Better user insights: 4 must-know tips from Mirjams masterclass

A good user interview is more than ‘just having a chat.’ It’s a guided conversation that considers the emotions and personal situation of the interviewee while remembering the ultimate goal: getting the information you need to build better products and services. Managing this balance of ‘extracting information’ and being considerate of your interviewee's inner life can be a challenge.

In our qualitative interviewing masterclass, Mirjam helped our participants refine their interview practices to get better results without ‘exploiting’ their interviewees. Today, she wants to share four valuable insights from that with you.

  1. Not Everything Is an Interview

Yes, this was a workshop on qualitative interviewing, but not everything requires an interview. Knowing when to use which method will help you get insights more effectively. It’s crucial to understand where interviewing fits within the broader methods landscape. If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. The same applies to research methods; if you're accustomed to heatmaps and A/B testing, you might be tempted to use those tools exclusively. However, each method has its justification. This is why mixed methods (or triangulation, as they say in academia) are so powerful. Qualitative methods provide insights into the "why," while quantitative methods reveal the scale of problems.

  1. Know Thyself… to Understand Others Better

Years ago, a great colleague of mine shared a cartoon with me. It showed a happy, artsy rhino painting landscapes from its own perspective, with a rhino horn always in view. This is still one of my favorite cartoons to show in class because it aptly demonstrates how we are all stuck in our own perspectives. To truly understand others, we must be aware of our own "rhino horn" blocking our view. Deep, right? ;)This rhino horn symbolizes multiple things: the shortcuts our brains take to make sense of information (bias) and the cultural and socio-economic environment we navigate. Both influence how we experience the world. To learn more about this, I recommend the book How Emotions Are Made: the Secret Life of the Brain and this article and exercise on positionality.The better we understand that we are not purely rational beings who know the single truth (how boring that would be!), the easier it becomes to truly listen to the experiences and beliefs of others.

  1. Don’t Badger the Witness

Asking questions in interviews is a balancing act. There's always the risk of not asking enough questions, leaving valuable information on the table. Conversely, asking too many questions (why, why, WHY?!) can lead the interviewee to fabricate answers or feel uncomfortable. Constantly asking "why" can be intimidating. A less threatening way to understand someone's thought process is to follow TEDW:Could you… Tell me more about what happened when…Explain how that made you feel...Describe what you would do next here...Walk me through the steps you took to...

  1. Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect, but It Does Make You Better

There’s no such thing as a perfect interview. Human interactions are inherently chaotic and complicated. However, simply practicing with colleagues and getting their feedback will always help you improve. If you’re looking for some fresh input outside of your regular environment though: take part in the upcoming workshop with Indi Young on Listening Deeply. Or join us at uxcon vienna 2024 to exchange ideas with other researchers and participate in great workshops and talks by interviewing experts like Steve Portigal, Nikki Anderson and many others.

About Mirjam

Mirjam de Klepper is a senior UX researcher, speaker & moderator.

She is originally from the Netherlands, but Vienna has been her chosen home. Over the years, her desire to keep things meaningful and create a positive impact has led her to UX Research. There she built upon her background in anthropology and developed her UX research and operations skill set.

If qualitative interviewing is something that got you hooked and you want to learn more, get in touch with Mirjam! She has a lot more wisdom to share.

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