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GuidesUser experience (UX)Comprehensive guide to conducting user interviews in 2024

Comprehensive guide to conducting user interviews in 2024

Last updated

26 January 2023


Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Katie Reed

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Is your product or service truly meeting the expectations of its users?

While there are many possible ways to get an answer to this question, the most effective and accurate method is conducting user interviews.

User interviews tell you how consumers perceive your product or service. Depending on the questions you ask, these interviews can also define your product's usability and tell you which features or aspects to improve.

This guide explains all you need to know about user interviews, including how, why, and when to conduct effective user interviews and how to analyze the results.

What is a user interview?

User interviews are a user experience (UX) research method that brands use to understand how consumers interact with their products and services. You can conduct user interviews about almost anything.

For instance, you can create a user interview to:

  • Determine whether your website is effective at achieving its goal

  • Understand how customers perceive or use a particular product

  • Discover the effectiveness of a particular service you provide

As the name suggests, user interviews involve a researcher interviewing someone who interacts with the product or service. Unlike focus groups, user interviews rely on the responses of one person at a time.

User interviews mainly happen one-on-one, in person, over video, or on the phone. The researcher asks questions that the interviewee (user) answers. Their responses are recorded, and the researcher analyzes them later to understand the user's experiences, thought processes, and perspective.

Quantitative and qualitative data

User interviews can be either quantitative or qualitative:

  • Quantitative: collecting data over time from numerical sources and converting it into closed-ended questions or datasets to be used during a demographic survey. The insights from quantitative user interviews provide operational or economic data, such as demographic metrics.

  • Qualitative: non-numerical data via face-to-face interactions and open questions. This type of interview provides experience data and shows consumers' emotional decisions.

Quantitative user interviews provide more context on users' past activities, while qualitative interviews tell you why users behave a certain way. Both types are valuable for understanding your target audience’s views on your products or services.

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Why should you conduct user interviews?

Companies rely on user interviews because they are fast, easy, and effective in understanding the consumer’s or user’s experience. User interviews are also contextual, and help companies understand their users' everyday interactions with a product or service.

Through user interviews, researchers can learn things such as:

  • Habits and interactions of users

  • The user experience

  • Likes and dislikes of a product or service

  • Beliefs influencing how and why people use a product or service

User interviews are critical for designing the best user experience for your target audience. After all, user interviews tell you what consumers think about your services and products.

More reasons why user interviews are essential for any brand include:

  • They reveal what's working and meeting customer expectations, and what aspect of your business needs a slight improvement or complete overhaul

  • Insights from user interviews can help you make business decisions in a bid to align the company's decisions with user needs and expectations

  • Development teams can glean useful insights into how a user will react to a new product or feature

  • User interviews also help in the creation of important design tools such as user personas and journey maps

By understanding designated users' perspectives, designers can build usable and practical products that are on point with customers' expectations and needs.

When to conduct user interviews

You can conduct user interviews at various points during the lifecycle of a product or service. Two ideal times to carry out a user interview are:

Before you start the design process

In most cases, user interviews come in handy at the start of the design process. Designers can get valuable insights from users about their needs.

For instance, user interviews at the start of the design process can inform designers what features users need. These insights will inform the journey map and workflows, and help designers build more functional products and services.

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When you’re conducting usability tests

Another good time to conduct user interviews is during usability tests. As the name suggests, usability tests tell designers whether an app, website, or software is functional and meets the target audience's needs.

Researchers typically rely on self-reported data and observed behaviors to understand customers' perspectives toward your products.

How to conduct user interviews

How you conduct user interviews can determine whether or not you get valuable insights to inform your design process or improve your product or service. Fortunately, conducting user interviews isn’t complicated. Just follow our four simple steps.

1. Set a goal

Every effective research process starts with a goal and objective. Simply put, what are you trying to achieve with the interview? For example, your goal might be to find out:

  • Why 64% of your existing customers refuse to upgrade their plan to a paid version

  • Whether your target audience prefers to learn through a mobile app or a web application

  • Which features do users want to see with your next product update

The main reason for having a clearly defined goal is to ensure the interview stays on track. The goal also informs your interview questions. This goal or objective guarantees that you'll cover all critical bases.

