Carl Barenbrug

Product design, creative direction

Good Interviews

In early 2019, I came to the realisation that people prefer to read about people more than they do about things. It’s not exactly a phenomenon, but it was significant for the editorial direction of Minimalissimo. Since relaunching the latest version of the site, you will notice a greater prominence to our creator interviews. I still don’t know if this has or will generate a larger readership, and I don’t care much for analytics. Analytics can be incredibly useful, but I only use the data when I need to. The slight editorial shift was down to instinct more than anything.

So with a greater focus on interviews, the work lies in the research of individuals or companies. If you’re interviewing someone who has several interviews previously published online, it’s easy to recycle that content and ask the same old questions, but not only does that add very little value to readers, it also makes it incredibly boring for the interviewee. We want to distinguish forgettable interviews with memorable ones. A good interview is the result of asking good questions off the back of heavy research and avoiding duplication. More than anything though, it’s down to your curiosity and what you want to uncover and know more about.

The Research

There’s a big difference between light and heavy research in preparing an interview. Light research will consist of simply visiting the interviewee’s personal or company website and not looking beyond the first page of a Google search.

Heavy research is a little closer to stalking, but obviously, not quite. It involves researching their work, social media profiles, material they have directly published, their industry, reading or watching other interviews they have participated in, and analysing whether their outlook has changed over time so you can ask about certain opinions or creative directions they once expressed. But even if you do want to discuss a topic someone often speaks about, try to find a fresh angle. Off the back of that, you should be able to determine areas you can explore.

The Questions

When preparing questions, you want to give an interviewee the opportunity to express their thoughts as fully as possible. So questions need to clearly invite an explanation or description. You want to avoid asking questions that will invite one or two word answers—unless you’re doing some kind of quick fire round on a podcast.

Although it can be and hopefully will be interesting to learn about work and creative processes, these individuals are people. So don’t be afraid to ask one or two personal questions. Needless to say there is also a line here, but try to offer up an opportunity for them to share a bit more about their personality. Almost everyone has interests outside of work. Keep it human and make the interview an enjoyable experience.

The Format

Conducting an interview through email is usually far more convenient, practical, and thoughtful than an interview over Skype or in person. Particularly if the interviewee is not a native English speaker. That’s not to say it’s better though. Following-up on responses is far more time-consuming and bothersome over email than adapting in the moment during a live conversation, where you can go off-script to dive into areas you hadn’t planned. That can often lead to an even more compelling interview. Plus, it flows better as a conversation rather than a more rigid template. A useful approach is to send questions ahead of a live interview, so the interviewee has time to prepare some notes on how to answer questions during the discussion.

I think it largely depends on your character and how you interact with people on a daily basis that will determine your preference on how you conduct or participate in interviews.

You might have a preference on how you consume interviews, but there’s definitely no better format than the other. What determines a good interview is down to the research and questions of the person conducting it, and the openness and interest of the individual responding. You can never guarantee a good interview, but you can certainly reduce the chances of it being shit.

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