Listen to Steve on the Product Thinking podcast

Thanks to Melissa Perri for having me on the Product Thinking Podcast to discuss of the second edition of Interviewing Users.

Our one-hour conversation is on the episode page, YouTube, Apple Podcasts, and Spotify. You can find a transcript on this page.

Episode 177: The Evolution of User Research: A Conversation with Steve Portigal, Author of Interv...

In this episode of the Product Thinking podcast, host Melissa Perri celebrates the updated ten-year anniversary edition of Interviewing Users with author Steve Portigal.

Join them in this engaging episode as they discuss the importance of user research in product development. The pair also delve deeply into the changing landscape of user research, the impact of increasing reliance on remote interviews, and the difficulties that purely digital interactions pose for understanding the user’s context. Melissa and Steve also touch on common mistakes in interviewing users and the role of active listening.

If you’re interested in learning more about effective user research and its role in creating successful products, this episode is a must-listen.

You’ll hear them talk about:

05:13 – The Change to Remote Research

When Steve wrote the first edition of his book, Interviewing Users, his advice and experience was centered exclusively around the principles of in-person research. The world of work and meetings has changed a lot in the ten years since that edition, and now remote interviews are far more common, especially since the pandemic. Looking to the positives, Steve comments that geographical diversity is now far more possible when conducting research. In the past, you would target a certain place where you’re going to be able to call on a lot of different participants, namely urban metropolises rather than more rural areas. Doing research remotely allows you to look further afield more easily and create a more diverse cast of participants. Though Steve admits that, on the other side of the coin, the need for technology introduces its own new barrier.

19:52 – Interview Pre-Work

Steve makes an interesting distinction between the person and the ‘thing’ being investigated in an interview and he notes the importance of understanding whether you’re looking at the person in the research or their device itself. For more open-ended interviews looking at the person, it can be useful to follow Steve’s lead and send the subject ‘pre-work’. This could consist of one question or multiple but either way, it ought to be a small bit of work that the interviewee can do, without spending too much time, in advance of the interview itself. More than the answers themselves being of vital importance, the act of asking will get the cogs moving in the subject’s brain before the interview and could possibly give you a hand in opening them up.

30:01 – Interview Technique, Letting Go Of Yourself

Judging whether an interview has been conducted in a successful way is hard to gauge because it’s impossible to be sure what would have happened if you’d done it slightly differently. Steve’s perspective is that being a bright, curious, and extroverted person is the first step to being a good interviewer. He recognizes that this is the most natural way to approach this kind of situation; filling air time, talking a lot to show interest, nailing your questions, and putting some of yourself into that conversation. But Steve thinks that the next level up from this requires being comfortable with the unfamiliar task of leaving yourself at the door. Some of the best answers he gets come from saying very little, simply encouraging the subject to continue rather than hit them with the next question, and even saying nothing at all and letting them fill the space.


About Steve