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Remote user interviews: invite, upskill, and actually listen

Zander Whitehurst
Founder and CEO, Memorisely
6m read

Remote user interview experience

Over the past four years, I’ve been a remote product designer working in Europe, South East Asia, and Australia. My first remote role was with Hotjar, an analytics and feedback SaaS business, as an early member of their remote product design team.

Recently I founded Memorisely, a remote product design school, that brings busy designers from around the world together to learn UX/UI with the latest tools. We have a monthly Microlearning club, remote UX/UI bootcamps, and a global tribe of 1650+ designers who learn from each other everyday. Therefore, I have had some good and bad experiences of remote working. Top of the list would be remote user interviews.

Remote user interviews are an accessible way to gather users perceptions and feedback. They are quick to organise, conduct and, from my experience, users feel more comfortable sharing their opinion in their own environment. In this article, I’m going to share some of the things I’ve learned from my time as a remote product designer conducting user interviews. I hope you find it interesting!

We rely on great software as remote UX/UI designers

Prepping and conducting user interviews in-person can take weeks and rarely run smoothly. From back and forth email exchanges, no-shows, software updates, poor wifi, background noise, the list goes on. As a remote product designer, you rely on great software to form a modern workflow, and fortunately there are some great tools for quickly conducting fluid interviews with users around the world, not just in your postcode.

Save time and avoid email exchanges with Calendly...

Calendly was founded by Tope Awontona in 2013 as a sales acceleration tool. Needless to say, it's evolved into a must-have tool for arranging general meetings. Unlike a lot of calendar products, Calendly for the last seven years has prioritised functionality over aesthetics.

Calendly is free to use, and during until June 2020 they are offering free integrations with Zoom. I recommend paying $15 / month for their pro version which gives you the flexibility to integrate Calendly with Zoom in the future

Once you've setup an account, create a 1:1 event in Calendly and it takes a couple of minutes to set your event duration, data range, timezone, and availability. From my experience I recommend setting 45 minute user interviews and calendly makes it easy for you to provide a little context to the event in the description.

As well as setting an event, Calendly's additional options make it easy for you to learn more about your user. Depending on your segmentation setup, this can be a great way to get to know your user ahead of the interview.

Before inviting users to grab a slot in your calendar, I recommend going the extra mile to prepare users for your interview....

Save users time and up-skill them in Zoom

Setting up a calendar event and rocking up to an interview is the MVP of remote user interviews. Next up, I recommend up-skilling users in the software they'll be using during the interview. There is nothing worse than users having to rush downloading software software before an interview and it's your role to make them feel comfortable.

Zoom allows terrific collaboration where you can share screens, control a users screen and do much more. Accessing via a link or using the desktop app it's easy for the tester to use.

Create a user interview script using Notion

Every user interview should have a goal and it's important to provide users with context of why they are giving up 45 minutes of their time to answer your questions. Notion, for any remote team, is the most accessible place to house your interview scripts The user interview template should summarise what research you are carrying out and the structure of the interview i.e a friendly chat. Much like an agenda for a meeting, putting together a user interview template will give users confidence and clarity.

Record a demo using Loom: be a beginner

As well as being the best tool rhyme out there, recording a demo of how to use tools like zoom with Loom will save your users time and given you've gone out of your way to help them, they'll be more willing to open up and share their honest opinion.

Loom is an enterprise collaboration video messaging service that lets you record quick clips of yourself. Launched in 2016, Loom has raised $44.5m  and was founded by Joe Thomas, Shahed Khan, Vinay Hiremath. It's one of my fave tools packed with 'Aha' moments that'll have you thinking how have I worked without this tool? Anyhow, in a couple of minutes you can record a quick demo of how to download and navigate zoom's interface.

Use Otter.ai to listen, not take notes

The final tool I'd recommend using to help the interview run smoothly is otter.ai which generates meeting notes and keywords for you. You can sync this with your user interview calendar event, but always ask permission first!

Before you ask questions during the interview I recommend asking users if you can record the interview for research purposes, expressing it will only be used internally. Once, and only if they confirm, you can toggle otter on and hit record on zoom!

So, now we have the tools, let's review how to use them effectively....

Here's your check list to make sure you're ready:
  • Share Calendly link to match diaries
  • Use Zoom to conduct the user interview and send the link
  • Send Loom link demo for any tools that you think are difficult to use
  • Create Interview script using Notion
  • Sync otter.ai with Zoom

Now you're ready, make sure the User is as well:

In your Calendly invite personalise the message with all your tools. An example would be something like this:

*Hi Sophia,

Thanks so much for agreeing to speak to us on Thursday 13th June at 14:00. To make sure it all runs smoothly, here's a quick list of things to do. Nothing too tricky! Any issues, just shout.*

1. Download Zoom: https://zoom.us/signup

2. Here is a link to a quick demo of Zoom: https://www.loom.com/share/834683468348

4. Bring headphones to the session

5. We use Otter.ai to record the interview. This will only be shared internally for research purposes. It will not be shared elsewhere. If you do not want this, then please do shout before the interview begins. We won't be offended

Look forward to speaking to you on Thursday,

Go the extra mile to prep and make remote user interviews a success

I don't expect you to immediately shift energy to 100% remote user interviews, but if and when you decide to conduct user interviews, I recommend going the extra mile to make them smooth and a valuable experience for you and your users. Hopefully this guide provides a useful framework, with modern tools, to prepare and conduct

Zander Whitehurst
Founder and CEO, Memorisely

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