Video transcript | Human Centred Design and User Research—with Ariel Sim
From a human centred design standpoint, how do you prepare for user interviews?
When you’re making an interview protocol, it’s really good practice to try to take maybe the 10 to 20 to 100 questions you’re interested in, but identify the one that really gets to the crux of the problem, right?
Say I’m working on a food product and I have about 100 questions I could ask to understand users. I need to start my interview with the most important question—the one that is the root of the issue, say, “How do you buy food?” And try to make it an open-ended question, not a yes or no, always an open-ended question. But I need to find that one question that’s getting to the crux of the behaviour I’m looking for and hopefully that opens you to a ten-minute monologue and I just listen.
Meeting people where they are is a huge piece of interviewing. I would always give as a tip to any entrepreneur startup out there, do not invite people to come to your office to get interviewed. Go to them. Offer to go to their home, whatever, but meet people where they are. In doing that, you’re going to get a bunch of context about their life, and you’re also giving the power to the user because you’re entering their world, rather than forcing them to enter your world.
And when you do that, do a bit of advance research. If you’re going to a marginalized household, try not to wear too many fancy designer brands, maybe limit how much technology you’re bringing in. Definitely ask before the interview whether or not they’re comfortable with any version of recording. On the other side, if you’re going to see C- suite CEOs, if you’re going to the richest of the rich, level up, right? Level up and get as dressy as you possibly can. Of course, be authentic to who you are, but as a human centred designer, understand that you’re a chameleon so adapt to whatever situation you may have created for yourself, right?
What should entrepreneurs consider when forming interview or survey questions?
When forming questions or surveys, startups and entrepreneurs really need to think about self-reporting or self-reporting bias, which means never ask a user a question directly, right? It doesn’t make any sense, we’re saying, “Go talk to users, but then don’t ask them questions directly,” but this comes again from the issue of self-reporting bias.
So think about all of the activities related to the product you’re going to build or the thing you want to improve, and maybe not the activity itself, but all of the time you spend right before that activity, the motivations that get you to the door, right? Say I want to buy a coffee at Starbucks. My interview questions would be more about: when I drink coffee, what time in the day? What flavours do I like? What type of containers do I like to drink my coffee out of? Do I drink coffee alone or do I drink coffee with a group of people? Do I care about biological standards of that coffee? Am I more concerned about price points? Things like that.
So there’s this whole ecosystem of variables that affect our decision-making and also our enjoyment of products that isn’t about the product itself, but all of the things that that product means to ourselves, our identity, our group, our family and our place in society.
So really think about interview questions that don’t ask a direct line of sight, but all of the things in the weeds and the bushes around the experience you’re creating.
Can you illustrate the importance of user testing?
A great example of testing with users is the potato peeler.
So, the traditional potato peeler is a pretty basic non-ergonomic tool, right? It’s just a straight tool with a sharp edge and you hold onto it, and you really have to crank your wrist to peel that potato or carrot or whatever it is that you’re doing.
Now, one of the founders of OXO watched his wife peeling potatoes and she was arthritic and it was giving her so much pain. And so what he did was he redesigned the potato peeler so that it was more comfortable, there was more give in the handle, right? I’m sure you’ve seen the new potato peelers that have kind of small bevels for your fingers. You can hold it. They changed the material so it’s not wood, but kind of a nice cushy handle. And then in addition to that, you have a rotating blade, which means you have to do less rotation with your own wrist— the tool is doing more work for you.
Now that was an example of testing with a user, but also, testing for an extreme user, someone who has arthritis. And they were not at all planning for that potato peeler to take over the market, but because it was an inarguably better product, that’s become the ubiquitous potato peeler.
How can a company do user research on a tight budget?
If you don’t have money to recruit users, you can also use yourself as a tool for research.
I do that a lot, especially when I was getting my start and I didn’t have access to user research groups or something like that. So what you can do is empathy research, which means you as the researcher put yourself in the shoes of the person that you want to build for or solve for.
If you want to build for farmers, go farm for a day. If you want to build for sensitive populations or low-income populations, try to live on $10 a day for a week or a month, right? That requires a lot of commitment as a researcher, but what you’ll find is by trying to actually live the experience of the person that you’re working for, you’re going to understand them in a lot deeper way than if you just asked them questions.
Ariel Sim, Human Centred Designer and Futurist with Doblin Deloitte, shares insights on conducting user research in human centered design (HCD). Ariel looks at how to prepare for user interviews, how to design effective questions and how to conduct user research on a tight budget.