you want to cater to their communication preferences. Ask them what they prefer using to chat. The goal is to make it easy for them to get in contact with you to talk. If they prefer to text then text. If they want to video chat instead of talking in person then start there. Give them control of the situation and work from there. Using their preferred method of communication will increase the chances that they give you good insights. It will also help you maintain a healthy relationship with your during the length of the project.


Ask them about themselves

People love to talk about themselves. It never hurts to start the conversation by asking what made them interested in their career/industry. Ask them why they do it. These questions can help establish context for the rest of the conversation and help get the ball rolling.

Be careful not to “use” them

Nobody likes being used. Don’t use your stakeholders. They are not information dispensers or means to an end. They are people just like you and me. They are the ones being kind making time to give you more information for your project.

In design school I had a project where were designing for the custodians who worked on campus. My team and I set up interviews with custodians all over campus. We learned a lot but in one interview we did a poor job of making a healthy relationship with a custodian we met. We were so busy trying to get as much “data and feedback” as we could that we neglected to make enough time to get to know this lady and make her feel comfortable. We both look back on this interaction and realize we treated this lady poorly.

Don’t compromise being a decent person just to make a deadline for your project. Be human. Don’t be a jerk.

Focus on conversation not a Q&A session

This is so hard to do and it takes practice. Don’t come with 25 questions and read them off one by one. Have a conversation withe the person and as questions come to mind ask them. Let the conversation flow naturally. Don’t force questions. One way to ensure you aren’t being so ridged when asking questions is to ask open ended questions that prompt them to tell stories. Listening to people tell stories can help inform you a lot about they way they do things now and what they value.


Ask them for more contacts

I had a Christian missionary ask me at the end of a coffee meeting if I knew anyone else that would be interested in hearing about what she was doing on the mission field. At the time I didn’t realize what she was doing but now I understand that she was using our relationship to get to more people who shared similar interests (in this case missions and our Christian faith). She was used my name and network of contacts as a means to make more connections in the community she was interested in meeting. Smart move. Use it on your stakeholders.

Send a thank you letter

Got this one from a fellow IU HCI/d designer, Sarah Kiner. Send them a quick thank you card after you meet. Handwritten is always best but at least follow up with a quick thank you email. It’s the right thing to do after they’ve given their time to you.

Hopefully these tips help you have better relationships with users when doing research. Let me know down below if you have anymore ideas or things that have worked well for you.

Thanks for reading!