The interview: a powerful method to gather valuable insights

‘Best practices’ are great, but they are of little value when you encounter an unprecedented problem. For these types of challenges, you’ll usually have to come up with entirely new solutions. You’ll need insights. One approach to uncover insights is by conducting interviews. 

Interviews are a wonderful way to gather valuable information in a short period of time. When interviewing people, it’s best to behave like a professional journalist (well prepared and focused), as well as an ignorant child (curious and not afraid to ask silly questions).

Apart from being a good listener, it’s worth noticing what someone is doing, isn’t saying or what his or her body language is telling you. There are various ways in which you can use interviews during creative problem-solving, and there are different target groups which you can talk to. In this article, I describe five different interview target groups that are worth considering.

The user in his natural habitat
Start a conversation with a user in his ‘natural environment’ (for example in their office, at home, at the factory, in the waiting room, etc.). This ensures that the interviewee feels comfortable enough to speak freely about his/her behaviour and needs.

In addition, the user’s environment provides you with all sorts of handy ‘clues’ to point at during the interview. You can refer to striking things and ask questions about them. Think of questions such as “Can you show me how you use this?”, “What are you using this object for?” “What’s this for?” “Can you tell me something more about this?” etc.

Extreme users
Apart from interviewing ordinary users, it can also be interesting to talk to ‘extreme users’: users who stand out because of their uncommon behaviour. Think, for example, of professional users, industrial users and niche users. The behaviour of extreme users often brings to light frustrations and needs which are equally relevant for average users (but might be much harder to spot).

Map what topic you want to investigate, research who the ‘extreme users’ are on this subject and visit them. Use their behaviour as a source of inspiration and try to uncover principles that could be valuable to a larger group of users.

The expert
It goes without saying that experts can share a lot of valuable information. But don’t forget to also look for information that the expert considers unimportant. As an outsider, you can listen to an expert with an open mind and uncover ‘insights’ in matters that will seem obvious or irrelevant to an expert.

Who you should interview as an expert depends entirely on your subject. You can find various experts per challenge. Think of subject experts (e.g. a scientist or trend watcher), experiential experts or target group experts (for example: the editor-in-chief of a magazine that your target group likes to read).

In addition to end users and experts, it can also be valuable to listen to what those indirectly involved have to say. These outsiders can often tell you a lot about things they find remarkable. For example, talk to a supplier, a partner organization, a maintenance engineer, an employee of another department, a secretary or a cleaner. Chances are they’ve heard or seen things which are overlooked by users and direct employees.

‘Fans’ & ‘haters’
Often it is useful to talk to fans of a product or service. After all, they can effortlessly tell you why they use something and what makes it so amazing. Sometimes, however, it is also very interesting to interview people who have a profound dislike of the product or service you are researching. Why do they find it so terrible to work with? The complaints and irritations of these ‘haters’ often yield more valuable information than those of the hard-core enthusiasts.

Want to know more about applying interviews or other methods to discover insights? For instance when preparing for the introduction of a new intranet? Then send me an email or give us a call (0031-10 3070 534)

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  • Rob Folkard

    Just the advice I was looking for.
    Now I know how to glean ‘insider information’ from my potential clients
    Thank You !

    Rob Folkard
    11+ Training Consultant

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