Andrew Branch leads user experience and user research at Rev, where we conduct weekly research into behavioral patterns of our customers and freelancers for such services as transcription and captions.

Product Researcher: Asks a question

Interviewee: Answers thoughtfully

Product Researcher: Furiously scribbles notes, looks up and says, “Ah, ok…I got the first part of what you said there, but can you please repeat that last bit one more time?”

Conducting Qualitative Product Research

As a product researcher conducting qualitative testing, the last thing I want to worry about when sitting down with a user is taking notes. If the interview is in person, I’m interested in capturing non-verbal clues I wouldn’t see if I was busy annotating our conversation. Taking copious notes while a participant is speaking, instead of maintaining eye-contact and staying attentive, can also be extremely distracting for the participant and will likely make them more uncomfortable than they already are. Rich points in a conversation are where genuine inspiration can occur which can take an interface to the next level.

And if I have to pause the conversation to take notes, it reminds the user that they are in an uncomfortable position of being studied. Or sometimes the opposite can happen. They may be flattered I am writing down what they say. There are times when what they say will elicit some note-taking, but other things will not. This can make them attempt to try to say more of the type of thing that I took notes of and less of the other, seriously messing with the data I’m hoping to collect.

Making the Most of Recorded Interviews

Most of us understand this and record the interview, for this reason. But how many of these recordings are sitting on hard drives and never accessed again? In my own case, sadly, I’d say this happens too often. These recorded interviews sit on hard-drives, never to be listened-to. Because of that, the small golden nuggets of learnings that I am unable to remember don’t get reviewed, and small improvements don’t get teased-out.

The reason for this is obvious, it’s extremely time-consuming to re-listen to every user interview we conduct. It takes a lot of discipline to carve out the hours needed for the review, and, sadly, sometimes it just doesn’t happen.

Benefits of Transcribing User Interviews

When I started working at Rev, I immediately learned the value of transcribing these interviews. Once I was finished with a batch of user interviews, I could submit the audio recording to Rev for quick transcription and in less than 24 hours I could have a searchable, scannable transcription back. I find this to be much more powerful than the raw recording.

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Not only am I able to quickly scan back through an interview and recall the problems and possible solutions I had while listening and not taking notes, I can also easily copy and paste a powerful quote or anecdote that might be just what I need to help convince a stakeholder of a needed design improvement. Anyone who has tried to convince management of a change they might be resistant to knows that there is nothing more powerful than a quote from a customer to convince them of a needed change.

Anyone who has tried to convince management of a change they might be resistant to knows that there is nothing more powerful than a quote from a customer to convince them of a needed change

For in-person interviews, I also love that I can use the Rev Voice Recorder app. For phone interviews, the Rev Call Recorder. In either case, I can get good audio recordings which I can immediately send to Rev and have a transcription back on my computer after lunch to begin further analysis or reporting. It’s a beautiful thing and it’s really sped up my qualitative research process.