A bad user interview…. We have all had them. You spend 60 minutes going around in circles, gaining no new insights. Why do they go so wrong? And more importantly, what can you do to stop them? One of the main causes I’ve found of bad user interviews, is what I call a black hole conversation. While some rabbit hole conversation may lead to interesting insights, black holes lead to empty discussions, which are a waste of your time.
What is a rabbit hole?
A rabbit hole is a trail of conversation that goes off script but can lead you to find golden nuggets about the user and the product or service you are designing for.
What is a black hole?
A black hole, is an empty discussion holding nothing of value inside, where users delve into the minutia of their industry or an emotional experience they have been through. These are a waste of your time and, like a real black hole, are tricky to get out of once you have fallen in!
Who makes black holes?
Black holes, or more specifically, users who create these black holes seem to have some pretty similar characteristics. They tend to be people who are extremely close to the content you are designing for. A medical consultant, talking about the health system, a tenured professor discussing university education or someone who has never had a no claims bonus from their car insurance.
These users know the system, has lived through previous updates and has all the stories to back it up. They want to talk about the minutia of the content or their experiences in general, not caring how it relates to the new product or service you are trying to build. They want to speak, and you are going to listen to them… because that is why you asked them to come in is it not?
These are the people you need to watch out for…
How do you avoid black holes?
Having experienced falling into some black holes, I’ve pulled together some tips on how to avoid them:
- Make sure you are using best practices when it comes to conducting a user interview; setting context in advance, resetting the context when they get in, etc.
- Identify any terminology that could confuse the conversation and confirm they understand.
- Once you identified someone who creates a black hole, remind them throughout the interview that you will need to keep moving. These constant reminders help users to remember why they are being interviewed in the first place.
- Emphasize that you are not an expert and if the finer details are not relevant to their pain points then you will have to move on
- Be polite but firm. Interject when you see a black hole emerging. This may feel uncomfortable but will keep the interview on track.
User interviews are hard, and a bad user interview can be difficult to recover from. Understanding how to approach them, what to look out for and what to avoid can help make the experience for you as a designer much more successful and enjoyable.