Semi structured interviews are the staple food of the UX Research field. So you have fully scripted “structured” interviews on one end, and you have completely free-flowing conversations with no scripting in the “unstructured” side of things, and semi-structured interviews occupy the middle of that space. What’s great about them is that you have a framework to ensure your key questions are answered, but it gives the interviewer flexibility- to move within that framework, to follow interesting threads, to change the order of questioning with the flow of the conversation.
Unfortunately what happens a lot of times is that semi structured interviews get over scripted with too many specific questions. This can happen for plenty of reasons- an increase in the project scope, or a need to cater to multiple stakeholders who have various different requirements for example.
Here are the key points I mention in the video:
- In the beginning when I was an untrained interviewer, I tended to script every aspect of the interview, right from the initial conversation to the conclusion. I just didn’t have the cultural frame of reference to make small talk, for example. The training wheels helped me get past the initial hurdles.
- As I got more interview experience under my belt, I realized the beauty of the medium.
- Training wheels help you learn to ride a bike, but if you never take them off you’re holding yourself back. You can’t ride a bike as fast, you can’t take quick twists and turns.
- What I find unfortunate is that UX practitioners have to account for this over-scripting by doing things like having checklists to make sure all the questions are answered, which is like being put into a straightjacket. No freedom to follow interesting leads because you’re always concerned about getting all the questions in. No breathing room, no allowance for creativity in the obsession with dotting i’s and crossing t’s.
- When you overly script, you become a human google form.
- Philosophizing on the nature of semi-structured interviews. Thinking of it as Jazz music, where the missed or off key notes are part of the performance. Or even like Indian classical music, where the ragas provide the framework, but a classical vocalist can sing for hours on end with multiple variations. Or even like the yin-and-yang symbol of the Tao, order and chaos in harmony, being comfortable in giving away control to the participant and taking it back as the need dictates.
- Finally, a connection to Professional Wrestling. I talk about how an over-scripted interview makes me feel like Jon Moxley when he was on the Stone Cold podcast, where he concluded by saying he was “playing in big brother’s yard” when he was asked to take more creative control of his character. I then compare that to the experience of doing semi-scripted interviews as they are intended, to Jon Moxley’s debut in AEW. Him breathing in and taking in the atmosphere, feeling free and confident in his abilities.