User interviews are a crucial part of the product design process because they allow us to gain insight into the needs, behaviors, and motivations of the product users.
The main goal of user interviews is to understand the user’s pain points and needs. These key insights will help us to make decisions about the UX design and ensure that the final product meets the user’s needs.
The purpose of the article is to explain this technique 360 degrees, why we use it during UX research, which kind of data you can collect, how to prepare the questions, what you can do with the data, and provide you with many tips that will help you to make a great user interview process.
Table of contents
- Quantitative and qualitative research
- What are user interviews, and what are they not?
- When and why you should conduct user interviews
- User interviews have limitations
- Preparing for a user interview
- Onsite vs. remote interviews
- Writing the script for the interview
- During the interview
- After the interview
Quantitative and qualitative research
We can collect two kinds of data during user research: qualitative and quantitative data.
Quantitative data comes from analytics tools that tell us what happens. For instance, they can show how many users add products to their cart and leave the page without buying anything.
Qualitative data comes from interviews, observations, and focus groups to understand why certain things happen. For example, if we saw that 35 percent of people abandoned their shopping carts with items in them, we could interview them to find out why.
Quantitative and qualitative data are valuable information that help us understand our users. Quantitative data tells us what happens, and qualitative data tells us why.
What are user interviews, and what are they not?
We can indeed gain insights from every conversation we have with a user. But rather than a simple conversation we have along the way, an interview is a structured process we do during the UX research process with a clear objective: to know the user and their needs better. Let’s take a closer look at what a user interview is not.
It is not a sales meeting
User interviews aren’t sales meetings. During a user interview, we can’t push our product. Product designers don’t make sales, but sometimes a sales rep gets invited. We should explain to them that we are listening to the user in that meeting, not selling them anything.
User interviews are not a features feedback meeting
User interviews are not the place to discuss upcoming features or potential solutions to the user’s problems.
First, users cannot consider the product architecture and the company’s dependencies.
Aside from that, users tend to focus more on their existing solutions than on developing new ones. As Henry Ford said, “if I ask what people want, they will say faster horses.”
This is not a usability test
When product designers run a usability test, they check if the user understands the designer’s solution. Our objective when performing a usability test is to determine if the user understands the interface to perform some actions and if the flow is smooth.
Therefore, in the user interview, we ask the user about their needs and pain points, and in the usability test, we want to see if they understand the solution.
When and why you should conduct user interviews
Interviewing users is a very effective way to build products that solve people’s problems, and it can be used in different ways during a product’s lifecycle.
First, we can use user interviews to find a problem, for example, before we start building a startup company. We can focus on one topic, like buying online, and ask people what they don’t like about it. Maybe we’ll find a big problem many people suffer from, and we’ll figure out that there’s much to fix.
If we have a product and want to grow the business and solve more problems, it’s the same. We can conduct them and collect valuable information.
As a result of user interviews, you will have lots of data that you can use to create a user persona and user journey. That way, all the team members will be on the same page about the user’s needs and what the team wants to solve. Also, making decisions will be easier since everyone knows what the user needs.
User interviews have limitations
First, people often need to remember what they did or they perform tasks automatically, so they don’t remember to share critical details. In addition, since everyone is different, the interviewer should be professional and know how to interact with each person so they will be open with them and share their experience.
Preparing for a user interview
It is important to follow certain steps before conducting a user interview, so let’s go over them.
Setting clear goals for the user interview
You need to write down your objectives for the interview. You usually have 3–5 goals, but if you have more than 5, your objectives need to be more focused.
For instance, if you have a website that sells shoes, your goals could be:
- Learn how people buy shoes online
- Learn why people like/dislike buying shoes online
- Learn why people abandon carts with products in them
Take the time to build this part well because if it’s done right, all the other parts will be easier.
Who and how many people to interview
It’s critical to consider your research goals and choose individuals who are relevant to those goals. For example, if you have an online store that sells running shoes, you must search for people who run because it will be more accurate. You won’t get accurate information if you choose users who don’t run.
The number of people you interview can vary, but generally, you should speak with between 3 and 8 people. If you interview fewer than three people, you might not get a representative sample, and interviewing more than eight people might take a lot of time and give you no additional insight. Aiming for a total of 5 interviews is often a good balance, as it allows for identifying patterns while still being manageable.
How to find users, and how to invite them
Finding people to interview can be tricky, but here are some places you can find them:
- Get in touch with existing users: If the product has some users, you can email them and ask if they’d like to join. You can get help from the customer success team or the sales team since they talk with users daily
- Forums and social media: Search for forums and other online communities that focus on the same topic and ask them to participate. If your product offers DevOps support, you can locate some developer communities specializing in DevOps and ask them to participate
- Using your network: If you have an extensive personal network, you may find people to interview through it. For example, if you develop tools for DevOps and have a direct connection with several DevOps professionals, you can ask them to participate
It is best to find users for a user interview through personal connections or introductions rather than cold emails. For example, a sales team member can introduce you to a potential candidate, and this can increase the likelihood that potential candidates will be receptive to being interviewed.
Preparing some templates for your emails will help you work faster. When you make your first connection with a user, you should send a mail explaining who you are and why you are conducting the interview. You should also send another mail explaining how the interview will proceed and set up a time, and the last email thanking the candidate.
To maintain a successful relationship with users, you must be honest with them and quickly respond to their emails.
Onsite vs. remote
You can observe the user’s body language better during an onsite interview. On the other hand, remote interviews have many advantages, such as interviewing people in different time zones and locations. In addition, it is much simpler since the other person doesn’t need to leave their comfort zone.
I prefer the remote option, but if some limitations require it to be done onsite, that is also an option.
