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Interviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling Insights

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Interviewing is a foundational user research tool that people assume they already possess. Everyone can ask questions, right? Unfortunately, that's not the case. Interviewing Users provides invaluable interviewing techniques and tools that enable you to conduct informative interviews with anyone. You'll move from simply gathering data to uncovering powerful insights about people.

Interviewing Users will explain how to succeed with interviewing, including:

* Embracing how other people see the world
* Building rapport to create engaging and exciting interactions
* Listening in order to build rapport.

With this book, Steve Portigal uses stories and examples from his 15 years of experience to show how interviewing can be incorporated into the design process, helping you learn the best and right information to inform and inspire your design.

176 pages, Kindle Edition

First published January 1, 2013

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About the author

Steve Portigal

2 books147 followers
Steve Portigal is an experienced user researcher who helps organizations to build more mature user research practices. Based outside of San Francisco, he is principal of Portigal Consulting, and the author of two books: The classic Interviewing Users: How To Uncover Compelling Insights and Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries: User Research War Stories.

He’s also the host of the Dollars to Donuts podcast, where he interviews people who lead user research in their organizations. Steve is an accomplished presenter who speaks about culture, innovation, and design at companies and conferences across the globe.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 108 reviews
Profile Image for Danielle.
15 reviews
June 9, 2013

My first entry into the Rosenfeld Media books was a hit. Interviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling Insights by Steve Portigal digs into the world of market research and ethnography. If you're entering the world of user testing, I suggest first reading Rocket Surgery Made Easy by Steve Krug. That book does a great job of providing a foundation and overview. Interviewing Users should be your second book of entry into user testing. It digs a little deeper into topics such as a) the stages of an interview b) how to ask questions and c) problem Interviewers.

As I mentioned earlier, Interviewing Users works from a market research/ethnographic approach. So it's not going to provide step by step instructions on doing usability testing, but it will help you think about the overall structure of your testing.

Stages of the Interview

Much like the stages of grief, for Portigal, there are also stages of interviews. They include:

1) Crossing the threshold
2) Restating objectives
3) Kick-off questions
4) Accept the awkwardness
5) The tipping point
6) Reflection and projection
7) The soft close

Described in more detail:

1) This is the moment when the interviewee enters the actual office, room, etc. in which they will be interviewed. This is also when you as the interviewer set up your camera, get the seats situated, etc.

2) Who knows under what conditions the interviewee was drafted? Take this moment at a high level to explain what will happen, how long, etc. Do they have questions?

3) Start with the broad and work to the specific. Your first question, should be one which eases the user into the line of questions. For example "What is your job?"

4) The interviewee although you've reminded them this is not a test of them, will feel uncomfortable, perhaps even resistant. Go with it and accept that this part of the process. Put them ease. Be patient. Ask questions.

5) One can't predict when this will happen, but a transition will occur with the interviewee and you the interviewer. A rapport will begin to develop.

6) You'll be capturing the interviewing details and then the interviewer begins to think outside of the immediate on a more high level.

7) The questions have been asked and it's time for the interviewer to go home. Keep the camera or recording device rolling. This is the moment when crucial information may be revealed. Portigal calls this the "doorknob phenomenon."

Silence as Encouragement to Talk

Portigal discusses at length the importance of quiet. He delves into interviews he's conducted in Japan. Quiet/silence acts as a way to suggest encouragement to talk, respect and thought about a question asked and even to suggest the difficulty of a question asked. While Americans he contrast as having less intense social code around quiet, he does advocate for give pauses after an interviewer has provided an answer. While part of you as new interviewer is screaming to say something, take a moment. There may be more insights the interviewee has to share with you.

I won't go into all of the specifics, but Portigal also has a nice list of about 18 questions which will help you dig deeper into the participant's understanding and answers. The question categories for these include - gathering context and collecting details, probe what's been unsaid and contrasts to uncover frameworks.

Problem Interviewees

The Quiet One

How do you get someone to open it who's giving you simple 1-2 word responses? The author advocates trying to determine the source of their discomfort. Are you discussing some sort of social taboo? Tapping into an element of their insecurity about their work, life, etc? Be flexible in these situations and adjust your questions. Perhaps change the topic or share something about yourself. If none of these approaches works, be direct and ask what is their source of discomfort. Consider changing the time and location of the interview.

Who are you and where did you come from interviewee?

Ideally you've screened your interviewee, but things happen and people slip through the cracks. So you've got the wrong kind of interviewee? Reevaluate how you screened, maybe a particular word in the criteria had multiple meanings. Also don't consider the interview a total wash. Take the time to gain what you can from this person.

