Interviewing users and experts

UX interviewing: 5 tips to get expert insights

I am a UX Researcher and I have learned the importance of going out and interviewing experts to get honest and unbiased feedback. I use this technique on many steps of a project: from understanding user attitudes to narrowing down the exact reason why a certain solution would work (or utterly fail).

This technique is efficient (and can be eye-opening) because of one reason. We all have limited empathy. As much as we would like to imagine a day in someone else’s shoes, we simply can not nail down the details, the small intangible impressions, and difficulties that make for a great solution.

interviewing firefighter experts

I am currently working with firefighters and I could not have imagined a quarter of what I have learned during those interviews. Just to state a few things I have learned: when wearing their outfit, they can not see their feet or that one of their major concerns during an intervention is actually getting lost in buildings.

Such insights are proven to be extremely useful for feature and design recommendations.

This interviewing exercise might sound trivial but getting appointments is far from easy. Below are my personal learnings, crafted out of my own experience, failed attempts, positive surprises, rejections, and traditional A/B testing.

I struggled to find relevant tips and tricks concerning interviewee research so I thought I could share my own 5 golden rules to boost response rates.

Do your due diligence

You are essentially asking for someone’s time, show them you’ve invested your own. Do your due diligence and make it crystal clear why you are contacting them and how their know-how is relevant to the project. People love to talk about their accomplishments, you reaching out to them is a tangible proof of their expertise and valuable knowledge: play with it!

Practical tip: Use their company name if they have one, mention a specific product or feature that caught your attention. Give context to your request.

Your second sentence should always be: I am not selling anything

People are bombarded with advertisements and intrusive sales teams trying to trick them into subscribing or buying something they haven’t asked for. Unfortunately, your message can be quickly misinterpreted and immediately deleted. People judge by covers, don’t let them take you for a salesperson.

Practical tip: State extremely quickly in your introductory email that you are not a salesperson, preferably before explaining the project. This has drastically increased my response rate throughout many projects.

Your network is a goldmine, learn how to use it right

Introduced contacts will give you a close 100% answer rate because having someone introduce you is like having a trust stamp.

Now here is how to maximize your network:

  • Ask close colleagues/friends in a very informal way if “they know someone”
  • Use specific networking tools like
  • Use platform tools like Linkedin’s groups, Facebook groups, online forums
  • Attend Meetups. They are basically a curated list of your target audience.

One last thing about networks: carefully pick and choose. Contacts are precious assets and you can only use them once without taking the risk of being politely rejected. Before pressing the send button, always ask yourself when this expertise would be the most useful: during initial research or at the last product testing?

Generally speaking, being extroverted and getting to know people is a huge plus in this job. Trust me, small talk is not dead.

Practical tip: Level of expertise could be a good evaluation criterion as to when you should contact a certain person.

Give them a closed interview timeframe

To avoid that your invitation falls into the abyss of oblivion, you need to offer a fixed interview timeframe. Your contact already has a long list of to-do’s and offering a tangible time and date gives more substance to your request. Moreover, you want to avoid at all costs having to refuse a time proposition from his or her end, this is a true deal-breaker.

Practical tip: Ideally, mention in your email a morning or afternoon in the coming week and ask if that person is available then. I can guarantee that if they are interested, their answer will contain the time and date of your interview!

Last but not least: ALWAYS offer feedback on the project advancement

incentives for interviewing

Wifi-balloons shot into the stratosphere (image credit: Project Loon)

People have invested their time just for the sake of your project — they generally have no direct gain except the opportunity to talk about something they care about. Offering them project status feedback is a polite and professional way of thanking your contact, and can also lead to unexpected surprises. For the record, I got a job offer just after informing one of my contacts that the project I had called him for had been dropped. He simply deemed our exchange very professional and interesting.

Getting experts to agree on interviews is only the tip of the iceberg but such a decisive step should not be overlooked. These interviews will build the foundation of your research and that golden nugget you are so actively looking for lies within one of those insights.

Practical tip: Send a thank you mail after the interview and end it with a simple “if you are interested, I would love to keep you posted on the project”. Not a single contact refused and most of them actually offered additional time and insights if needed.