The title of this article is clearly inspired by the movie ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly‘ starring Clint Eastwood. Image source:

Interviews are one of the primary sources of data in design research. I’m sure you did a couple, I did a few also. It’s direct, easy and quick to get the answers. This is the thing about interviews.

However, there is the part. It takes time to schedule, transcribe, analyze the material. Also, everybody is busy, so who has the time to sit and talk to you?

But then things get : can you really trust in what people are saying? As interviews are social interactions, it’s easy for people to tell what you want to hear. Or maybe they will tell what they think you want to hear.

Let me open each of these topics a little bit more:

The good

An interview, by definition, is a retrospective account of a behaviour. In other words, we explain the reasons why a decision was made. Also, interviews are a shortcut to get someone’s opinion about something.

In design, using interviews is valid to understand your user behaviour and/or preferences. If you want to get feedback on a design you are working on, you can start asking ‘hey, what do you think about it?’ and then going deep in understanding the reasons behind the choices.

A more structured interview will have defined topics/questions to follow, which gives more insights into the ‘whys’ about someone opinion on a topic. For instance, you can probe your interviewee to give more details about why they like/hate something.

Best interview ever 🙂

The bad

So far, so good, right?

Well. Your first problem is how to convince people to give them your time? I would appreciate knowing more about how Apple or any other tech company design their products, but perhaps they will not have the time to answer my questions.

After that, there is the painstaking act of T R A N S C R I B I N G the interview. It’s, of course, possible to take notes during the interview, but the richness comes from the details. If you want to have your interview in text format, for a proper analysis and sharing with other colleagues, transcribing is a must.

Transcribing 🙂

I have read before that it takes around 5 minutes to transcribe 1 minute of an interview. So if your interview took 1 hour, be ready to spend 5 hours typing every single sentence.

The ugly

Wait, there is more. Now it goes deeper. It’s not about the practicalities of arranging the interview and converting it into a text.

So you convinced that smart person to sit for 1 hour. You recorded and transcribed the interview. Now it’s time to analyse the content.

But first, how trustable are the answers? I don’t mean that most people lie, but they might be telling you a nice story instead of the real facts.

The way you present yourself and the questions you make might direct how your interviewee gives your answer. As said by Nikki Anderson ‘As humans, we are inherently biased in a given situation. Even if you do everything in your power to remove these biases, they will continue to linger on an unconscious level’.

For example, let’s say you just met me for an interview. I present myself as a design researcher and want to know how your company is developing your products and services. Then I ask you: ‘do you think design is important?’

First, I will not get to the merit that this is a very bad opening question. But by presenting myself as a design researcher, unconsciously you understand that design is important to me.

Add to that the fact that you don’t really know me. But there we are, sitting in a room for a 1-hour interview. Most likely you want to get into an argument or disagreement. You probably will answer ‘Yes, design is very important’, even though it might not be that important.

The solution

Interviews are a wonderful way of getting to know more your user and the reasons behind the decisions they make. Still, there are some problems with the method that might hamper the answers you get. Here are some ways to overcome it.

First, you need to be sceptical. Only the fact of being aware that people might tell you a story instead of the real facts already diminishes the chance of trusting in the answers 100%.

Second, you should go deep during the interviews. In this case ‘WHYs’ and ‘HOWs’ are your best friends. Questions like ‘Why/how have you done that?’, ‘What were you thinking when doing this?’, ‘Can you explain this better?’ will help to understand better the answers and the context.

Third, find new sources of data. As the research academics say, you should triangulate. Meaning that you should seek for multiple sources of data to confirm the information. For instance, interview multiple people, look some online documents about the company, etc.

Hope you will consider some of these points next time you will be some . For more information on this topic, I suggest some other posts here on Medium:

How might we be wrong? — By Nikki Anderson

The Art of the User Interview — By Nick Babich

Don’t take design critique as an insult — By Fabricio Teixeira

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