The following tips will help you prepare for an onsite or online interview.
- Prepare a comfortable place for the interview
- Make sure a water bottle is on the table
- Provide directions to the office, so the user knows where it is
- Ensure your internet connection works well
- Get a quiet place to do the interview
- Ensure your headphones work and all your voice settings are set up correctly
Writing the script for the interview
A clear script with questions is essential to a successful interview. The script has four sections.
First, we would like to introduce ourselves and the notetaker (a person who helps us take notes, such as a UX designer, a product manager, or a developer), explain why we are conducting the interview, how it will proceed, and that we are not testing the candidates or their knowledge. This will allow them to feel comfortable during the interview, so they will be more willing to share information.
If you want to record the meeting, now is the time to ask for their permission (I suggest you ask in writing ahead of time). Lastly, ask if they have any more questions before continuing.
Let’s break the ice
In this section, you will ask 3–5 questions to break the ice with your interviewee. For example, you might ask:
- Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your professional background?
- When did you first become interested in the field you work in now?
- In your current role or responsibilities, what do you enjoy most?
- When you have free time, what do you like to do?
- How does your typical day look?
The main interview questions
Here you ask the main research questions. Asking 10–12 questions will give you good results, but you should prepare 20–25 questions since some people are difficult to get information from, so more questions will help. To make it more structured, think about what you want to ask at the beginning and what is at the end. Here are some tips for writing them well:
Ask questions that align with your research goals. Don’t ask questions that are out of the scope of what you’re looking for.
Avoid leading questions because they can lead to biased or inaccurate responses and make the participant feel uncomfortable or pressured to give a certain answer. Let’s say we do user research for an online store that sells running shoes.
If you ask, “Can you tell me which websites you bought running shoes from?” you assume that the user bought the shoe online, but you don’t know that.
Would it be better if I asked, “Where do you buy your running shoes?”
Avoid vague questions because they can lead to unclear or confusing responses, making the participant feel frustrated. Instead, ask clear and specific questions.
An example of a vague question is: What do you think of the shopping experience on the website?
Better questions can be:
- How easy or difficult was it to find the running shoes you were looking for on the website?
- Which factors influenced your decision to buy or not buy a pair of shoes?
Open questions are better than closed questions. Open questions are better in user interviews because they allow the participants to express their thoughts and give you more insight. The answer to a closed-ended question can only be yes or no, so it won’t help us find the information we need.
An example of a close question is: “Do you buy your running shoes online?”
An open question will be: “Can you tell me how you buy running shoes?”
We sometimes want to ask a closed question to continue to ask questions. It is okay to ask a closed question and then an open question, so you can better understand how the user behaves. For example, you can ask the user, “Do you buy your running shoes online?”
If the answer is YES, you may ask:
- Why do you buy shoes online?
- Where do you buy your shoes online?
If the answer is NO, you may ask:
- Why do you not buy shoes online?
- Where do you buy your shoes?
Try to start with a big question. Starting with a big question and then asking related questions will enable you to dig more profoundly step-by-step. You can ask, for example:
“Can you tell me when was the last time you bought new running shoes?”
Then ask subquestions like:
- When was it?
- How long did it take you to choose the shoe?
- Where did you find them?
- What made you choose this brand/shoe?
The last question: At the end of this part, you can ask a very open question that will give you more information about the user. For example, “If you had a magic stick that could help you choose your next running shoe, what would it do?”
At this point, we’d like to thank the interviewee and explain what we plan to do with the data. Before you end the interview, ask the interviewee if they have any questions. In that way, you give them the final say.
During the interview
To get quality information from the interviewees, there are some key things you need to do during the interview.
- During the interview, be calm and not nervous. Think of it as a conversation between two people
- The purpose of this session is to ask questions and to get information from the participants, so you should speak less and listen more. It is recommended that you speak 15 percent of the time and listen 85 percent of the time
- Please don’t shy away from negative user feedback about the product; you can gain valuable insight from users’ complaints
- If you see that the user wants to talk, but you finish all the questions in the script, don’t be afraid to improvise. Getting more experience in user interviews will help you to improvise better
- Occasionally, people talk little, and the call may feel silent. This is fine, and you can wait until the user continues talking. However, you can break the silence if it takes a long time
- When doing a remote interview, turn on the automatic captioning feature (you can find this feature in many online call apps). It’ll help you understand people better, especially if you’re doing it in a foreign language or if they talk with a strong accent
- As far as my experience shows, recording the interview and watching it again is the most effective way to ensure you get everything
- Search for pain points because this is where you can start finding solutions for users
After the interview
This is the time to organize all the information you collected. You can summarize each interview and make the main points from it. Once you have summarized all the interviews, you can create a report that you can share with the product manager and the developers. In this way, the team can prioritize the following solutions it wishes to develop.
Further, if you are working on a new product, you can create a user persona and a user journey. As a result, all team members will be more knowledgeable about users and their needs.
All reports should be concise and to the point. Writing a long document is easy, but to effectively communicate the results, you must focus on the key points rather than getting bogged down in unnecessary detail. You can include links to the interview summaries if the team members need more explanation.
User interviews are a crucial part of the product design process, as they allow designers to gain insight into the users’ needs, behaviors, and motivations. This article reviewed all the details you need to know to perform user interviews effectively.
We started by discussing what qualitative and quantitative research is and how user interviews fit into these categories. We also looked at when to conduct user interviews and how to prepare for them. This included setting clear goals, identifying users to interview, and deciding between onsite and online interviews. We also discussed how to create a script for the interview.
Next, we saw tips for conducting a smooth interview, and finally, we discussed what to do with the data you collected.
Featured image source: IconScout
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