My First Personas Project – Part 2

My First Personas Project – Part 2

Preparing & conducting the interviews

Luckily for me, I could rely on three UX experts at Movify who were always prepared to give me feedback and advice. Karol and Benjamin told me how to go about asking the right questions and how to do the interviews. In a later stage, Jacqueline showed me how to put it all together & present personas.

Most important questions

The first thing I had to do was think about what info I wanted to get out of the interviews in the end. Based on that, I created the questions I wanted to ask. For the purpose of building personas, I was mostly interested in people’s motivations, context and behaviour, so that was the focus of my questions:

  • WHEN do you use service A? In the morning, in the evening, during the day, multiple times a day, once every week,…
  • WHERE do you use service A? In front of the TV with my laptop, on the kitchen table with my smart-phone, in between meetings with my tablet, on my desktop,…
  • What TRIGGERS your use of our services? I pay my bills as soon as I find them in the mailbox, I transfer money when my kids texts me that they want to go to the movies with friends,…
  • What MOTIVATES you to use our services? I want to make more money, I want to know what’s happening with my money,…

Note: these aren’t my actual questions (confidential), but these are the main ideas from which I started. The actual questions were just more elaborate and focussed on particular cases. The when & where questions are easy to answer for most respondents. The why questions on the other hand were harder for interviewees. Distinguishing between triggers and motivations wasn’t always easy for them. Since I couldn’t come op with a clearer way of phrasing the question, I did a bit more guidance.

Caution is advised with this type of guidance though! When people didn’t know what I meant when I asked what their ‘motivation’ was, I listed a few possible answers. I started by listing 3 that seemed to cover the whole range and people could let me know with which they felt most related. After a few interviews however, I complemented my list with a 4th motivation type that I had encountered and hadn’t thought of before. This proves the danger of guiding interviewees too much in their answers. If I hadn’t identified the 4th profile early on, these people would have just answered that they felt most related to any of the other 3 answers and valuable information would have gone unnoticed.

Moreover, it’s in the way users explain their answer that the real truth lies. Someone can say their motivation is to make money, but then it turns out this is more like an excuse for very controlling behaviour. On the other hand, someone might state that keeping an overview and control is the most important thing for them. And then you keep asking why and uncover that their biggest motivation is making more money whilst keeping a good overview is (only) a crucial skill in this effort.

Additional questions

Apart from these fundamental questions, I wanted to find out more about their personality, technology savviness and get an idea about how hectic their lives were to better understand the context in which they use our services (attention span, time to perform the task, …).

  • Time schedules: simply asking people if they have a busy life will tell you whether they perceive their lives as busy. To get a less biased perspective, ask them to walk you through a typical day of their lives, telling you what time they go to bed and everything they do in between. Preferably ask for a specific day, yesterday for example, so there's even less room for personal interpretation. Ideally, you ask for a typical day and then follow through by asking what yesterday was like. This gives you an indication of their actual schedule, their perceived schedule and the contrast between both.
  • Technology savviness: To get better understanding of how well acquainted my interviewees were with technology, I went through a list of technology items (from smart-phones and tablets to solar panels and Tesla cars) and asked them if they used it, how they used it, what they knew about it. I think it was a thorough but useful exercise. Nevertheless, I ended up not using the information in my actual personas later on.
  • Personality: apart from what you get indirectly out of other info (job, family, time schedule, the way they answer your questions, their motivations ...), there are some cool questions you can ask to get more specific info:

“If you had a superpower, which would it be”. This question can help you to get to know how people see themselves and what they value most. In my personal experience, it didn’t really work as planned though. I dropped the question after a few interviews because people either couldn't give an answer to it or would come up with very generic answers. I wish I could fly, I've always wanted to know what that would be like.

Ask people to unlock their phone, show you their lock screen and their apps. There's actually quite some useful information to be obtained from this: the wallpaper and lock screen are perfect conversation starters because they depict things that are important to the user: friends, partner, kids, vacation,… . From there on, you can easily make the jump to other personal questions. Having them tell you which apps they use most (waze, gmail, fb, …), how many apps they have and how they group their apps can also tell you more about their day to day activities, priorities and tolerance for chaos.
If you want to know more about this particular question, be sure to read this article. I dropped this question too after a few interviews. Not that it wasn't interesting, but I had a hard time keeping my interview shorter than 1 hour and the personal information I got out of other questions was sufficient for me. I’ll definitely consider it again next time.

Intermezzo: A handy trick I already heard about a few times and will definitely use myself in future interviews:

When I want the other person to elaborate more on their last answer, I usually ask a follow-through question. This is good practice, but still directs the answer somehow. Even better would be to just repeat the last few words of your interviewees last sentence. Doing this with the right intonation and followed by a short silence will automatically trigger the other person to elaborate further. This technique has two main benefits:

  1. The interviewee elaborates further on what he or she deems most relevant instead of what you think is most relevant
  2. There is a minimal interruption from the interviewer. Whereas a follow-through question marks the end of one answer and the beginning of another, this technique keeps the interviewee continuing at the same pace. It is in some way very similar to confirmative nodding and saying yes to keep the interviewee talking.

What I noticed as well with some of my questions, is that people have a hard time imagining solutions and situations that are too different from their current situation. So all is fine when you talk about combining features from apps they know into other apps (ex. We'll be taking this recommendation feature from amazone and will be using it to recommend stores you might like on google maps). But when you start talking about new features with which they're not really familiar, the quality of the answers drops drastically. Imagine asking people what they'd think of snapchat functionalities before snapchat got popular. You'd probably have gotten answers like 'why would I send a picture to someone if I don't want them to have that picture in the first place?'.

I hope this post was of use to you, either instructive or recreational. Feel free to share and be sure to let me know your thoughts (positive or negative) and questions. You can contact me on Linkedin or Twitter.

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