Conducting user interviews in a library: Check your assumptions

We’re in the process of doing of a signage evaluation at my library. To help contextualize our work, we’re turning to one of my favorite UX tools: user interviews.

Conducting user interviews is a time consuming task. It can feel like you’re putting the brakes on your project as you work through identifying users, scheduling, creating an interview guide, and generating insights from your work. In my experience, though, the benefits that come from taking time to sit down and talk with users outweigh any delay that interviews cause.

Just today, my team met to create our interview guide. We started out by identifying all of the assumptions that we are bringing to the project and to these interviews.

Our assumptions written on a whiteboard Our assumptions written on a whiteboard

For this exercise here are some of the assumptions we identified:

  • People have a positive reaction to library (91% highly likely to recommend)
  • Variety of people = variety of needs (design/marketing challenge)
  • Newsletter is effective
  • High expectations from patrons
  • Repeat customers = know what to expects (3-5 times per month)
  • More repeat than new (~100 new signups a month)
  • Library solves specific problems for people (jobs-to-be-done)
  • People have their version of the library
  • People don’t venture out of their “version”
  • There is only so much we can do to “make” people venture out
  • We are communicating clearly and effectively with our materials (programs and services too)
  • Product names aren’t effective
  • People ignore signage including promo signage
  • Library is too cluttered
  • Hard to find info about stuff in the building
  • Posters and takeaways effective
  • Program success depends on promo signage

Some of these assumptions are hypotheses–ideas what we know need to be tested and validated. We assume, for instance, that our users tend to focus on a small set of services and ignore others, but we don’t really know for sure until we talk to some folks.

Other assumptions are “Truths” with a capital T. These are sacred cows that define who we are and what we do. These are assumptions that, if proven to be false, could cause us to question everything.

Of course, certain assumptions may end being validated or reinforced during the course of doing interviews. This isn’t a bad thing per se because you are seeking out external validation for these assumptions, poking at them, finding their edges, and maybe refining them in the process.

I like this exercise because it helps you clear your mind of preconceived notions, makes you more tuned to the positive and negative things that people will say about the library and the research questions you are exploring. Also, for the group you are working with, there is a feeling that you are stepping off the ledge, finding the next foothold, wherever it might be, together.