How to be in tip-top shape on the day of a user interview

The work of UX research can involve stretches of long days with lots of tasks. Taking care of our physical and mental fitness is critical to carrying out the work, especially on interview day. In this article, AQ researchers share their secrets for being in tip-top shape.

#1 The power of red-bean paste to stay focused

As moderators, our brains are on full throttle during an interview. As we conduct more sessions throughout the day, the mental fatigue will grow. To give her brain a much needed sugar hit, Researcher A always brings sweet breads and snacks with anko red-bean paste.

Other researchers have their favorite chocolates, glucose sweets and hard candies. We recommend experimenting to find what snacks work best with your body, and having them at hand on the day!

#2 Fuel and re-fuel with proper meals

Replenishing sugar levels is important but we wouldn’t get anywhere without a proper meal. Interview day starts with sitting down for a good breakfast, whereas lunch is taken care of as part of project planning. One thing to note is the volume of food in take-out bento boxes, which tend to be on the heavier side. We keep an eye on how much we consume, to avoid fighting off a food coma during interviews.

Also see the bento photo in our article, Running an in-lab research project in the midst of a global pandemic!

#3 Have your own set of “refresher” items

Have you ever asked a question to a participant while still thinking about the previous participant? It can be tricky to remember who said what, when having similar conversations with multiple people on the same day. Each AQ researcher has their own way of refreshing their minds. For example, Researcher A has hand cream and lip balms with her favorite scent. She’ll take them out of her make-up bag and apply them during the break, in order to switch gears for the next interview.

#4 Increase physical comfort to maintain focus

UX researchers spend many, many hours in the interview lab. Most of those hours are spent sitting in a chair, while participants come and go. This takes a toll on the lower back and decreases blood flood to the legs. Physical discomfort impacts our mental game!

Our trusty blankets and light exercise routines have a role to play here. We can sit on our blankets, pull it over our legs or hang it over the chair to keep our backs warm. Doing knee bends and full body stretches during break time are great, too. It reboots the body and give our energy levels a nice jolt.

#5 Take care of yourself — an on-the-day handover is Plan Z

It’s very tricky for another researcher to jump in to take another’s place on interview day, with the amount of briefing involved and the number of projects being juggled across the team. For this reason, we’re especially careful about managing our physical condition during the interview phase, which typically lasts between 1–3 weeks. Researcher B never lets her neck get cold. Thanks to this tip (?!), she’s successfully delivered dozens of projects as an interviewer with plenty of energy and a big smile.

#6 Unlock hidden resources

Researcher C is not a morning person, and the night before an interview is always a stressful one. What if my alarm isn’t set properly? What if I don’t wake up on time? Mornings are anxiety-inducing, too, needing to leave earlier than usual, in the rare case that the train is late. To avoid all of that, she stays overnight at the AQ office before the day of the interview. Our office space has a full kitchen and bath, and since we’ve started working from home, we’ve brought in futons and set up a sheets-cleaning operation so that any staff who wants a change of pace can comfortably stay over. Research C enjoys a relaxed night and morning before welcoming interview participants, and recommends getting creative about company resources that could be made available to you.

#7 Prepare to go anywhere, even to the open sea!

We carried out a behavioral observation study onboard several cargo ships — a unique opportunity! Except early mornings aren’t the only enemy that Researcher C must fight. Motion sickness is also an issue…

Well, it wouldn’t do for the researcher to be throwing up in the ship bathroom. C looked for medicine that had the strongest effect but didn’t make you sleepy, and discovered one that fisher-people swear by. She distributed packs to the entire team, and we carried out the study with nary a gulp. She also tucked away a couple of sick bags, just in case, but luckily they stayed in her backpack. So those are a couple of tools and rituals that we’ve picked up over the years. Are there any that you’d like to try? We’d love to hear your stories, too!

🌻 We have a decade of experience with user research and design in Japan.

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This article was written by Yumi Houmura, illustrated by Eiko Nagase and translated into English by Misato Ehara and Tomomi Sasaki.

April 1, 2021