The elevator interview – ultra quick intranet user research

July 8, 2009

Elevator_metamaroisWant to get some fast feedback on your intranet but both time and resources are very limited? Try the user research version of the elevator pitch – the elevator interview.

I stumbled across this technique when carrying out some user research in one of our sites and the intranet webmaster who was my tour guide for the day kept bumping into people she knew in the elevator (or lift in the UK). She asked them what they thought of the intranet and I was really surprised at how much information could be transferred in a very short time. I also got the feeling that, as time was short, users had little time to be polite and so I got a better picture of their true feelings.

I am in the middle of a large user research project for my intranet right now but I would like to use this technique in the future as a quick and easy way of getting users’ perceptions of the changes we might make. So I thought how could this become a user research methodology? This is what I came up with.

The elevator interview methodology  

Only one question can be asked at a time so think very hard about what the best question might be. You can always ask other questions on subsequent trips but be careful to not wear out your welcome by becoming a pest.

Get a clipboard with ‘Intranet User Research’  printed in big letters on the back. This will save time explaining what you are doing.

Start the research before the elevator arrives by introducing yourself to the staff who are waiting. Don’t be pushy and see who is really willing. One staff member per trip only should be interviewed otherwise it could turn into a madhouse with everyone trying to get their point over at the same time. Continue the research once the interviewee has reached their destination if you need to but only if the user is willing. If you need to do further, and more in depth research, ask the interviewee if they would be willing to take part at a later date. This way you can easily build up a list of volunteers.

Take the time to write everything up straight after the interview or use a voice recorder.

Use as many different elevators as you can in different buildings during the time allowed to ensure that you get as wide a selection of staff as possible.

You can use screen shots to get users’ perceptions of page layouts as people take a lot less time than you might think to make up their minds.

If you want to gauge users’ reactions to a specific item or change try using the Product Reactions Cards  approach. I am currently using this approach as part of our user research and I think it would lend itself well to elevator interviews. Simply ask users to select five words that describe the item or change. Tell them that they don’t have to read every word but just shout out any word that leaps out at them from the list. Before the research begins assign numerical values to each word e.g. 1 = very negative, 2= negative, 3= neutral, 4= positive and 5 = very positive. This will enable you to provide an overall quantitive result. Also look for the  meaning in the group of words users choose. For instance if a user chooses –

 essential, time consuming, valuable, complicated, hard to use

 They are telling you that althought the content might be of great use there are serious usability issues which might need to be addressed.

What if you don’t have elevators?

Alternatives to elevators might be any place where users spend a brief period of time doing things that aren’t work. Hang around water coolers and coffee machines or where users might queue for a time such as in canteens.  It is important that the interviews are kept as quick and as light as possible. Do not interrupt an existing conversation and be on the lookout for signs that the user has had enough – don’t annoy people as you may want to do this again in the future.

I’m going to try this in the near future as a quick check on changes we are planning to our intranet. Just hoping that there isn’t such a thing as an elevator version of sea sickness!

 (Thanks to metamarois for the Flickr CC photo)

3 Responses to “The elevator interview – ultra quick intranet user research”


  1. Patrick, I have been following your blogs for a while and I find it really insightful, especially your notes on Kaizen and its application on Intranets. I find your ‘Knowledge creation’ definition interesting although in the commercial sense I still continue to stick to what the Information technology world says.

    Thank you for sharing the ‘elevator interview’ technique. I just finished interviewing people on usability of one of the Intranet sites I created for a group within my ogranization and I would surely like to use this the next time.
    Brilliant idea! Thank you. 🙂

    • patrick c walsh Says:

      Vivek,
      Thanks for your positive feedback. If you try the elevator technique let me know how you get on.
      With regard to ‘knowledge creation’ I am half way through writing a post which should explain my position in more detail. However I fully accept that anything I post may have flaws or even be totally wrong which is why I enjoy all feedback whether it is positive or negative.
      I’d appreciate a comment from you on the knowledge post when it goes up,

      Patrick


  2. In a word… Brilliant!


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