Unpacking and breaking down the process of design research interviews
“We can be blind to the obvious, and we are also blind to our blindness.” ― Daniel Kahneman, 'Thinking Fast and Slow'
D E C 2 0 1 7
P l a n n i n g D o c u m e n t i n g
C o n d u c t i n g
R e c r u i t i n g
S y n t h e s i z i n g
Digging deeper into design research with direct dialogue
• Identify scope
• Define goals
• Select methods
Questions to help with
• What are we trying to learn?
• What do we already think we know?
• Are we looking to generate new
ideas, validate existing ideas, or
• Do we want to test specific
products, services, or features?
• Who do we want to learn about?
• Who are the stakeholders?
• Who is the audience for the results
of this research?
These are one-on-one conversations with
people who have a vested interest in the
success of the product you’re working on.
These conversations can help focus a
project by providing valuable insights
that would otherwise be difficult to
obtain, maybe even impossible. These
insights can determine the flow of the
entire project, such as business goals,
technical constraints, and more.
• Is there a task that they should
• Are key features discoverable?
• What’s the context of use?
• Are there hacks that people are using to
achieve their goals?
• Where are the gaps in the experience?
• How do users solve it now? What are
their pain points? Are they physical? Are
they bound by time? What’s delightful?
• What can we learn from other kinds of
Also known as exploratory, this method
is about building an understanding of a
subject matter domain by gathering
insights, identifying patterns, and
challenging assumptions in order to
Examples: interviews, field observation,
and reviewing existing research
Sometimes called explanatory, this
method involves observing and
describing the characteristics of the
subject matter and its users. This usually
means there’s already context around a
design problem that needs to be fully
understood to ensure that true user-
centered design is happening instead of
aligning only to cost, difficulty to make,
or other such factors.
Examples: contextual inquiry, interviews
This is method is where things are
getting more specific, it’s focused on
testing whether the hypothesis serves its
Example: usability studies
This method, also known
explanatory research, is defined as
an attempt to connect ideas to
understand cause and effect
between two or more variables. It is
highly structured like descriptive
research and is also known for use
of control procedures used during
experimental designs related to
tests of causal relationships.
Why do we need to recruit
To do research, we need to locate,
attract, and screen people to find a
quality group who are willing to
share personal stories that can
inform us our design process.
Remember, design research is
qualitative research, not quantitative
research. So, we need a low number
of high quality participants.
How do you know a good
participant from a not so
• They share the concerns and goals of
your target users
• They embody some or all key
characteristics of your target users,
such as age or role
• They are able to clearly articulate their
thoughts and feelings
• They are as familiar with the relevant
technology as your target users
How to Screen
Ask upfront 1-2 thoughtful, open-ended
questions that get applicants thinking about
the topic at hand, such as, “What are some
ways in which think about improving your
health?” Getting their best contact number
and email addresses can wait until the end.
Then, write a precise non-leading question
for each of your target audience criteria.
And ask questions that will easily weed
people out first. If you’re doing an in-person
study, for instance, ask about location right
away. Location here is critical and should be
one of the first, if not the first, consideration.
• Create a schedule that gives your
team enough time and space to
do their work
• Establish clear roles: choose a
moderator and note-taker for each
• Figure out who will be “in the
room” — this is the least number
possible, don’t want the person to
Keep in mind
Questions often have to be asked in the
right way to get good responses so it’s
recommended that your team create a
discussion guide (also called an interview
protocol) that everyone uses. This should
include open-ended questions and follow-
up questions that cannot be answered
with “yes” or “no”.
Use these questions as a general framing,
don’t read them outright — you’ll sound
like you’re reading rather than asking.
Share the load
The team should plan on sharing the
moderator and note-taker duties across
the schedule. This way, the workload is
shared but then so is the knowledge
It’s a win-win situation.
You're interviewing another human being
so make sure to look at the speaker
directly and acknowledge what they're
saying. As there is in any conversation,
there might be some straying from the
point but stay alert and focused on the
If your work allows for it, record the audio
or video of the interview. This can be used
for subsequent review or to share with
the larger team. But don’t rely strictly on
the recording, there are many
opportunities for failure.
In general, keep the equipment to a
minimum. Like the number of people in a
number, having a complex rig with a
microphone can set your subject on
The art of note-taking
Generally, type or write as fast as you can.
You never know what details are going to
be important afterwards, but you can be
sure you won’t be able to re-create that
one thing from the third interview from
Generally, if you’re storing this information
on your computer, you should get it out
the same day or just after a day in the field.
Do it while your experiences and
perceptions are as fresh as possible.
Where to start
Now, you should have a tremendous
amount of data. The first step is to get it
out, out in the open — so your team can
see it, so you can see it, so other folks can
also see it.
Your job now is to take this information,
group it, and label it. Keep it to one
observation, insight, quote, or idea at a
time. Write concisely about what
highlights an underlying behavior.
Reserve judgment at this point.
Finding the signal
Whether you’ve gathered all of the
information on post-its, index cards, or
some other medium, assemble your team
and move the compelling, common, and
inspiring ones to a new area, sorting them
into groupings. You can now be critical of
the data while being comfortable with
ambiguity — this might be something that
doesn’t make sense, not yet anyway.
Above all, be patient with yourself, the
team, and the process.
INTERPRETATION IS KEY
Name each of the groupings that you’ve
identified, paying attention to outliers and
things that feel connected to a larger
theme as well as things that feel new.
In general, at the end of this process you
should have between three and eight
insights. If you have less than that, you
may not have considered a wide enough
range of people. If more than that, you
may need another refinement pass.
Is it the same as market research?
Other ways to learn
Here are three more places to dive deeper:
• IDEO (2015) “The Field Guide to Human-
Centered Design” - https://
• Cooper-Wright, M. (2015) “Design
Research From Interview to Insight” -
• Erica Hall (2013) “Just Enough Research”
Thanks for listening
Any questions? Contact
Skipper Chong Warson