When defining the research goal, involve key product stakeholders for a more comprehensive, holistic objective.

2. Find and recruit participants

Once you’ve decided on your goal, it's time to find the interview participants. This step will be relatively easy if you've already defined your target audience. If not, you might need to go through a few more steps to work out your target audience so that you can select a few representatives from that group.

You can also advertise on social media if you need a larger pool of users to choose from. Most researchers will recruit five to ten interviewees.

To weed out incompatible interviewees, conduct a quick survey to select participants. This way, you'll have a clear picture of the users' demographics, needs, and backgrounds.

Participant recruitment 101 with User Interviews’ VP of Product

3. Writing user interview questions

Most researchers find this step challenging. Interview research questions must uncover the main themes a researcher wants to learn about. However, when writing these questions, don't make it seem like you're looking for a specific answer. Instead, user interview research questions should be:

  • Dialogue-provoking

  • Neutral

  • Not leaning toward suiting the researcher's narrative

For example, don't ask: "Why do you like the XYZ app?" Phrasing the question in this manner is leading as it assumes the interviewee likes the app. Instead, ask: "Why do you use the XYZ app?” Such a question is open and presents more opportunities for a researcher to learn about a user's interaction with an app.

Leading questions will not get you the unfiltered truth. They coax the interviewee to inadvertently give a false or biased answer that could harm your business decisions.

It's best to include many open-ended questions as they leave more room for elaboration. You can throw in a few closed yes and no questions if necessary, but be sure to have follow-up questions to understand the user's perspective in its entirety.

The rule of thumb for interview questions is to make them clear, brief, and aligned with your research objectives.

It's also a good idea to include a brief introduction when writing user interview questions. Ideally, this section introduces the researcher and explains the interview's purpose.

For example, "Hello, I'm Erica, a UX designer at MM company. I'm conducting research in preparation for building an eCommerce shop for eco-friendly wear. I would like to ask you some questions about your experience with eco-friendly clothing. You do not have to answer questions you're uncomfortable with. There's also no right or wrong response, as every answer you give will be incredibly helpful for my research."

Before you begin, leave room for the interviewee to ask questions.

4. Choose the location of the user interview

It may not seem like much, but the location where you conduct user interviews significantly impacts your research.

For best results, conduct the interview in a neutral environment where your subject is most comfortable. If you carry out the user interview within your company environment, the interviewee may be compelled to give biased answers in favor of your brand.

Conducting online video interviews is another way of ensuring an interviewee is comfortable and the environment is unbranded.

User interview best practices

User interviews are more likely to be successful when the interviewee feels comfortable and heard. Prior preparation is another critical aspect that makes for a successful user interview.

Here are more best practices for effective user interviews:

1. Make the user feel comfortable

Making the user comfortable starts with the location of the user interview. For authentic results, choose a neutral environment where the interviewee is not nudged to provide only positive sentiments. You can even let the interviewee choose the interview location.

Before you start the user interview, make it clear that there's no right or wrong answer. This clarification helps the interviewee answer all questions without fearing being wrong or judged. More importantly, truly listen to what the interviewee says. Acknowledge their answers by nodding and making frequent eye contact.

2. Leave room for the interviewee to lead

Of course, user interviews need some form of structure to stay on course. However, the researcher should also leave room for the interviewee to lead. This gives the interviewee enough time to elaborate on their thoughts, concerns, confusion, frustration, or praise.

The researcher should take on the role of a guide. This will help them glean more insights when the interviewee leads.

3. Prepare questions before the interview

Having relevant questions ready beforehand guarantees the interview aligns with the research objectives. It also helps the researcher manage time better since they know how many questions there are and the time needed to answer each.

4. Anticipate different responses, and construct follow-up questions based on your research goals

While the interview should have some structure, researchers should be ready with follow-up questions. Sometimes, the interviewee might not answer how you anticipated. Follow-up questions can help clarify things.

