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User Research Facilitation Tips for Everyone

If you're not painfully shy, it's pretty easy to talk to customers. Most folks working on a product team would love to talk to customers, especially the team members who aren't in customer-facing roles. A firm believer in balanced teams, I advocate participation in user research activities across the entire product team. User research is all about understanding user needs. Testers and developers have (or should have) the same goals as researchers, designers, and product managers—make a kick-ass product that addresses user needs. If you find yourself in the great spot of getting to conduct a user research interview, here are some important things to keep in mind.

Practice "active listening" (listening with intent)

When you're writing copious notes while you're facilitating a conversation, you're taking away your ability to think critically about what's being said. Try writing down only the salient bits or only waiting to write until there's a natural pause in the convo. PRO TIP: have a buddy to take notes for you while you do the talking.

Actively listening helps you better prepare for the next questions you should ask (based on what the participant just said). If you're focusing on what you’re writing/typing, you're not focusing on the person who's talking. Focusing on the person who's talking will also help you more quickly intervene when the conversation goes off track (and it will).

Use non-leading language

Phrase your questions so that they elicit responses that are descriptive of behavior. For example, "How would you use that info?" or "What would be your next move?" instead of "Where do you want to see it?". Avoid asking "yes/no" questions. Instead, ask questions that require open-ended responses. For example, "What do you like about this app?" instead of "Do you like this app?".

Always make the respondent feel comfortable

Avoid using affirmative language like "cool," "perfect," "good," etc., after a participant has responded to an interview question or taken an action in a usability test. You don't want the participant to feel like he/she is being tested in any way. So, no praises for "getting something right" and no reprimands if they miss something! A simple "thanks for your feedback" will do just fine.

Focus on need (versus implementation)

Aim to draw out users' needs, not their requests for certain implementations or solutions. While users might have an interesting design idea, you still need to focus on what their problems are, the root of their suggestion. This is one of the tougher parts of research because you oftentimes have to read between the lines or put all of the many pieces of the puzzle together to figure out the underlying needs.

Look for repeating patterns

Look for patterns across participants to help inform where you take your subsequent interviews. (PRO TIP: Outlier findings can be very interesting and tempting to act on. @@Use outlier feedback as a springboard to discovery, not as a commitment to build.@@ You want to address the common denominators first.)

Be adaptive

As long as you're still learning from a research activity, it's okay if things don't go exactly as planned. (You won't always have enough time to get through all of the planned activities, especially during your first interview). Active listening requires you to think on your feet. After enough practice, it gets easier to flex plans as needed.

Got any other research facilitation tips to share? I'd love to hear!

ResearchAstrid ParisComment