How to Conduct User Interviews

An ultimate guide to User Interviews

Published on 25 Feb 2024

User interviews are the cornerstone of any design process. They identify user issues, and preferences, and provide crucial information for your product design. To create user-centric designs, understanding the persona you're designing for is essential. This is where user interviews step in as an efficient tool.

They help to understand user needs via open-ended questions, active listening and unbiased outlook.

The key is to balance personal understanding with practical problem-solving.

Let's dive deeper into this process and understand:
  1. What is a user interview
  2. Why you should conduct them
  3. Types of user interviews
  4. How to conduct user interviews and what limitations to be aware of

What Is a User Interview?

What Is a User Interview?

A user interview amplifies the needs, desires, and frustrations of your target users. It serves as an essential research method, blending open-ended questions with engaging conversations to direct the design process by highlighting users' viewpoints.

Whether for a website or an app, these honest discussions reveal invaluable insights. They enable us to ask users why and how they perform tasks, thereby identifying issues, spotting opportunities for growth, and devising strategies for enhancement.

User interviews are not merely about empathizing with our consumers; they are instrumental in shedding light on areas for improvement and discovering hidden opportunities for advancement.

Why Conduct User Interviews?

User interviews are crucial for understanding user perspectives and improving the overall user experience. Let’s understand why.

Straightforward and honest feedback 
Whether you wish to prototype a new feature or generate new solutions, getting unbiased feedback will be critical. User interviews allow for free-formed, honest responses on usability and functionality.

Early identification of obstacles 
Understanding user behaviors and challenges early helps to avoid expensive redesigns later. When you understand what your users need from the beginning, you can design better products and save resources like time and money. This is because there's no need to fix costly errors or make extensive changes later. It also leads to a more effective product that meets user needs from the get-go.

Observe engagement patterns
Plain communication with users often sets identifiable behaviors. These patterns provide insight into where we can enhance our interactions. By maintaining open, accessible dialogue, we can pinpoint and address common concerns. Through feedback, we can flesh out quirks and learn the quickest routes to problem solutions.

Into the mind of the user
User interviews give detailed insights into the mindset of a customer. This insight can pave the way for not any solution, but a novel one. Instead of relying on assumptions or guesswork, these interviews allow us to peer into the psyche of our users.

Amplify user trust and loyalty
Talking to users shows them that you see their needs. It sets the foundation for trust and makes them loyal. As a result, their perception of your brand can change for the better.

Discover new perspectives
Listening to a new perspective can reveal possible problems you might've overlooked. This helps you spot ways to improve current features or devise new, appropriate services.

Decipher user expectations and needs
User interviews are avenues to understand what a user wants, needs, and expects from your products or services. Such insights help in tailoring an experience that aligns with the user's vision.

Lastly, while user interviews provide priceless insight, it's important to remember they might still have limitations, such as participation bias or misinterpretation risks. Recognizing and mitigating these limitations will further ensure the creation of user-centered design solutions that resonate with your target audience.

Types of User Interviews

Types of User Interviews

Now let's take a look at the various types of user interviews you can conduct.

Structured VS Semi-structured VS Unstructured User Interviews

Structured interviews utilize a predefined set of questions, ensuring that each interviewee is asked the same queries. This approach is particularly effective for obtaining straightforward answers, such as evaluating the usability of a new website feature. By following a consistent script, structured interviews facilitate direct comparisons and assessments of specific aspects, like user experience, across different participants.

Semi-structured interviews are a middle-ground, allowing for expansive discussions. Design teams may use this to hold dialogues on an app's new interface. By incorporating a mix of scripted questions and spontaneous conversation, semi-structured interviews facilitate a comprehensive understanding of users' perspectives and needs.

Unstructured sessions engage users in a casual conversation without a predetermined set of questions. This method is particularly effective for gathering undiluted, authentic perspectives on a product's design. By allowing the conversation to flow naturally, unstructured interviews can uncover deep insights into user experiences, preferences, and potential improvements that might not emerge in more structured formats.

For example: you can ask about how the user has transitioned from menu layouts to delivery features in a food-ordering app. Their flexible, interactive nature offers unbiased, rich user insights.

While all three interview formats have their pros, selecting the one you need depends on your unique objectives and needs.
  • With a structured interview, you can address specific concerns. An unstructured interview encourages in-depth user conversations.
  • Semi-structured approaches offer a balance between both ends of the spectrum.

Remote VS In-person User Interviews

Remote interviews are useful when geographical distances come into play, granting wider user-demographic access while reducing costs. You can perform those using online UX research tools like UXtweak or conferencing software such as Zoom.