5. Write dialogue-provoking interview questions

Open questions are better than closed ones for interview questions since they allow clarification and exploration. Remember, most of the data from user interviews should be qualitative, which is only achievable through dialogue-provoking questions.

Don't ask users directly what they want. Many times, users are not aware of the kind of experience they would rather have. There are three ways to get the information you need:

  • Gather context about your goal for a particular design, product, or service

  • Ask questions that provide data you can use to analyze how you’re doing regarding what you're trying to achieve

  • Ask questions to discover how else you can improve what you're already doing.

These three categories of questions will provide you with contextual data and paint a picture of the actual experience consumers want. 

Below are examples of questions to include in user interviews:

  • What is this product/service helping you achieve?

  • What would you change about this product or service?

  • What is your favorite part about this product or service?

  • What has been your experience using this product or service?

  • What's the most challenging part about using this product or service?

  • What would stop you from using this product or service?

6. Avoid leading, closed, or vague questions

Every question needs to hit the mark the first time. For user interviews to be successful, the researcher must ensure the questions are open and stimulate dialogue. Moreover, the question should not be leading since this would only generate biased responses or false sentiments.

Use varying question formats to keep the interviewee interested. If all your questions and follow-ups are monotonous, you might lose the interviewee's full attention.

7. Prepare more questions than you think you’ll have time to ask

It's better to be over-prepared rather than underprepared during interview preparation. Make sure you have more than enough questions. Of course, give more space to the main questions, but also have a backup list of questions in case you have extra time.

8. Make notes about how the user responds as well as what they say

During the interview, be sure to record the interviewee's responses, ensuring first you have their permission to record. Usually, researchers will take a few notes in addition to recording the interview. You could seek the help of an additional team member, so your focus is wholly on the interview.

Don't just record the responses. It's also essential to make a note of what the interviewee is doing while answering a question, to understand the full context of their perspective.

9. Debrief the interviewee

When the interview is over, hold a short debriefing session. Thank the interviewee, and give them a chance to ask questions or voice any concerns that cropped up during the interview. Most importantly, tell them how you plan to use their responses.

Pros of user interviews

  • User interviews give you a good glimpse into your target audience's perception of your products and services

  • They are also highly customizable and can help you access specific insights into a particular business aspect

  • User interviews give researchers immediate or real-time insights

Limitations of user interviews

  • Because user interviews rely on self-reported data, participants may not recall events fully or accurately

  • Participants may not know what is relevant or important to a researcher and can leave out pertinent details

  • User interviews may involve a smaller sample group than other methods, as they are time intensive

Analyzing user interview results

Once you're done with an interview, the next step is analysis. This stage is also time-consuming, but customer analysis software can help ease the workload of sorting, summarizing, and analyzing user interview data.

Here are some quick steps you can take to analyze user interview data:

  1. Collect all (evaluative, inferential, and descriptive) data in a central location

  2. Fill the gaps in your data by grouping the data by themes or questions

  3. Pick up the common themes from the results and try to understand how these themes relate to your target audience and product

  4. Have a few quotes that concisely describe the current user experience

  5. Use keywords to outline key themes that crop up after user interviews

  6. Analyze how your findings relate to your current products or services and note areas needing improvement

While user interview data is essential, it makes the most sense when used with other data sources. Combining different data sources can validate current user experience and pinpoint gaps that need filling.

Collaborative user-research software

Manual analysis of user interview data is not only frustrating but also time-consuming. Fortunately, researchers can access handy user research software for speedy, accurate, and collaborative analysis.

User research tools, such as ours, can transcribe user-interview recordings, provide summaries, and find themes from unstructured user responses. This allows researchers to conduct interviews faster with few or no inaccuracies. Researchers can also quickly create reports or presentations and push them to relevant stakeholders for faster decision-making.

Should you be using a customer insights hub?

Do you want to discover previous user research faster?

Do you share your user research findings with others?

Do you analyze user research data?

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