The single most important thing you can do when designing or redesigning a website is to conduct user interviews.
It doesn’t matter how much thought, effort and reasoning you put into your design if the users can’t figure out how to use it. Rather hypothesize how a user will and won’t use the site, what they will and won’t do, you can ask them directly. User interviews takes the guessing out of design and gives you concrete reasoning for design decisions and fixes you need to make.
To take a line from Steve Krug, “Don’t make me think!”
The more time users have to think, the less likely they are to stay on the site. Typical users spend less than 15 seconds on a web page — that means you have less than 15 seconds to get the user to take the action you want them to. Antsy users are quick to abandon ship and find another site they can figure out.
Where do you start?
- Start by defining the actions you want users to take.
You have to think about the web page and website as a product, which should have actionable ways you want the user to use it. Which brings me to the very first, most important, question you first have to answer-
How do you want users to use the product?
Do you want users to buy something or donate? Do you want them to sign up for a newsletter? Do you want them to like or share something? Do you want them to download gated content in exchange for lead generation? Do you want them to contact you?
No matter what it is, you should want your users to take some sort of action, and in many cases, actions, on your site. So, you know what action(s) you want your users to take, now what?
2. Look at what you already have
If you’re doing a site redesign, start with the existing (“old”) site. Look at your Google Analytics to see what the bounce rates are on your pages. The higher the bounce rate, the less likely users are able to find what they’re looking for or understand the page. You can get a good idea of problem areas and low-hanging fruit by looking at what you already have.
If you’re doing a site from scratch, put together your best guess as to how this new site will look, create a development site with your best intuition. To test your users, they need something to be tested on.
Who Do You Interview?
A big mistake people make is collecting feedback solely from the stakeholders of the company. You definitely want their input and information, to ensure the product is serving the correct purposes and achieving the correct goals; but when it comes to actually using the product, it’s all hypothesis until the users actually use it. So you don’t want to conduct user interviews with the employees.
You want to find past and present customers. These customers will give the best insight into why they became customers, why they stopped and what obstacles can be removed to help them do more business.
Find users in the target audience. Maybe there are customers the business wants to reach, or wishes it had further reach in. Find those people. Figure out what needs to happen to reach this audience.
You want to find people who are in the industry but not associated with the company. These users will have good insight into what they do and don’t like compared to competitors in the industry.
Oustisders — find people with no association. These users will be able to give the best insight into what is and isn’t intuitive. Often times industries and businesses fall into a culture and jargon that makes sense to it’s members, but not outsiders. So you want to find outsiders, if it’s clear to them it will likely be clear to insiders.
Ask the company for a list of past/present customers or friends they have in the industry. There are even online services, such as User Interviews, that finds users for you.
How Many Users Do You Interview, and When?
As many as will let you. Don’t base your design on the opinion of oneuser. Test as many people as possible to get an idea of the averages of what is and isn’t working.
Ideally, you’ll conduct 3 rounds (or more) of user interviews.
1st Round= Before You Start
You want to collect what already is and isn’t working. Get an idea of how your users think, what they’re looking at and how they’re interpreting your information to better inform the design decisions you need to make.
2nd Round= After You Have Mockups, Before Finalizing
It’s always best practice to let users test the design before you finalize it. Ideally the launched product is the final product. Testing the product during the design phase is a great way to catch any unforeseen problems, collect feedback on what people like and don’t like.
3rd round = Post Launch
Even though you’ve done your due diligence to clear any obstacles and confusion, you still want to double, triple check. Sit with users as they test the final product, take notes for any post-launch updates. The more you can improve the user experience, the more you can improve the business.
What Tools Are Needed?
All you need is a way to watch the users use the product. If you’re meeting in person, just pull out a laptop and watch them use it and take notes. Don’t forget to test on different devices! Desktop, mobile, tablet, etc.
Most commonly, users aren’t around or available to meet in person so you meet online. You’ll want an online conferencing tool that allows you to talk and also screen share. Ideally the tool will also allow you to record so you can re-watch/listen. I recommend using a conferencing tool like Zoom.
A nice touch is if you find a voice-to-text transcription so you can have their dialogue in writing. There are tools like Dragon Voice or even Google Docs that can do this.
As you complete user interviews I recommend creating a presentation. Using Google Sheets, organize the cliff-notes from each user’s interview into one presentation. This gives you something to easily refer to as you’re working, and it also gives you something to share with your client to help explain the design challenges and solutions.
What Questions Do I Ask?
You have your objective, you have your product, you have your users and you’re all setup for the interview. What do you ask?
ASK OPEN-ENDED QUESTIONS. This is interviewing 101. If you ask a yes or no question, you’re going to get a yes or no answer. And that’s not very informative. Ask who, what, when, where questions. This sets the user up for a dialogue filled with a lot of information.
Start with understanding the user. Ask who they are, what they do for a living, and if they’re familiar with the product/company being tested. These questions will help you understand how much experience the user is relying on versus design. It will also give you an idea of how much validity to assign certain feedback. For example, is this a user who should be able to find a product and can’t, or is this a user who has no experience shopping for this product and can’t find it — even though everyone else can?
Ask the user to find the product. Depending on the user and project, have them show you how they get to the site, or how they would get to the site based on xyz information. If they have no prior experience with this product, just give them the URL. You want to see how users are finding the product- this is just as important as how they use it. As it’s completely pointless to have a well-designed product if users cant even find it.
Often times I’ll find users find a site through a random blog post or product page — they’re coming in back doors and not the front door; so this is already a great starting point on the problems to solve list.
Ask the user to use the product. Have them verbalize their thoughts and initial impressions as they’re looking at the page. Often times this dialogue will give some of the best feedback. If they have prior experience, ask them to show you how they typically use the product. If there are actions they’re not taking, ask them why.
For example, in some cases I’ll see a user go straight to a “Request a Quote” section, instead of just adding the items to their cart; and it’s because the user simply didn’t know they could do that. That’s such a low-hanging fruit, that will drastically improve business and customer satisfaction!
Ask the user to complete certain tasks. Knowing the actions you want users to take, ask them to take them and watch their process. Are they hitting a lot of obstacles? Are they lost? Are they annoyed at how many steps it’s taking? Look for reasons they’d give up in real life and find ways to remove those reasons as you design.
Ask what they like and don’t like. Whether they have other examples to compare to or not, they’ll tell you — and it’s really helpful information. Use the feedback to inform your design decisions.
Users will tell you everything you need to know to make a great and functioning product.You just have to listen. Keep in mind that users are still just people, and their feedback is opinion. You don’t have to implement every piece of feedback. Look for recurring themes and common suggestions. Evaluate the user’s expertise — if they’re a leading expert in this industry and have seen this one change improve something dramatically — that’s feedback worth exploring. If they’re an outsider and just really like pink and think it should be pink — you can probably put that in the nice to know category and move on.
At the end of the day, user interviews are the most effective way to ensure a productive and effective design- AND THEY’RE REALLY EASY. It’s not rocket science. Rather sitting in a conference room with stakeholders hypothesizing how people will and will not use the product, use user interviews to know exactly what they will do. Take that information to course correct or improve upon.
So many times I see executives tell me what’s not working, and when I go to the users it’s often time the one thing that IS working, and the problem is elsewhere.
The more intuitive and simple it is for your users to use the product, the less barriers you have to actually transacting and growing business. Let the users guide you to achieving that intuitive and simple design.
What’s Your Go-to User Interview Question?
I’m always looking for questions that provide incredible insight to low-hanging fruits. I’d love to hear your questions and process for interviewing users!