A visual aid for preparing exploratory user interviews

A visual aid for preparing exploratory user interviews

Photo credit: Pivotal Software,  Methodology_pairing_LONDON

As UX designers, many of us are very much aware of the importance of user interviews. User interviews deepen our understanding of people’s behavior and help us to identify their pain. There are many articles out there outline the process of how to prepare a user interview. What I would like to point out is that it is important to have a script prepared prior to the interview session, but a written script is not the only tool to use.


types of research
types of research

There are three main types of research: Exploratory, validation and usability research. For this method, the focus is for exploratory research.

“Exploratory research is research conducted for a problem that has not been studied more clearly, intended to establish priorities, develop operational definitions and improve the final research design.Exploratory research helps determine the best research design, data-collection method and selection of subjects.” (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exploratory_research)

Similar to other types of research, to prepare for exploratory research, we need to set learning goals, identify our assumptions, preparing for questions that can tease out insights and we can also bring any artifact we might have on hand to aid the research.

prep steps

Different from validation and usability research, the focus for exploratory research is “discovery”. In general, we need to talk with many people to get a full view of the challenge at hand. To better understand the people you are going to interview, I spend a lot of time to learn about their roles. Mapping out who I would like to speak with, and how their roles are they related in the organization. It is important to map the research recruits to personas.


Research candidates based on buyers map role relation research

Since these research are repetitive, after preparing the standard interview scripts, I divide it into smaller, visual digestible chunks. And then timebox each question.

wirtten script small visual timeboxed questions

Break questions into smaller digestible visual blocks.

For each interviewee, based on the time have scheduled with the person, I pick important questions to ask. Mix and match what I needed from the visual question boxes. So an interview “script” might look like this picture below:

interview script example

There isn’t any long copy but small sections and questions. The sticky notes remind me of the learning goal and specific background information. Each section indicates a type of question such as introductory, general questions, specific questions, in-depth questions. Each circle indicates the specific question I would like to ask from the question pool above. Each circle also indicates the time I needed for the question. A thinner circle is timeboxed for 5 minutes, a thicker circle is timeboxed for 10 minutes. The circles also include unique questions I’d like to ask.  In this view I can look at this visual script at a glance, knowing how to spend time during this interview. And also have a high level of understanding what I insights I need to gain out of this interview.

For each interviewee, I will prepare a visual script like this. Once I have several interviews planned, the visual board will look like this picture below.

multiple interviews

With this visual aid, I am able to enter an interview with high-level understanding of the goal, focus on the interviewee and not on note making – it’s just plain rude to bury your head in your notes. I am able to make eye contact, keep a conversation flowing and record the interview rather than getting lost in note making. I also have a quick way to scan the “plan” and adjust my questions based on the answers. 



A good quick guide for conduction user research