The Talker

First and foremost evaluate if you're getting the answers you want. Do by all means give them space to talk, but if their headed in another direction redirect their line of answers. When all else fails interrupt and remind them of the time constraints of the interview and that you want to make sure to cover all of the topics on your lists to help the project, client, etc.

Final Thoughts

There are certainly more gems to be found in Interviewing Users and as it's a mere 170 pages a no brainer to add to your reading list.
Profile Image for Tom.
51 reviews5 followers
April 13, 2018
Amazing book about user research. It's practical, it's full of examples, it contains short stories from the field, it also contains opinions from other researches and ... it's short :)
Profile Image for grace.
185 reviews10 followers
June 20, 2021
4.5. I rarely read, and even more rarely actually finish professional development books cos they usually bore me to no end, but this was easy to read, actionable, and filled with examples. Also, as someone who interviews users for a living, reading this was really validating! I stumbled into a lot of my user research processes, so it was nice to see the reasoning behind the actions. It would’ve been helpful to have read this earlier in my career, but I still got some valuable new nuggets from this. Some bits are outdated, such as tech references especially given the amount of detail on logistics, but overall an interesting and informative read!
Profile Image for Moayad Taibah.
171 reviews26 followers
July 26, 2017
This is a must read for any researcher going out there and exploring other people's behaviors and attitudes in their day-to-day interactions with any given product/service.

Interviewing Users is a reference book that guides the researcher in the journey of conducting interviews from understanding their purpose and expected outcomes, to preparing everything, conducting the sessions, and finally analyzing the outcomes.

The book is well structured, comprehensive, detailed enough to act as a guide, and is full of examples and specific do's and dont's. It helped me see the overall picture of interview studies and go into details to perceive the different challenges I might, if i haven't already, face and how to overcome or at least monitor them.

The anecdotes mentioned by the author and the case studies highlighting the main points of each chapter helped cement the primary concepts in my mind and helped me connect the dots to what needed to be done as well as provide helpful tips and tricks for the whole endeavor.

I would recommend this book to any researcher, whether he/she is just getting started or have already been through the mill a few times. This is a good book to keep in handy if you're considering conducting interviews to understand your users.
Profile Image for Dave.
141 reviews
December 28, 2013
Fundamental principles and techniques in qualitative research interviewing, interwoven with anecdotes from the author and other established researchers. Portigal lays out a general framework for interviewing, and discusses planning, conducting, documenting, evaluating, and reporting the interview.

While usability studies, ethnographic observations, and other members of the qualitative family aren't necessarily interviews, the book illuminates a sensible and effective research mindset for any formal, qualitative research undertaking. Recommended even for experienced practitioners.
Profile Image for Daniela D.
126 reviews5 followers
November 4, 2020
This is a fantastic introduction to conducting user interviews, it's very light, easy to read, has good examples to illustrate all points that Portigal is making. It has everything from the details and logistics of the preparation to strategies on how to deal with difficult users or slow moving conversations. There is only a short chapter on the data analysis and how to make sure your organisation appreciates this type of work. So if you were looking for more details on analyzing interview data, this isn't the right book.
Profile Image for Amanda.
86 reviews8 followers
September 23, 2013
This is an excellent book for training individuals new to interviewing. I'm currently using this book in a qualitative methods course I'm co-teaching for graduate students in design. However, as someone was originally trained how to interview in the qualitative methods courses that I completed during my public health graduate coursework, I highly recommend this text across academic domains as it covers all the basics in a clear and well-articulated manner.
Profile Image for Corina.
132 reviews6 followers
February 10, 2017
Wonderful book chock full of practical strategies and helpful tips that only can come from someone with a ton of experience during this type of research. Steve Portigal's personality shines through wonderfully, making the book a pleasure to read.
Profile Image for Caitlin.
407 reviews2 followers
March 10, 2017
Wish I had a chance to do more of this kind of thing.
Profile Image for Aaron Byers.
171 reviews3 followers
February 16, 2021
Useful and practical, at least for the purpose I read it. The UX graduate class required it but it wasn't a waste of time. I don't plan on interviewing people, but if I were...this would give not just the theoretical concepts but the practical tips, too.
Profile Image for Sai.
97 reviews10 followers
December 3, 2017
Super quick read about practical tips for conducting product user interviews.

