Radio Johnny: Indi Young on Non-Directed Interviews

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Today on Radio Johnny Jeff Parks talks with Indi Young about non-directed interviews. Indi shares the hallmarks of a non-directed interview and how to guide these conversations accordingly. She also shares the importance of understanding the difference between a screener and an interview; and the necessity to encourage interviewees to avoid statements of fact by focusing on verbs rather than nouns when sharing experiences.


A lot of the work that we are trying to do is less quantitative and more qualitative. Non-Directed interviews are a way of getting qualitative data about what people are interested in telling you about their lives. Specifically the kind of non-directed interviewing has to do with generative research, not evaluative research.

You want to have surprises to come out…that’s why I say don’t write any interview questions down just write what your perimeter is…Set up that fence and try and keep the conversation within that fence; but keep your antenna up!

It’s not about the facts. The facts are what you just need for making sure you’ve got somebody who might possibly be able to have a conversation with you; but it’s not what the [non-directed] interview is about!


Indi describes non-directed interviews as free-format conversations exploring territory important to the participant. If done correctly, non-directed interviews are relaxed, informal, and fun for both people. There are no leading questions such as “Do you…?” Instead, the interviewer listens deeply and probes subjects the participant shares; in places that hint at revealing more insights into the participants’ mind.

Indi also shares the importance of avoiding statements of fact and the necessity of defining a scope for each conversation. The interviewer needs to judge on the fly whether the new concept the participant brings up is in scope, or might lead to something in scope, and to follow it accordingly.

Show Notes

* Mental Models – Aligning Design Strategy with Human Behavior by Indi Young

* What to cover during an interview and what to avoid.

* How to understand what a participant is saying better.

* Interviews are rich, but what else is rich, and what else can I use that I already have? And why shouldn’t I use a survey?

* Mental Model Sketches by Indi Young.

* An essay by Indi Young at Adaptive Path: Six Steps to Better Interviews and Simplified Task Analysis.

* Mike Kuniavsky Nondirected Interviews: How to Get More Out of Your Research Questions

* SpoolCast: Steve Portigal’s Deep Dive Interviewing Tips Revisited


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Jeff Parks

Jeff is the co-founder of DIGIA UX Inc. and actively collaborates with industry professionals from around the world through his involvement with Boxes and Arrows and Johnny Holland. Jeff is also leading workshops on Information Architecture and User Experience Design over at Follow the UX Leader, in addition to volunteering his time as a Mentor and Member of the Board of Directors for the Information Architecture Institute.

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