Direct user verbal feedback is one of the less reliable sources in any research. The humans are opinionated, full of bad habits, rarely sincere, and most of the time, they see the inquirer as a hostile entity.
All of this makes any direct verbal information unreliable and misleading. Don’t get me wrong, there are loads of instances of good user interaction with the interviewer, but those are mostly built on good interpersonal vibes. On a scientific point of view, user testimony is the least reliable evidence. Humans have the tendency to state their opinions as facts, and their preference as the norm. So, if you can, limit yourself to User Observation.
That told, if you really need to do an interview, the following points will help you keep the BS way and squeeze only the reliable data from the interaction.
1 – Do not record your interaction.
I know, this is strange advice coming from a journalist that has recorded most of his subjects, but there is a big difference between a news and usability interviews. I know from experience that researches have a god complex, that brings some very bad results when it goes unchecked. After doing so many interviews, same time thinking about Saturday night out with friends, if you know that you have a backup of your interaction, your mind will drifts toward other things, not only lessening your attention toward your subject’s answers but also hurting the quality of your follow-up questions.
2 – Dress casually
I know that you love your Armani clothes, but keep those for Saturday night out. A suit is a no-no too. You will look like a supervisor and the subject will feel intimidated and will try to be as upright as you, thus adding to the superficiality of the answers. Do your homework and check out your subjects social media to create a filter that will help you better recognize the true colors of their input. Dress as they do, or a bit less, so you can make them feel good about themselves. The people with good self-esteem give more honest answers, and often volunteer information, that can be of great value for your research.
3 – Do not use a laptop or a smart device
Be old-fashioned: a notebook and a small photo camera are your tools. Do not use your phone for making pictures or screen-grabs. Phones are always a dick measuring contest, so, get a small camera and just take pictures any time you think it is necessary to have a visual record that cannot be written in your notebook. Do not take pictures of your subject!
4 – Ask precise questions
Do not request opinions or aesthetics input. Your goal is not to find out what your subject likes or not, but to evaluate the usability flow of the service you are researching. Learn about the 5 Ws. Even it is a journalistic tool, it will help you better recognize the value of facts, thus eliminating opinions. Keep the questions as simple as possible, like: What is this? Why did you do that? Where do you find that? Do not ask quantifying questions like “How long?”, “How much?” or “How many?”. Ask the subject to do something and measure is silence the process time without stating or telling so. If you tell, it will put pressure on the subject, thus unqualifying the result as not common/normal.
5 – Share a drink or treat
Bring some treats with you. Dry fruits are the best. Ask them to “help you” get a coffee. This will reinforce the idea that this is their home and you are just a guest. If you see that the interview is getting too tiresome, talk for pleasuring things, like food and holidays. Do not talk about problems. Even though misery loves company, it will lower the productivity of a person. So keep it all upbeat.
6 – Follow up
State to the subjects that you will follow up the interview with some correspondence. It will make them feel free and entitled to volunteer any other information they think relevant to your research and will give you permission to bother them again sometime. Furthermore, it is nice to thank anybody for their interaction, same time enlarging your network.