Experience over opinion - an interview guide

User interviews for social change are vastly improved when they are focussed on past experiences of speculation. Explore the do's and dont's of social change interviewing.

It may be tempting to ask your interviewee questions such as:

  • What would you like to see in our service?

  • Would you like it if we added feature X?

  • How much would you pay for this product?

  • Would you use a service that provided Y?

For actionable answers, forego the questions above that encourage speculation and opinion. If you ask a question, your interviewee will come up with an answer. Through no ill-will, the answer will not reflect what they would do in a real-world scenario. What we say and what we do are often not related.

The aim of your interviews is to develop a better service or product. In order to do so, you want to focus on understanding what people do, not what people say they do.

A better strategy

Focus your interviews on stories from the past, the experiences your interviewee has had.

A case study

You are designing a service for visually impaired people to navigate to new locations without requiring assistance. Although you have an idea of what might work, you have decided to put your potential solution to the side, and to do some interviews with visually impaired commuters.

You've developed a simple interview guide that follows the following structure:

  • Begin with a brief introduction to the context of the interview.

  • Follow the introduction with an easy to answer question that mirrors the context of the interview – a question that the interviewee can answer with minimal stress.

  • Now ask a question that will allow them to walk you through their past experience.

The interview guide you came up with is as follows:

  1. Hi, I'm researching how visually impaired people navigate to places they haven't travelled to before, can I ask you a few questions?

  2. Where was the last unusual place you travelled to on public transport?

  3. Can you walk me through how you planned this journey?

This case study is inspired by Wayfindr, whose mission is to empower vision impaired people to travel independently, through inclusive and accessible audio navigation.

The interview guide above focusses on understanding what your interviewee does in practice. The guide is short, giving you the freedom to ask interesting questions in relation to their response that will help you go deeper. By writing a guide rather than a script you are forced to listen carefully to the interviewee's response allowing for a more conversation like interview.

A few rules for better interviews

  • Listen more than you speak.

  • Do not explain or pitch your product or service, just introduce the context of the challenge you are undertaking. It is too tempting to justify why your product or service will work which, in turn, will impact on the answers you receive from the interview.

  • Follow a guide not a script – you're looking to uncover interesting insights that you might otherwise have been unaware of.

  • As the interviewer, give the interviewee space to answer the questions – this may involve leaving long, potentially uncomfortable, silences in the conversation that your interviewee will fill.

  • Parrot back or misrepresent to confirm – when the interviewee says something you are unsure of, repeat it back to them "Did you mean X?". They will then be able to confirm this. You can also ask them "Did they mean Y" when they said X, in order to understand the importance of the statement they just made. If they say "No, I meant X", then you know that it was important to them. If they say "Yes", they were probably unsure of their answer or it wasn't that important to them.

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