Just read a great article about critical interviewing.
One of the key points Kate Lawrence makes is that we need to make users comfortable.
I had a boss who insisted that my job as a usability researcher was to “serve it up cold” when conducting usability tests. “Be professional, yet impersonal,” he advised me, “and you’ll get solid results.” I suppose I did get solid results—if by solid you mean responses that are stale and forced. My test participants were never comfortable because I did nothing to help them feel at ease. Sure, I was professional, but professional without being warm and conversational.
Helping people to get comfortable in an interview, whether in a lab setting or in their own home is extremely important. Just being warm and genuine with people can go a long way and in the article she makes several points about this. One of the things she suggests that was totally new to me was this: Give the reward to the participant up front. This can help participants feel less like they might lose the reward if they don’t give what they think are the “right” answers.
One of the other ways that I’ve found works well is using a recording device or set-up that minimizes the feeling of being recorded. I record audio for interviews and love my handy-dandy Livescribe pen. It fades into the background almost immediately (though it’s a shame that, as a writing instrument it sucks so immensely). Using a large and obvious set-up can make some people nervous. When screen recording I prefer to use built-in webcams to pick up people’s faces. This is perhaps the only time I’ve cursed Apple for using a system-state indicator (a small LED) when the camera is on in their laptops. If at all possible I do not use one-way mirrors, but rather a hidden camera to get more stakeholders in on the action in real-time.
When possible I’d also recommend interviewing people more than once. During the second interview people are often much more comfortable. The other thing that is highly recommended I mentioned in my last post: Observe AND Ask. The person may have already been able to acclimate to you being around if you’ve talked to them briefly, broken the ice, and then spent time together while you observe them. The interview then can be much more comfortable.
Anyone else have any brilliant ideas on interviewing or how to help people feel comfortable?