Some non-intuitive take-aways for me were:
- create a brain dump of presently held implicit context and beliefs about your topic, using this exercise as a ritual to empty out your mind before starting conversations with someone so that you've flushed out your world views
- people speak in paragraphs, and sometime its ok to respond by silence when someone has finished saying a blurb, to give them the permission to say their next paragraph
- an interview is preferring going super deep on a small sample size of users rather collecting a generic survey over a large sample size; this understanding makes the the impact of the activity transparent
- to elaborate on that point, interviews should go from question-answer-question-answer loops to question-story. Hitting this point in every interview should be the goal of any successful interview, and that is you really make an impact from the exercise
- don't rush to help the participant if they're using a product incorrectly, this is not a tech support call

Apart from the non-intuitive pointers above, there were also many obvious, yet in-depth guidelines on how to perform the prep work for a successful interview.
Profile Image for Kyrill.
124 reviews17 followers
March 18, 2021
This is "How to Win Friends an Influence People" without the jokes and with extra Frekanomics tidbits. I guess I should have read the blurb better since my field is HCI - maybe you're reading this in a field where this is the norm but doesn't the blurred line between interview and PR worry you? There was leading fallacy after leading fallacy - was interview data even mentioned? What epistemological approach are you taking to its analysis? How much agency does the interviewee have? What changes it.
If you are interested in research to find out what's true, think of it as a project: check out Herbert J. Rubin, Zara O'Leary, James Paul Gee.
Profile Image for Cristiano Dalbem.
19 reviews26 followers
June 25, 2020
Despite the title this book cover much more than just interviewing users, I could say it's a perfect primer on user research as a whole because it does cover the fundamentals, the why's, the contexts and the afters (the final chapter on instilling research culture in companies was a great surprise of a book that did so well on everything else also covering the mote corporative and political side of Design).
I loved how it's practical, very well written and laid out, with some nuggets of theory in some parts and real-life examples on others.
From all Research techniques, even with a personal bias to quantitative, I was always a fan of user interviews in any project situation because of the richness of the insights and the high potential for generating empathy in the team. Now after studying Portigal I'm even more certain of how powerful this tool can be, and feeling empowered to make it happen.
(oh and Steve seems to be the smartest and sweetest guy!)
Profile Image for Anirudh Jain.
123 reviews2 followers
July 22, 2020
This is the third book that I am reading which concerns interviewing users hence there was a little new to learn for me but some of the tips were useful.

This concerns with the formal user research interview unlike the MOM test which was sort of a guirella research technique. This book lays out a formal structure of keeping all the stakeholders in check, design a screener, design a field guide to ensure that the things happen smoothly. Apart from this there are certain practical yet obvious tips like switch off your cell phone. Not to discredit steve but a lot of the formal pointers and info could have been completed in 2o pages and he could fill the rest with war stories and even further tips. He did include case studies and interview experiences of other researchers as well.

All in all a great book if you decide that you want to read just one book to understand how to take interviews.
Profile Image for Matthew Stublefield.
6 reviews4 followers
April 30, 2018
Lots of good info, but a little too focused on physical interviews

I highlighted and bookmarked a number of helpful things in this book, but it didn’t quite match my expectations, and I would estimate that only around half of the book was helpful for me. The problem here (and perhaps I just overlooked it in the description) is that this book is actually about interviewing users in their particular physical context. It’s all about making observations based on how someone interacts with their environment or a product, and while that’s interesting, it didn’t match my expectations or needs. The guidance related to question format, remaining silent, the roles of secondary and tertiary interviewers, and other more generic instruction was great, but a LOT of this book is about how to conduct yourself and make good observations in-person.
Profile Image for Jade Jenkins.
15 reviews1 follower
August 3, 2020
Leans very heavily on the practical side of conducting ethnographic interviews rather than the academic side of things, and does so extremely well!

If you're looking for an end-to-end walk-through consisting of best practices, case studies, sample materials (questions, artifacts, etc.), perspectives from user researchers who conduct ethnographies and interviews, links to templates and crowd-sourcing activities, etc., you will find it all in spades here.

