Just Diving In: Hypothetical Audiences Segments and Interview Skills

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  • BK: I was just re-reading some of the book and I was wondering how important it is to define the task-based segments. I’m not sure anyone here knows what users do well enough to make those guesses. I’m thinking of starting to talk to a few people who look promising and see what they say, but will this be usable later for a mental model?

    Indi: Yes, anyone you can get to tell stories about their motivations will be usable in a mental model diagram. It will be a random or a homogeneous collection of stories, though. As far as defining some hypothetical audience segments up front, it’s an exercise to define and broaden your understanding of who you are supporting. Most people answer “everyone” when I ask, “Who will use this offering?” It’s not a good answer and keeps many organizations in chaos. It’s sometimes very difficult to undertake this exercise, but it is so helpful. I’m cajoling a client through the process this week in fact. Even if the groups you define now change completely once you have collected real stories from them, it’s important to try. If you don’t try to define some groups, then a) the scope of your research will be too broad, and b) you will miss talking to some people you might not have had in mind at first.

    BK: Could I just ask how you honed your non-directive interviewing skills? Did you just start and then improve over time or did you study books, take courses or similar?

    Indi: I started doing interviews in 1993 as a part of understanding the “lay of the land” for customer service reps at a call center in Baltimore. I considered myself a software engineer at the time, having graduated with a degree in Computer Science in 1987. So I think it was a skill I took from the deconstructive approach for writing code. They never taught us to interview people, but they did teach us to come at problems as neutrally as possible. So in the end, I guess my answer to your question is that I just dove into it. I try always to improve. I practice whenever I’m near people like at the checkout line or at community meetings. It’s far easier to be curious and neutral with “familiar strangers” like these situations than with people you know. Use every opportunity you can to practice.

    BK: I’m gradually cajoling my colleagues into letting me loose on the customers. I have to introduce the idea of user-experience-based user research. I’m still at the stage of trying to convince them of the value (compared to analytics / market research), since you know the non-directive interviewing can raise a few eyebrows. I’ll be putting a case together. This will definitely be a ‘dive into it’ approach for sure.

    Indi: Good! Dive into it! Employing a pop-up on a site with a few questions is a great way to collect leads. List these names and get back to each of them for a five minute chat (which needs to be by voice, but only 5 minutes) to find out who they are (in terms of your behavioral audience segments plus in terms of whatever demographics are interesting to your organization) and if they can talk story. This is really the reason why you need to call them. You can’t find out if a person can talk story by email.

    Once you find some people you really want to talk to, set up a time to have a conversation for 30 or 60 minutes. This is the fun part! This is where you start by introducing the scope of what you’re doing and then simply ask, “So, what are your thought processes and reactions during this?” Then you let the stories flow for a while. No interview questions are needed. Simply be curious and ask for lots of explanations of thoughts, beliefs, and feelings. This is the information from which you will make your mental model.

    Alternately, you’ve read about the lightning quick short-cut, right?

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