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September 21, 2013

Don’t Get Interviewed By Your Interviewees

Saw Steve Portigal speak at the LA UX Meetup this week. Lots of insights from the guy who literally wrote the book on user interviewing techniques as a critical part of the product development process. One thing that he spent a little bit of time on was how important it is to subtly but firmly maintain control as an interviewer when you’re doing customer development or user experience research.

You’re asking questions of customers or prospective users, and they naturally have questions of their own. But as soon as you answer “How do I see how many people tweeted about that link?” or “When will .pdf export be available?” with a straightforwardly helpful answer, your altruistic spirit risks turning a valuable opportunity to garner validated learnings into a really, really expensive technical support session or pitch meeting.

Instead, Steve suggested responding to questions like “When can you give me Feature X?” with questions of your own. Responses like “Where would you want to see Feature X?” and “Why is Feature X important to you?” keep the interview’s momentum in your hands and allow you to learn from the responses.

I’m definitely guilty of letting customer development interviews turn into impromptu roadmap presentations. Not only am I deep down inside just a tender-hearted people-pleaser who wants to help, but it’s hard to ignore an opportunity to show a customer how forward-thinking your team is. But if I’m doing customer development or user research, I can’t forget that my goal is to learn from the subject and build a better solution for the pain points that matter to them. Not to teach them how to use my product, or convince them that we’re building something great and that my ideas are the right ideas.