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User interviews - analysis simplified

by Guest author on 1 January 2009

You've conducted the interviews - enlightening weren't they? It's now time to put all that information that's in your head down on paper, and pull it all together into a complete picture.

This article follows on from our previous article which gave tips on how to conduct the interviews themselves. Here we give you some possible techniques to use whilst analysing your interviews, helping mould your results into something tangible.

Form your findings into a narration

After interviews you'll find that you've lots of interesting thoughts and ideas bouncing around your head, but probably in no clear structure. The results will be much easier to understand and convey to others if they are ordered into a clear narration.

The best way to do this to do this is to put everything down on paper and then sift through the results to create a final unified story.

Post-it notes & a white board

  • Put all the concepts, ideas and findings you found in each interview onto post-it notes (each point should be on its own note).
  • Try to avoid long sentences as you'll need to be able to quickly scan it and know what it refers to, each post-it should only contain up to 10 words.
  • Feel free to use short quotes or simple summaries if they sum up the finding well.
  • Add a number or an interviewee name to the corner so you can keep track where each post-it came from.
  • If you interviewed people from differing groups (for example new and returning customers) patterns will be easier to spot if you put a symbol on each post-it (or used colour co-ordinated post-its) to show which group they belonged to.

This will take some time and may result in hundreds of post-its. After the interviews you'll know the common themes that appear through the interviews, so move the post-its around and group them accordingly.

Take your time with this, you may find the original groupings change over time. This is often called an 'affinity diagram'. An advantage of using post-its is that you can see the entirety of your results at once, rather than seeing a small part on a screen at any one time. Seeing the 'big picture' will help you visualise what is going on more easily than attempting this visualisation in your head alone. Another advantage is that post-its give you the flexibility to make further changes to your diagram if and when needed.

If you are able to, do this on a white board. This has 2 advantages:

  • You are able to draw rings around the groups, and add annotations where needed.
  • The post-its are likely to stick and stay where you need them (rather than deciding to fall to the floor at the most inopportune times).

Essentially you're creating a visual representation (almost a mind map) of the result. Once it's visualised, you'll find it'll make a lot more sense.

Don't forget why you were conducting the interviews

The first article emphasised the need to have a clear goal when conducting the interviews:

“The aims of interviews are to discover:

  • Users' needs and goals
  • How users complete tasks on your site (or would do if functionality was available)
  • What users think the site offers them (and what more they really want/need)”

This may act as a useful framework to apply your findings, and should be remembered whilst conducting the analysis. But keep in mind that the beauty of interviews is their flexibility so if you feel placing an alternative focus on the results clarifies your findings, you can do so.

Bounce your ideas off someone else

Stand in front of your post-its and talk your findings through with someone (or several people). Encourage questions. You will not be able to answer every question, but you will find where gaps in your explanations are. Talking through your findings will also help further clarify your thoughts, and you'll realise where the gaps are in your overall picture.

You may also find bouncing ideas off people who didn't attend the interviews useful. Seeing the results with someone with a different perspective from your own can generate ideas you may not have considered otherwise.

Take your time

You will find the first couple of hours will be filled with a frenzy of writing and grouping post-its, you should then sleep on the result. You will find your subconscious will keep on working on the problems, and you may well find you wake up with further ideas, or when taking a soak in a bath, or on the walk home... There will always be further bits to add, and changes to be made to your affinity diagram.

Developing your findings from interviews is like developing a photograph by hand. It takes time and if you rush through the process then the result is not as it should be. Take your time over the each stage, you will have been given a phenomenal amount of information to process during the interviews, so ensure everything relevant gets down and a clear overall message is able to develop.

Conclusion

Once you're done it just leaves the 'simple' matter of:

  • Making whatever changes are needed to your site
  • Producing personas
  • Diagnosing problems with your current site
  • Directing new design concepts

...or another one of the thousands of problems interviews can feed incredibly useful information into. But these “small” problems might be made easier knowing your hard work will pay off come go live.

As mentioned in the previous article “interviews are a great way to find in-depth information about your users”, just remember that more effort is needed than expected to pull out those fantastic results.

 

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