As a bonus: It's a very fast read. Even if you're a slow reader like me, you could probably finish it in one day if you were committed to doing so.
11 reviews1 follower
February 24, 2020
I really enjoyed this book. Steve Portigal is an informative and fun teacher. I really enjoyed narrative. I thought the experience he offers is right in line with what I've been learning. The examples are plenty. The images are hilarious. If you're looking to take the next step from UI designer to UX researcher, then definitely invest in this book. That said I would have given this book 5 stars if it wasn't so expensive. It's a Rosenfeld book maybe that's part of it. Any ways this is definitely great read!
Profile Image for Anton Kostadinov.
19 reviews3 followers
January 8, 2020
Probably good for beginners. I found it tedious to read, not only because of the small font size and obviously poor choice of the red background and white text which caused even my eyes (and I have perfect vision) to burn. It does provide some examples but they are not something interesting, nor is the practical advice given.
Profile Image for Madalina Nastase.
118 reviews11 followers
May 26, 2017
It took months to finish this.
I found about 20% of this book to be useful-insights-into-interviewing, and the rest just dragged endlessly with common sense rules for human interaction.
The writing isn't particularly witty or engaging either.
Profile Image for Natalía Papadopoúlou.
88 reviews22 followers
December 7, 2018
The most detailed and comprehensive guide to interviewing people, where starters to professionals would make use of some aspects of it. Definitely keeping it on my recommendation list to fellow designers / researchers.
Profile Image for Ola.
41 reviews10 followers
December 15, 2018
Surprisingly, this book is not only a useful guide on how to interview users but also on how to talk to people in your life when you really want to make it about them, not you.

PS. Bought it after attending Steve’s workshop at Product Camp in Gdynia 2018.
Profile Image for Becky Sroufe.
15 reviews
April 4, 2019
Very digestible and surprisingly short(er) than what I was expecting, but length in no way is a similar reflection of the content. This was jam packed with fantastic learnings and advice that I'm thrilled to take with me in the field! Would HIGHLY recommend.
Profile Image for Michael Szeto.
17 reviews1 follower
February 26, 2020
Really awesome book with fantastic pointers on how to conduct user interviews and how to act when performing the tasks.

Would definitely recommend it to any Ux and Product Designers looking to improve their interviewing skills.
304 reviews1 follower
January 22, 2018
This is a good review of key components of a qualitative research study.
Profile Image for Jen.
25 reviews
January 29, 2018
Great book!

There are some basic ideas which make it a solid resource for people new to user interviews, and some great nuggets appealing to someone with more experience.
1 review
June 1, 2020
Un clásico de los clásicos en User Research. ¿Pero porqué?
Portigal nos explica que el proceso de la entrevista (al igual que otras técnicas de investigación) empieza muchísimo antes de la entrevista en sí. Tan así, que le dedica un capítulo entero al trabajo de dejar nuestras creencias y presuposiciones afuera para que no interfieran en la investigación.

Usando anécdotas, propias y de otrxs colegas, "Interviewing Users" es un GRAN material de referencia a la hora de planear una entrevista. Abarcando puntos tales como:
- cómo redactar un screener.
- qué tener en cuenta para un buen recruiting.
- quienes participan en la entrevista y cómo.
- qué tipos de preguntas hay y cómo hacer que saquen buenas historias.
Y lo que hace que este libro sea tan maravilloso:
- cómo desevolverse en la entrevista en sí, entendiendo los silencios, las respuestas y actitudes de lxs entrevistadxs.

Sin dudar el espíritu de este libro yace en esta frase:
"Stories are where the richest insights lie, and your objective is to get to this point in every interview".
Profile Image for Matthew.
88 reviews2 followers
January 28, 2022
Nothing here was really earthshattering or something you couldn't get anywhere else. But I am giving it 4 stars because it was succinct, hit all the points it needed to, and will probably stay memorable.

Portigal here is referencing ethnography broadly and specifically the process of interviewing users. He walks us through the process of selecting candidates, screening them, setting up equipment, picking locations to do interviews, and how to capture the things they say.

Of particular note is his emphasis on the process of planning the interview script, but his flexibility around the original structure of it. I like this approach and plan to use it in my own interviews that I conduct. I also gravitate toward his attitude that "everything in an interview is data" and the optimism that comes with that. As well as the humility that he expresses at getting to interview experts on particular subjects and just being there to learn.
Profile Image for Livinda .
6 reviews
August 22, 2021
Reading Steve Portigal's experience on doing the user interview is such a pleasure!
He also provides a sample of the research documentation which is helpful. My favorite part is the palette of question types. We can collect details by asking questions based on context, questions that probe what's been unsaid, and questions that create contrasts to uncover frameworks and mental models. These techniques are new to me and I'm excited to apply this in the nearest user interview for our research!

On top of that, we can take into account the impact of our research (chapter 9). This chapter emphasizes that data becomes insights, and insights become opportunities for new products, features, services, designs, and strategies, and new opportunities for teams to embrace a user-centered approach to their work.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 108 reviews

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