Start by Asking Questions

UX interview notes

In early 2015, I began the process of designing a new website for Cascade Orienteering Club. The first thing I did was schedule interviews with a variety of current and potential users of the site. The three main perspectives I was looking for were: club organizers, active orienteers, and new orienteers.

When I sat down to interview these people, I didn’t ask, “how could this website be better?” While it seems like a question you should ask, there are a few problems with it:

  1. Not everyone is a good designer.
  2. You are encouraging the interviewee to speak for other perspectives that are not their own, and their presumptions may not be valid.
  3. Conversations about a theoretical future are flimsy.
  4. The question is asking for a subjective opinion, rather than collecting data.

Instead of asking for opinions, I acted more like a scientist collecting data. My goals were to observe them using the site, ask about their habits and experiences, and identify their goals and frustrations. As a result, the interviewee was:

  1. Not making design decisions.
  2. Representing only their own perspective.
  3. Sharing real, not theoretical, experiences from the past and present.
  4. Providing data, not opinions, for me to design around.

UX interview notes
Practically speaking, I had each interviewee sit at a computer with the club site open, while I took notes on a pad of paper. I would often start by asking what typically motivated them to visit the site in the first place, then I’d ask them to show me how they typically use the site. As they clicked around, I’d remind them to narrate their thoughts, and I’d get feedback like “I don’t like having to find a link in the middle of a bunch of text,” or “I don’t know how to pick which course I should do.” I did my best to avoid interrupting, engaging in conversation, or leading the interviewees into confirming my own ideas. My job was to ask questions, watch, and listen.

And I gathered some fascinating data. Here’s a sample:

  • “I had no concept that orienteering could get that hard. This event was a big surprise.”
  • “I want instructions on not just orienteering, but the whole process, like checking in and how the start works.”
  • “I want to see a lot of visuals, so I can SEE what I’m getting into.”

Think about how this feedback could translate into a design decision. That’s how design should work! Start by asking questions.

UX Interview Notes