How to Deal with Time Pressure in User Interviews: A UX Researcher’s Guide


In this article, I want to share with you some tips on how to handle a common challenge that many UX researchers face: running out of time to complete everything in the user interview session.

User interviews are a great way to gather insights from your target users. However, they also require careful planning and execution, as you have a limited amount of time to cover all the topics and questions that are relevant to your research goals. Sometimes, things don’t go as planned, and you may find yourself running out of time to complete everything in the user interview session.

I’m a UX researcher who has worked in a global UX research agency. I’ve conducted several user interviews for various projects and clients, and I’ve faced this challenge often. It can happen for various reasons, such as:

  • The participant is slow or thorough and takes a lot of time to read, think, respond, and elaborate.
  • The participant goes off on a tangent that is not directly connected to or relevant to the research you’re doing.
  • The participant cancels or is a no-show, and you have to reschedule or find a replacement.
  • The session is interrupted by external factors, such as phone calls, noises, observers, or other people.

When this happens, you may worry that you won’t be able to gather enough data or answer your research questions. You may also feel pressured to rush the participant or skip some tasks or questions. However, these reactions can compromise the quality of your data, as well as the rapport and comfort of your participant. So how can you handle this situation in a professional and effective way?

Here are some tips based on my own practice as a UX researcher and the book The Moderator’s Survival Guide by Donna Tedesco and Fiona Tranquada (2014):

What to do or say

  • Don’t Panic: Take a deep breath and stay calm. Remember that user interviews are not tests or exams that you have to pass or fail. There is no one right way to conduct them, and there is no perfect amount of data that you have to collect. The quality of your data is more important than the quantity.
  • Prioritise your tasks and questions: Think about what are the most important topics or questions that you need to cover in order to answer your research goals. Focus on those first, and leave the less important ones for later if you have time. You can also adjust your tasks or questions to make them shorter or simpler if necessary.
  • Communicate with your participant: Let them know upfront that you have a lot of tasks or questions, but you may not be able to go through all of them. Explain that this is normal and expected, and that it doesn’t mean that they are doing anything wrong or that you are not interested in what they have to say. Ask them to go at their own pace and behave as they would if they were doing this on their own without you watching. If you need to move them along or skip something, do it politely and respectfully.
  • Communicate with your observers or stakeholders: If you have observers watching the session live or remotely, let them know about the situation and how you are handling it. During the planning phase, it’s a good idea to inform stakeholders about the high and low-priority tasks and questions. This will help manage their expectations during the sessions, particularly if there is limited time to cover everything.

What not to do or say

  • Don’t rush the participant: Rushing the participant can make them feel anxious, confused, or pressured. It can also affect their performance and behaviour, making them more prone to errors or biases. It can also damage the rapport and trust that you have built with them throughout the session.
  • Don’t blame the participant: Blaming the participant can make them feel offended or discouraged. It can also make you look unprofessional and disrespectful.
  • Don’t blame yourself: Running out of time is not necessarily a sign of poor planning or execution on your part. It can happen for various reasons that are beyond your control. Don’t let the time pressure affect your confidence and performance in the rest of the session.

How to avoid that situation

  • Plan ahead: Before conducting the user interview session, make sure that you have a clear and realistic plan for what you want to cover and how much time you need for each task or question. Consider the complexity and difficulty of the tasks or questions, the level of detail and depth that you need from the participant, and the potential variations or deviations that may occur. Also, leave some buffer time for unexpected events or delays.
  • Pilot test: Before conducting the user interview session with your actual participants, conduct a pilot test with a representative participant or a colleague. This will help you check the feasibility and validity of your tasks and questions, as well as the timing and flow of the session.
  • Be flexible and adaptable: During the user interview session, be prepared to adjust your plan according to the situation and the participant’s feedback. Be open to exploring new or unexpected topics or questions that may arise, as they may reveal valuable insights that you didn’t anticipate. Be ready to skip or modify tasks or questions that are not working well or are not relevant to your research goals.

I hope you found these tips helpful and useful for your user interview sessions. Remember that running out of time is not the end of the world, and it doesn’t mean that your session is a failure. It’s just a challenge that you can overcome with some planning, communication, and flexibility. Thank you for reading and happy moderating!

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