ah teaches interface design (Talking to Humans lecture)

Talking to Humans

Lecture outline

An introduction to approaches for interviewing users and the resulting consideration of research ethics. Lecture slides will be made available on the day of the lecture (June 15).

A plastic figure of a girl standing in front of a chalkboard dressed in a communist school uniform

Talking to Humans

Getting Experience

Primary sources

This week we want to fill in more of our gaps in experience to ensure we understand the humans in the context of this problem.

Why We Interview

We can use interviews to understand individuals, their experiences and behaviours in context. Be careful to keep in mind:

  • We are not our users.
  • We are not persuading our users.
  • We are guests.

Check Yourself

(Before You Wreck Yourself)

As an interviewer you want to avoid bringing your own biases and opinions, as this can influence how the interviewee responds.

Before starting any research, consider what assumptions do you have about the brief, your sources and related topics?

A Structured Approach

When interviewing, there are a couple of approaches we can take:

  • Structured — survey-like approach, exact same questions and order to each person.
  • Un-structured — radio interview like approach, spontaneous or semi-spontaneous questionioning.

A Semi-Structured Approach

For gathering someone's experience we recommend a semi-structured approach to interviewing. This means you will plan materials but allow for flexibility in having the interviewee guide the questions.

Building a Script

As part of our semi-structured approach, you will need a script. Included in this script should be:

  • Asking for permission
  • Setting expectations
  • The questions
  • Thanks

Asking for Permission

It is important that your interviewee understand the why and what you are doing. This ensures that they can safely agree to participate in what you are doing.

Permission Requirements

Before you ask interview questions, you must make sure they understand:

  • How long it will take
  • That they can leave at any time
  • That their information is private
  • What you will do with what they share
  • Why you are doing this

Ethical Data Options

Given that cloud services often cannot guarantee the physical location of your data will stay in Canada, I would recommend working with SFU-based tools such as Canvas Groups or SFU Vault to store research data.

Asking Questions

When exploring someone's experience, we likely want to ask open-ended questions as much as possible. For example:

Open-ended: "Can you tell me about your experience as a parent?"

Close-ended: "What three things do you love most about your experience as a parent?"

Building Questions

An approach to building questions is to consider what do you want to find out about. From there we can check our biases and try to build out a question that could give us the information we are looking for.

Building Questions

Part 2

Another approach we can take to building questions is taking our assumptions and turning them into questions.

Building Questions

Part 3

Review your questions:

  • How open or closed in the question?
  • How might the individual not answer the question?
  • Is there any apparent bias in the question?

Advanced Questions

Sometimes words are not enough to effectively get the response you want.

Keep in mind that prototypes, props, materials, and the ability to generate a response with more than words can be useful.

Team Roles

There will be more than one of you on a team. As a result, it is important that everyone has a clear role during the interview:

  • Lead interviewer
  • Note-taker(s)
  • Audio/video capture

Taking Notes

Just like with the interview questions, it is important that notes you take check your biases. You should aim to capture unbiased explanations of the interviewee as much as possible.


Internal Distortion

Internal distortion happens in interviews when there are problems with:

  • The interviewer (and their technique)
  • The clarity of questions
  • General ill-preparedness

These are things that you can control.

External Distortion

External distortion happens in interviews when there are problems with:

  • The interviewee (and interacting with them)
  • Distractions
  • Misunderstandings

These are things that you do not control as strongly.

Interview Performance

Let's practice some 'live' setup of the space. I'll talk through some 'digital' considerations.

  • Setting up the space
  • Introductions
  • Body language
  • Tone
  • Listening
  • Recording

Preparing for remote

There are a couple other items we recommend considering when preparing for remote interviews:

  • Rehearse with a teammate or classmate beforehand.
  • Pilot questions with a teammate or classmate. Have them explain how they think about answering your questions (i.e. think-aloud).
  • Over-prepare rather than under-prepare.

Conducting remote research

For conducting the remote research, we recommend:

  • Ask permission to record the interview. If given, record the interview.
  • Make sure note-taker introduces themselves and then mutes their audio and video for the interview.
  • If testing a prototype with tasks, make sure the participant has some time to get use to using the prototype before giving the tasks.

Research results

How to work with and make sense of research results we will talk about in the coming weeks.

P2: Heuristics

For lecture...

To help offset some of the in-lab critiques, we are going to start using the second half of lecture for weekly crits starting June 15.

These crits will not be public and will require sign-up in advance. Attending the lecture crit time means you will be free from the lab crit time. There are five slots available per lab (D101, D102, D103).

You can start signing up today by messaging me over the course chat or via email.

Next week's lecture

Teeny Tiny Actions and Patterns

Exploration of more interaction and interface patterns as well as the introduction of microinteractions. Pre-recorded lectures and slides will typically become available the day of the lecture.