Usability Tools Podcast: Interview-Based Tasks for Usability Testing

Jared Spool

October 1st, 2007

UIE Usability Tools Podcast: Interview-Based Tasks for Usability Testing
Recorded: September 26, 2007 from the studios of UIE
Brian Christiansen, UIE Podcast Producer
Duration: 29 min | File size: 16.5 MB
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Each week in our Usability Tools Podcast, I will be sitting down with UIE’s Managing Director, Christine Perfetti to discuss tips and tools for improving your site’s user experience. The goal of our weekly podcast is to share some of the most important findings from UIE’s research on web design and usability.

This week, Christine Perfetti asked me about one of UIE’s most popular usability testing techniques, Interview-based Tasks. A couple of years ago, I wrote an introductory article about interview-based tasks, and we’ve been getting questions about the technique ever since.

In usability tests where we incorporate interview-based tasks, the participants interests are discovered, not assigned. Unlike traditional task design methods, the test facilitator and participant negotiate the tasks during the tests, instead of proceeding down a list of predefined tasks. Because each task is drawn from the experience and interest of each participant, no two participants perform exactly the same tasks. In this podcast, Christine and I discuss:

» How interview-based tasks successfully engage users
» How to create interview-based tasks
» Why User Interface Engineering’s researchers moved away from traditional task design
» How to recruit users with this technique
» How to combine interview-based tasks with other types of tasks
» Where to learn more about task design: The excellent book by Ginny Redish and JoAnn Hackos, User and Task Analysis for Interface Design

As always, we’re very interested in hearing from you. Do you have questions or comments about this episode? Do you have suggestions for future episodes? We want to know. Please leave a comment below or email us directly at mailbag@uie.com.

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7 Responses to “Usability Tools Podcast: Interview-Based Tasks for Usability Testing”

  1. Megan Brunner Says:

    I am looking for “best practices” regarding testing online copy with live participants. Our design team is interested in putting some different messages in front of participants and gauging how well each one resonates & communicates the emotions & facts we want. If you have ideas or best practices please pass them along (megan_brunner@carmax.com). Thanks!

  2. Daniel Szuc Says:

    Like the focus on “passion” to help get more useful data. Also like how other tasks can be sprinkled in.

    2 questions:

    1. When other tasks are introduced are these tasks based on what the business may want to find out? i.e. to meet a business goal.

    2. By introducing other tasks (in and around the “interview based tasks”) have users commented in the research sessions as to whether these tasks are actually something they would do on the site?

    Suggest that sometimes tasks the business want users to complete and what tasks the users actually value can be quite different.

  3. Paul Wheeler Says:

    It strikes me that these descriptions of interview based tasks deal with eliciting the kind of information you might reasonably expect to uncover during the user research phase. Do you have examples where the interviews at the usability testing stage uncovered information that you were unable to discover (for whatever reason) during user research? Or that contradicted the user research?

  4. Jared Spool Says:

    Daniel wrote:

    When other tasks are introduced are these tasks based on what the business may want to find out? i.e. to meet a business goal.

    Ideally, when you mix other tasks in, you can continue to use the language and objects that came out of the interview. What you want to avoid doing is jumping from scenarios where it’s based on elements the participant introduced to elements based on fictional tasks (such as, “Pretend you’re thinking about opening a new account…”).

    However, there may be functionality the business wants to discover that doesn’t come out during the interview. In that case, you have to enter the land of fictional tasks and things are back to the ole’ scavenger hunt tasks. In these instances, I always find it interesting to ask the participants how they feel about the tasks.

    In our experience, however, it’s risky to put too much weight behind their answers, since participants will do their best to please you and may imagine instances of use that would never really occur. Instead, if these tasks are really important to the business, I’d rather increase the diligence of our recruiting efforts and find people who are truly passionate about doing those things. If recruiting can’t find them, maybe the functions aren’t as important as we thought.

    Paul asked:

    It strikes me that these descriptions of interview based tasks deal with eliciting the kind of information you might reasonably expect to uncover during the user research phase. Do you have examples where the interviews at the usability testing stage uncovered information that you were unable to discover (for whatever reason) during user research?

    The way I view usability testing of any type is as a tool, like a hammer. So, I wasn’t talking at all about “phases” when talking about interview-based tasks. I was only talking about a variant on the tool.

    Frankly, I don’t really know what the “usability testing stage” or the “user research stage” are. In my world, usability testing is a type of user research, neither of which have stages. The way you talk, it’s like a carpenter saying there’s a “hammer stage” and a “saw stage”.

    Part of our job is to think about the information we need right now and determine what tools will garner the best results. Interview-based tasks are best in situations when we don’t know how or why people use our designs, making traditional tasks difficult.

    Feel free to use them in whatever stage makes the most sense.

  5. Daniel Szuc Says:

    “If recruiting can’t find them, maybe the functions aren’t as important as we thought.” – Yes!

    Thanks Jared.

  6. Asking Participants to “Pretend” in User Studies » UIE Brain Sparks Says:

    [...] [You can find out about interview-based tasks in this article and in this podcast] [...]

  7. Resources for Yesterday’s Virtual Seminar on Building A Winning UX Strategy with the Kano Model » UIE Brain Sparks Says:

    [...] Usability Tools Podcast: Interview-Based Tasks for Usability Testing [...]

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