So you went through the recruitment process, screened your users and cherry-picked the people you want to interview. They booked their session, the session date is getting closer, and this is your first remote user research session. Exciting times!
Step 1: Build rapport and break the ice
The first thing to remember here is that you want to have an informal session where the participants feel like they’re having a laid-back conversation. The session shouldn’t feel like an interview: you want to get a totally natural conversation where the participant feels relaxed and comfortable - this will give you deeper insights from the session.
Start with a nice and friendly intro. Introduce yourself to the user and tell her what this research is about. It’s good to give context and explain what are you looking to learn, so they understand your purpose better and can be more helpful to you.
Since we’re doing remote research, I have a great icebreaker to start off my calls: “where do you live and what do you love the most about your home city?” This is just generally a great way to kick off: it helps participants relax and realise that this is going to be more like a friendly conversation than an interview.
Step 2: Introduce the problem and / or the prototype
After a little chit chat, I give them an overview of the session structure and introduce the prototype or problem we’ll be discussing. This is a good foundation for the more complex questions that will follow.
If you’re doing a usability testing session, be sure to explain that you’re testing a prototype and not the participant.
Explain that there’s no right or wrong answer to your questions: what we’re looking for is candid feedback and opinions.
Explain that they can be totally honest about their feedback and it won’t hurt your feelings as you didn’t design the prototype. Even if you did design the prototype, I’d recommend saying it wasn’t you.
Michael Margolis, UX Researcher at Google Ventures recommends calling every interface a prototype during a user testing session. Even if it’s a fully functional production app, telling the user it’s a prototype empowers them to be truly critical and avoid holding back their thoughts.
Your ultimate goal is to understand behavior and motivation. The interview/user test is a way for you to have a better grasp on issues you're probably missing as a insider. Instead of talking about general ways of doing a given task, try to ask about more specific details. These things will help you understand rather than just gathering answers to specific questions.
Step 3: Ask light warm-up questions
Following the introduction, I like to start with lighter, warm-up questions related to our research. These won’t lead to groundbreaking discoveries but they’re helpful to get everyone in the mood and make the participants start thinking.
An easy warm-up question would be “What’s your first impression of the app?”. Or if running a general interview, to ask situational questions about the user’s role, team or organization.
Step 4: Get into more challenging questions
As you get deeper into the session, make sure you continue to work from your research plan and ask the right questions in the right way.
Be especially conscious that you’re not being suggestive in your questions: this is pretty much the worst thing you can do in a session and totally skews the result. Common sense plays a big role here. It might require a little more learning, practice and self-reflection to avoid suggestive questions.
You generally want to ask open-ended questions, to keep your testers sharing their experience. Make sure you’re digging deeper into their response by following up with more “why?” questions.
Step 5: Wrapping things up
Once you have gathered all the insights you need, or think that the conversation has reached its limit you can start closing down the session:
“Thank you, this was really helpful. I think we’ve got everything we wanted, do you have any questions for us or is there anything else you would like to share?”
This allows the user to express themselves and ask anything that they’re interested in. Some researchers tend to send follow up questions via email, but if you’re doing everything right, this shouldn’t be necessary.