Integrating Feedback on the Fly: Intercept Interviews

Flyer which encourages participation in intercept interview: 10 minutes for a chance at 10 dollars.

When developing or reconsidering a library service, sometimes you can get stuck in your head. You go back and forth with your colleagues proposing different ways of doing things. You model out different scenarios, do an environmental scan, read the literature, weigh pros and cons but you still can’t decide how to proceed. At times you might not even know where to start. When you’re facing a dilemma like this, a great way to figure out how to move forward is to go to your users.

In academic libraries, this can be pretty easy, because your user group is not only walking through your building but also around your campus all the time. But how do you connect with them to get their feedback? One great way to do this is through intercept interviews. Intercept interviews are short, on-the-fly interactions between you and your users. Essentially you’re taking your service design question to the masses, asking a user to stop by, to chat with you for five minutes, and to answer a few questions, or to participate in a short activity. Applied in the right way at the right time, intercept interviews can help guide your path and keep your service development process user-centered.

What do intercept interviews look like?

The answer: whatever you want them to look like! I’ve done intercept interviews in a variety of ways depending on my feedback goals. A constant has been sitting by a table in different locations on campus. For example, I sat in the library when we wanted to talk to folks who already use our spaces, and outside of the library when we wanted to catch some people who may not come to our spaces or use our services at all. Different approaches we’ve taken include:

  • Asking people to draw a map of the library to learn more about the vocabulary they use to describe spaces and which spaces stand out to them as destinations

  • Asking people to add sticky notes in response to a question such as, “What does my ideal library look like?”

  • Asking folks 3-7 questions and taking narrative notes in a Google form or just on paper

  • Piloting questions we planned to use in longer interviews to see how people were interpreting our wording

  • Asking different users to complete an impromptu usability test of two different floor plan designs.

In all of these, I limit the time a user spends with me to 5-10 minutes. In many of these interviews, I asked if the participant would be interested in a follow up activity, as a recruitment method for later studies.

When should I integrate intercept interviews?

The most important thing to me when considering intercept interviews is to recognize them for what they are and what they’re not. Then, depending on what you are trying to evaluate or reconsider, you can determine whether intercept interviews are the right fit.

Intercept interviews are:

  • A way to talk to a lot of random people in a small amount of time. With intercepts, you won’t be spending hours interviewing. This allows you to catch people who have limited time who would potentially not consider participating in a longer feedback session.

  • Kind on your budget. From my experience, something as small as a donut, piece of candy, promise of a raffle or just asking folks to help the library, will encourage people to share feedback.

  • Fun! Because intercept interviews are in-person interactions, I find the activity energizing, as I get to see and to talk with the folks who could benefit from the library's services and collections. I’ll also add “draining” as the other side of the coin. After all, getting people to stop at your table means a lot of smiling, calling out, making eye contact and being able to laugh off the lengths people go to when trying to avoid you. :)

  • A great place to build from. Intercept interviews can help you get a feel for the range of responses from your community. You can make limited conclusions from what you learn since the tactic is so random, but interviews can help guide your next steps, whether that’s supplementing some quantitative research, more formal research or, just picking one service design element and running with it for a while.

  • A way to hear how people think and what they say, but not to learn what they actually do. Usability tests and observation are better methods for that.

  • A way to talk to new people. Since participants could be anyone walking by, this means that you won’t be drawing data from the faculty member who always sends you a lot of feedback or the same pool of students who respond to surveys. Yes, participants still have to opt in and not everyone likes doing that. But because the barrier of entry for participation is pretty low, I think you draw in a different, and hopefully more varied, perspective.

Intercept interviews aren’t:

  • Scientific

  • Rigorous

  • Conclusive

  • Representative

Methods that fit this list may have their own time and place in your service design process. But, for the times when you’re looking for a lighter touch -- for example, before you start writing a survey (first off read Heidi’s first and second posts) -- consider taking a few hours to talk to library users (and potential users) face-to-face.