As a UX designer, understanding the needs, goals, behaviours, and attitudes of users is crucial to creating successful products and services. User research is a fundamental part of the UX design process and involves gathering insights from users to inform design decisions.
The primary aim of user research is to gain deep understanding of the needs, goals, behaviours, and attitudes of the people who will use a product or service. One of the most popular methods of gathering user insights is through user interviews.
But let's be real: just conducting user interviews won't magically create a successful (UX) design. It's what you do with the insights that matter.
Analysing your data can be hard, especially as user interviews should not be your only source of information, and you should be ideally looking at a mix of qualitative and quantitative data.
So, in this post, we'll explore how to bring together all the data you collect, not just from user interviews but from various sources. We'll also discuss how these insights can be transformed into meaningful decisions to create better user experiences and increase organisational UX maturity.
But first, as user interviews are one of the most commonly used methods to gather in-depth data, a quick overview of how to ensure your research interviews produce rich, useful data…
Conducting data-rich user interviews
To make sure that your user interviews are effective, you need to speak to the right people, and the process of picking these people is usually a collaborative decision between the stakeholders and the design researcher.
The number of participants for user interviews can vary depending on the project. There's no hard and fast rule, but generally, you want to think about the variables or subgroups that can influence how people think and behave.
You want to make sure that you include people from all of these subgroups in your sample. This way, you can gain insights from a diverse range of perspectives and ensure that you're not missing any crucial information.
Before conducting your user interviews, it's a good practice to write and then agree on a discussion guide with your stakeholders. This guide should cover all the important aspects and key questions that you need to explore during your interviews.
And don't be afraid to get creative! You can include different type of exercises to get the information you need.
For example, use card sorting to uncover the participants’ mental models or introduce projective techniques (using unstructured tasks to uncover subjective beliefs), especially if you are working on a complex topic, as it can help you obtain more in-depth answers from your participants.
Two research heads are better than one
During the interviews, it's essential to have an interviewer (researcher) and an interviewee (participant). But, ideally, you should also have a second researcher observing the session and taking notes, as it helps the interviewer focus on the participant
Plus, it also speeds up the process of analysis as the researchers do not necessarily need to watch back all videos and recordings as the notes and discussions between the two researchers serve as a base which is reinforced by watching back the videos.
Additional benefits to having a second person involved in some of the sessions include:
The observer usually notices a possibility for follow-up questions that have been missed by the interviewer. I stop several times during the interview, usually after each bigger section, and ask if anyone has questions about that topic before we move on. This short stop after each section is a great way to provide a timeframe not only for our internal follow-up questions but for any stakeholder present to let me know if they have any additional questions, which they texted in a chat to me privately, and I can pick them up in this time.
I personally like to change the roles and not keep any researcher to strictly ask the questions or observe. The variety of roles gives the design researchers the potential to gain a fresh perspective, reflect and learn.
Speaking of learning, having two researchers present is a great learning opportunity for a less experienced design researcher to get comfortable in an interview setup.
In terms of who should attend your interviews, you should consider inviting stakeholders to the sessions. This way, they can increase ownership and better understand the reasoning behind the decisions that your design team is about to propose or make.
One final tip for conducting user interviews is to view the first session as an opportunity to test your discussion guide. Give yourself some breathing space after that first session to make any necessary iterations.
Now, on to the data analysis part…
Better user research analysis, better user experiences.
After conducting the user interviews, it's essential to capture and organise the information gained from these sessions in a meaningful way. A Research Wall helps you with that.
What is a Research Wall?
On a basic level, a Research Wall is a table of data organised into a series of rows and columns. Each column relates to a different aspect of the interview - like facts or key themes you want to know more about or an activity (for example, a projective task, card sorting, etc.) - and each row relates to a separate participant or research activity (for example: reports you looked at through the desk research)
How to populate the research wall with data.
