How to Interview Users Like a Pro



Have you ever had a conversation with someone where you ask them a question and they answer you? Perfect! Then with some tips and practice you’ll be an expert at interviewing your users in no time!

So what exactly is a user interview anyway?

User interviews are a UX research method in which a UX practitioner conducts a structured conversation with a user or potential user of a site or application. These interviews can take a variety of forms and can be performed in a multitude of settings.

Interviews are a wonderful research tool because they provide extremely rich information on user preferences, attitudes, thoughts, feelings, and insights.

Where should a user interview be conducted?

User interviews can be conducted in-person (typically preferable), over video chat, on the phone, or almost any other way you can think of that makes sense to communicate with another human being. However, if you are performing a contextual inquiry, it is important to sit with someone in the environment in which she performs the task in question.

What is asked during a user interview?

A list of questions, whether you choose to structure your interviews rigidly or not, should be prepared beforehand. When crafting questions it is important to try and elicit information similar to the following:

  • User’s current and/or previous experience with the subject matter.
  • How the participant perceives the company and/or brand.
  • What brings your user to the site or product in the first place.
  • How the user interacts with others while using the product and ways in which others may influence the experience.
  • Test assumptions you’ve made about the product or user group.

Interviews can be conducted in structured or free-form styles. This is dependent on individual preference, type of information you hope to receive from the user, and whether multiple people are conducting the same interview.

If you are going for more formal information or working with a larger team, then a structured interview with little variance in question and order is best.

If you are more interested in richness of data then a free-form style might work best for you. In this case, you will still want to work from a list of questions, but feel free to go off script and probe further when curiosity strikes.

Remember that the quality of information you receive is dependent on the quality of questions you ask, and, therefore a lot of time upfront is required to craft meaningful and targeted questions.

How do you conduct a user interview?

When speaking with a user, the richest and most helpful information comes when she is speaking openly and candidly about her specific experiences using a product. Focus on what the user knows best, herself.

Tips for conducting the most effective interviews:

  • Ask open-ended questions to provide room for honest thoughts and feelings.
  • Do not ask leading questions that will evoke disingenuous responses.
  • Keep questions simple and to the point.
  • Have the user tell you stories about specific experiences (People communicate through storytelling all the time and this will provide rich information while putting the user at ease).
  • Try to keep interviews between 30-60 minutes in order to provide ample time to build a rapport but not so long that the user becomes tired or disengaged.
  • Users do not always know what they want or need so avoid asking speculative questions.

What user interviews should not be used for:

  • Specific design questions cannot be answered by speaking with users and it’s not helpful to you or the user to ask them if they would use X or Y feature.
  • It is also important to beware of the query effect. The query effect, as defined by the Nielsen Norman Group is the notion that people will make up an opinion about anything if they are asked to. Therefore, it is more important to ask users about specific experiences and thoughts than their opinions or speculations on the product at hand.

Remember that users are not designers and designers are not users. The user should not tell the designer what to create and what to solve for and in the same right, the designer should not assume she thinks like the user. Listen to users, understand their experiences, and then design your own solutions.

Learn More About User Expereince Design at GA