09 The Moderated Interviews (UX Research)

Learning with Lee Anne

Lee Anne Mercado
3 min readFeb 11, 2021

I graduated with an HCI degree and a minor in design in 2018. I (naively) believed that I was fully equipped to understand UX in business, outside of school, but it turns out — I wasn’t! (Surprise!) Luckily, we never stop learning due to our peers, mentors, and random articles on the internet like this one. Since this is a time where my vulnerabilities and struggles are leading me to better understand research, I thought I’d document my learning process of how UX Research works in my everyday world of business!

My classes in college only scratched the surface of moderated interviews. There’s nothing compared to actually doing them with high stakes involved (aka a business setting) and learning from professionals who have done it for years and years.

If you’re like me, coming out of college feeling like you don’t know as much as you should about user research, you’re not alone. The majority of skills you gain is probably during the job itself because applied, repeated practice is truly how you build yourself, not from a one time group project in college. In fact, you’re probably already well equipped with the basics, so seek confidence in that aspect and be open to learning on the job. To help you get started on your learning, here’s a few important things I’ve learned:

Make sure to pilot your study

Always, always make time to test your script, equipment, and process with a test participant before the sessions. It’s hard to tell if the interview guide and any extra tools you’re using will work according to plan until you actually put it to the test. With limited time to talk to participants, the last thing you want to do is spend a majority of the time troubleshooting or having to re-explain questions. Having a pilot allows you to refine the session in order to be more well-prepared going into the interviews.

Make sure stakeholders are invited to the interviews

It’s really valuable for the people asking for research to actually hear from the users themselves. It’s one thing to listen to analysis and quotes on a final presentation, but it’s a whole other powerful thing to actually hear the answers live. As always, continue to involve your stakeholders the whole way through the research.

Debrief… a lot!

It’s always helpful to check in with the team over the course of the interviews to see if everyone is on the same page of what’s being said and if the right questions are still being asked. Typically, our interviews span over the course of a few days so during the week, moderators will check in with the team. After a few interviews, sometimes new interesting topics we didn’t think about come up in conversation, causing a desire to probe on that topic more for the remaining interviews.

We also like to write end of day notes/ key points about the interviews and send it to the team in case not everyone was able to attend. It’s also helpful to have those quick, bite-sized notes to look back on to understand the results that are forming.

Overally, there’s plenty of reasons to continue to check in with the team throughout the interview week(s).

It’s okay to be nervous

Despite having done over a few dozen moderated interviews at this point, I still get nervous before a new set of interviews. Which is completely okay! I think it’s helpful to just consider these interviews as conversations where I’m trying to learn from these experts in their domain. Additionally, I also try to make sure I understand that topic as best as I can because being more knowledgeable and being able to answer miscellaneous participant questions makes me feel more confident during the interview. Do whatever makes you feel more comfortable, whether that’s practicing the script, meditating before, doing a ritual of some sorts before each interview — whatever it is. Just remember that the participants are here for a conversation and people like to talk about what they know, so they will be more than happy to teach you and give you perspective into their minds.