One method that I find effective for getting the information onto the Research Wall is an iterated version of IDEO's ‘download your learnings’ exercise, which involves putting key information - such as who was interviewed, what was said, and any facts or impressions gained during the session - on to Post-it notes.
While it's best done as a group exercise, in reality, it is often just the two design researchers who were present in the session. If there was only the interviewer present, or you are unsure about some aspects, or maybe you would like to quote a participant, this is time to watch back the recordings.
A bonus tip for getting extra (layer of) information on the Research Wall
If a stakeholder was present during an interview, it can be helpful to ask them to share their top three takeaways from the session. These can be noted in a separate column on the Research Wall.
Doing so helps you understand what struck their interests, sparking some great conversations that ensure that you don't miss out on crucial aspects of the interview.
Using a Research Wall to analyse user research data
In my personal experience, Research Walls support a thematic analysis of user interviews (and most types of qualitative data), as organising all your information in this way naturally fosters the discovery of common themes, ideas and patterns. Further input can also be included to help build a more diverse understanding.
So when you have lots of information from different sources that you need to consider as a whole in order to really gain insight and understanding of the overarching themes and patterns, a Research Wall can be the place where you bring all the information together.
For example, rather than (usually the first) column relating only to “who” (i.e. a specific participant), it could also cover “what” - such as an industry report, previous in-house research findings, statistical data or workshop outputs.
A more engaging, organised way to display research data
A Research Wall is where all the information gathered during research can be organised and displayed in a visually engaging and easily accessible way.
By putting everything in one place, it becomes easier to spot patterns and connections that might not have been apparent before. For example, you might notice that a behaviour discovered through interviews aligns with a quantitative insight from an industry report (or that they completely contradict it).
Having it in the same place allows you and your team to have an initial sense check on the insights that emerge from the research.
To illustrate, let's assume that we discovered a significant trend among our research participants who use bikes during some part of their morning commute as a means of saving money and maintaining good health. However, our digital ticket-selling app for buses and trains lacks the functionality to check whether bikes are permitted on board or to purchase bike-specific tickets.
While based on the sample of 12 regular commuters we interviewed, this is a pain point for our user group, we cannot accurately determine the problem's magnitude or relevance without additional data since our qualitative interviews are not representative.
Therefore, we could match this data with an industry report on transportation trends, look at our own statistics, etc., to obtain a rough estimate of the issue's size before committing resources to measure it quantitatively or developing a new feature.
Increasing the value and reach of user research projects
Additionally, research activities usually end with a deliverable. A report and its presentation are always in scope, and there is potentially a design suggestion and (ideally) the design itself included, too.
These research reports contain (carefully) curated insights and suggestions based on the aims and objectives of the project, meaning not all information gathered will make it into the final report.
But sometimes, those final presentations spark interest among other teams as they would like to know more or have further questions - and again, this is where Research Walls can also be particularly useful.
For example: even if the research didn't have a marketing objective, some of the insights could be useful for marketing purposes. As though it may be unlikely for the marketing team to go through the interview recordings or transcripts, the researcher(s) who conducted the research can walk them through the Research Wall and highlight relevant pieces of information.
Provide a single source of raw data that can be referred back to by anyone at any time;
Bring the voice of users to things where it may otherwise be missed;
Open up the work UX teams do to other departments - which can help raise organisational UX maturity.
It is quite often in organisations - especially those without a dedicated research or insight team - that product information gets siloed, with lots of information sitting in lots of different places that different people know about and have access to.
But by allowing different teams to access the findings, Research Walls give insights a place to be stored whilst also providing a relatively easy, searchable archive of information - meaning the impact of the project can be extended.
For example, UX Design information may not be accessible to other departments, and marketing research may not be seen by the UX team.
Hence, a Research Wall can be a step towards in-house knowledge being shared and used across different departments. This not only helps to reduce the duplicating of in-house knowledge but can also foster more collaborative, cross-team working.