If you and your teammate(s) conducting the interview aren’t in good terms or do not know each other well enough, it’s wise to get onto the same page before meeting the customer. This situation often happens in corporates where you the designer are being escorted by say a person from marketing, or sales who you have never met or even had a chance to get acquainted with. Neither knows the other’s nature of work or the manner in which each practices their area of expertise. And, circumstances such as these can be a fatal blow to your user research if you aren’t prepared!
I was in one such situation where I had to meet a few esteemed defence personnel to understand their existing systems and draft a proposal that would fulfil their requirement and win us the bid. The client was looking for help in digitising their workflows and streamlining their manual processes by making them more robust, secure and efficient. And, its not often that one gets access to the facilities of such highly decorated officers to begin with. So, every second was crucial, and there was no scope for loose ended questions.
My team included a sales person, a member from marketing and a tech guy from our local office. It was the first time I was meeting any of them despite being in the same organisation! The target user (officer) arrived, and the team introduced me saying that I was the designer who was going to work on this project and had travelled all that distance just to gain real world insights from the field and all of that. Great! That was a good start!
So we began talking and the officer was kind enough to run me through their existing process, the issues they faced and the areas they believed needed technological intervention. He detailed out every aspect of the system that he felt was flawed and how things could be made better. It was the perfect user interview! Until off course, my colleague from Sales got a bit fired up and started answering to my questions instead of the officer. It was a total ‘Face Palm’ moment for me! Literally!
Apparently, he felt he knew the answers to my questions since they were very simple and straight forward. But, he had no clue that I had strategically lined up those questions inorder to derive insights on the actual emotion behind each behavioral trait. And, that is exactly what user research is all about! Isn’t it? Had it happened just once, it would have been possible to redeem ourselves from the situation. But, unfortunately for me, he went on non-stop and at one point in time, my colleague then began asking ‘leading questions’ that just burned the entire session to ashes! It was a total screw up that day!
Thankfully the officer was understanding enough and continued having his conversation in the most candid manner possible. But to be honest, I was furious with the fact that there was this random dude cutting him short every time he spoke! It was outright madness, let alone the fact that he kept ruining the whole exercise!
The universe however, was still merciful! The officer had to excuse himself for a brief two minute phone call. That was it! I quickly regrouped the team and reminded them of the intent of the session and what was expected. We were here to listen to what the customer had to say and, not the other way around. We managed to do a quick course correction and revive ourselves right on time (sort off!!).
The key take away from this experience isn’t, “I am the designer and only I have the right to talk!” Absolutely not! Everybody is a designer, as long as you are willing to hear what the other has to say. Plan ahead! Understand the strategy the UX Researcher or Designer has in mind, and work together. It is only going to better your chances of landing up on deeper insights!
And, for we designers out there, its important to hold our nerve and educate the team on the process before hand. And despite all that, chances are we will still fumble, which is totally fine! Just relax! Remember how we conducted our very first user interviews? Am sure we’d have a laugh about several things. Like, how stupid our line up of questions were, the fact that we could never keep a check on our personal biases, how we jumped the gun each time our senior designers were conducting similar sessions, how we tried getting defensive when users hated our work and the list goes on. Basically, sh** happens!
All I’m suggesting is to be patient with your folks. Its only a matter of time and effort before the entire team starts talking the same language. User Research is an amazing process. Work together. It’s all about having fun!