Conversely, in-person interviews create a wholesome experience: studying facial expressions, tones, and body language provides critical insights. Those can be much more expensive but often provide valuable insights that cannot be collected via a video call.

Contextual User Interviews

Contextual interviews are performed in the users' environment where your product or service is used. This type of interview allows researchers to gain valuable insights about their habits, preferences, and daily routines because they study user interactions in a natural setting.

These types of insights can help in identifying subtle usability issues or scope for functionality additions, which users may not explicitly mention in a typical interview setting.

Usability Testing Interviews

Usability testing interviews, where users try a product, service, or feature in test conditions, can provide direct feedback on its functionality. This evaluation via user engagement helps identify design issues, navigational barriers, or additional features users might require.

By conducting usability testing interviews researchers can ask follow-up questions about users’ interaction with the product, ask what confused them in the interface, and check in with their expectations.

By closely analyzing user interactions and listening to their feedback, usability testing interviews are instrumental in fine-tuning a product's design to better meet user needs and enhance the overall user experience.

Guerilla Testing Interviews

Guerilla testing involves getting quick, informal feedback on a product or site from users in public places like cafes. Design teams might casually ask these individuals to navigate through a mobile app or a website to understand if the user experience is intuitive and user-friendly.

While guerrilla user interviews provide an immediate, spontaneous response, the drawback lies in the potential participant’s exhibition of demographic bias and need for privacy. This said, they can serve as powerful tools for high-speed, low-cost field research.

How to Conduct User Interviews

How to Conduct User Interviews

Here’s a detailed, step-by-step guide on conducting effective user interviews:

Step 1: Set User Interview Goals

Start by defining what you want to achieve with the interview; this will guide all future steps, from planning to assessment. Minimally, your goals should connect to broader project objectives. Two tips for effective goal-setting are:
  • Use SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.
  • Align goals with user needs and business objectives

Step 2: Devise User Interview Questions

Once your goals are defined, your next priority is developing a list of structured, purposeful questions to ask during your interview.

Here are a few tips:
  • Draft open-ended queries: these will enable dialogues rather than restrictive yes-or-no answers.
  • Design cases for practical task-based questions to understand users' behavior and decisions.
  • Make sure the questions are clearly formulated and avoid bias: misunderstandings can lead to wrong answers.
  • Lastly, determine the sequence: an organic flow helps put interviewees at ease, increasing the chance of honest, rich responses.

Step 3: Select Your Participants

Next, consider the demographic characteristics and behavioral traits of the people you wish to interview. Tips:
  • Look at your buyer personas: they often reflect your target audience closely.
  • Pre-screen responses: send a screener survey to each participant before inviting them for an interview to make sure they are relevant for your research.
  • Establish preferred user quotas: Based on your goals, identify which user categories should get more or less priority, it might help clarify product relevance.
  • Keep in mind consent: Ensure users are comfortable and understand their participation terms. Reiterate the motive and announce any recording or observatory processes to ensure the interviewee's consent.

Learn how to choose the right participants for your study in this quick video:

4 Tips for Creating Effective Screening Questions

Step 4: Conduct the Interview

When conducting interviews, maintaining humane empathy along with methodical accuracy is crucial. Here are some nuggets:

  • Start with a small-talk: to get the conversation going and set a comfortable environment for your interview start with some basic small-talk questions
  • Never oppress opinions: Encourage users to express themselves freely.
  • Create a safe and open environment: Make users feel that their insights and experiences are valid.
  • Remember to actively listen and maintain sincere engagement. This increases the productivity of the interview.
  • Be flexible in your interview structure: Follow the interviewee's thoughts and respond appropriately.
  • Take thorough notes: Use recording tools if necessary. This will help in accurate data analysis afterward. It’s best to have a note-taker on your interview, a person whose task would be to just listen and take notes of the insights.
  • If a user gets off track, gently guide them back to the topic with a redirecting question or comment.
  • Keep the conversation balanced: Do not monopolize it nor remain entirely silent during their narration.

Best Practices to Conduct User Interviews

Best Practices to Conduct User Interviews

In this section, we will discuss some of the most effective strategies to conduct successful user interviews. These techniques and strategies can help designers uncover user needs, expectations, and perhaps some unanticipated pain points.

Observe Eye Contact/Nonverbal Cues

Paying attention to nonverbal cues during interviews can provide significant insights. These cues could range from variations in the tone, expressions, and body language. For instance, maintaining eye contact can show engagement and interest.

On the other hand, look out for signs that indicate confusion, discomfort, or distraction. These nonverbal signals can reflect users' unexpressed concerns, hidden reservations, or additional thoughts that were not vocalized. The observational skill of the interviewer can, therefore, reveal deeper insights than mere verbal communication.

Record User Interviews

Recording sessions is a best practice that can enhance the interview analysis process. With the participant's consent, capture both audio and visual elements for review afterwards, paying meticulous attention to the user's nonverbal cues and emotional responses. Recorded sessions also offer an opportunity to revisit and verify any points of ambiguity or misunderstanding. They help maintain an unbiased and objective interpretation of responses, eliminating guesswork as well as the natural human tendency to forget small, but potentially important, details.

Use Transcriptions and Annotations

Transcribing interview recordings into text can greatly aid in easier comprehension and analysis. Timestamp your text to precisely correlate recordings with the transcriptions for ease of cross-checking.

Adding annotations alongside the transcriptions can also reveal deeper insights–record impressions, confusions, concerns, or hunches while they're fresh in your mental space. Furthermore, it highlights principles or patterns appearing across user inputs.

Encourage User Feedback

Invite users to share constructive feedback after the interview process.

This feedback could be on their overall experience with the interview, suggestions for improvement, or additional afterthoughts which often get missed out during the actual session.

Be open and receptive to user feedback, as it further encourages a culture of shared knowledge and understanding. Valuable nuggets of information often lie within these post-interview thoughts. This paves the way for comprehensive insight-generation around user-centric design thinking strategies.

User Interview Limitations to Keep In Mind

In this section, we explore potential shortcomings or limits inherent in user interviews. From confirmation bias to varying participant honesty, these factors can skew user research.

Limitation 1: Limited Participant Pool

If you only interview a few people, it might not give you a full picture because you're missing out on different opinions. This means what you learn might not reflect what all kinds of users think. To get a better view, don’t forget to include representatives of your product’s different user personas.

Also, make sure you choose participants carefully by looking at things like their background, how they use the product, or their behaviors. Keeping the interview setting focused and free from distractions is also key to getting good information. Train your interviewers well, make sure everyone feels comfortable, and have a clear plan for the interview to get the most useful insights.

Limitation 2: Subjective Interpretation

One frequent drawback of user interviews is the risk of data being subjective to an interviewer's beliefs or biases. This distortion or misinterpretation can dilute the value of user insights. Below are quick tips to counter this.
  • Establish a neutral and consistent approach to conducting and transcribing interviews.
  • Involve peers in analysis discussions, bringing in differing perspectives.
  • Establish a checklist for interview execution consistency across the team. Roll out referee or investigator bias training if necessary.

Limitation 3: Difficulty in Verifying Responses

One of the most significant challenges in research and user feedback collection is ensuring the authenticity and accuracy of responses.

Participants may, intentionally or unintentionally, provide answers they believe are expected or acceptable rather than their genuine opinions or experiences. This phenomenon can skew data, leading to misleading conclusions.

To mitigate these issues, it's essential to employ strategies that encourage honest, unbiased feedback and accurately interpret complex behaviors.

Wrapping Up

Mastering user interviews is a journey rather than a destination, requiring dedication, meticulous attention, and keen observation skills. This process is dynamic and demands an ongoing commitment to excellence.

Armed with the right tools, comprehensive planning, and a sincere desire to delve deep into the user's perspective, you can learn how to make the most out of user interviews and use them to enhance your UX design process.


How to organize user interviews?

To plan a user interview, create a clear plan and ask open questions. Write a guide that says the goals and the type of question:
  • about their behaviour,
  • opinions,
  • personal details, or
  • demographics.

Choose a quiet, bright place for the interview, and check the recording tools beforehand. Set a time that suits the participants well. Get their consent to and inform them about any rewards for attending. Involve end-users throughout the study, keeping it interesting and respectful.

Post-interview, mark your recollections and thoughts, annotate transcriptions and undertake a comprehensive analysis. Effective organization ensures wholesome and truthful responses, lending key insights for user-centered design.

How to run user interviews?

Running user interviews starts with friendly introductions and explaining the objectives. Then the interview sequence remains structured around the participant's insights. Dedicated note-taking or recording methods help capture responses and observations. This eliminates any interruption to the flow of conversation. Then comes a meaningful wrap-up and debrief to gauge any final thoughts. Post-interview, comprehensive review and reflection of every session can help draw analytical insights.

What are the best user interview questions?

Great interview questions can unveil a user's motivators and hurdles. Basic ones cover previous encounters with the product, the user's struggles, or the product's role in their life. Observing their actions and asking open-ended questions can reveal more. Top it off by hypothesizing their near-future interactions with the product. Flexibility is key. Be ready with more probing questions to clarify or explore more about their initial answers.

DISCLOSURE: This article is published as part of a paid partnership with the author/company. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author/company.


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