How to Do User Interviews (in 6 Steps)

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Alexander Georges
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Lydia Chamberlain
March 24, 2020

User interviews are an important method for improving the user experience of a product.

It’s a quick and easy way to get user data to make a product more valuable to the user.

If you don’t know what it is or you don’t understand its value, you’ve come to the right place.

In this article, we’ll discuss what a user interview is, who should do them, why you should do them, and the steps you should take in order to design and conduct them well.

What are User Interviews?

A user interview is a UX research method of talking to a user of a product (or even a potential user of a product in development) in order to understand their behavior or attitude on a subject.

That subject can range on a number of topics.

For example, you may ask questions on how the interviewee currently uses a competitor’s product, how they feel about it, and what they wish was different.

If you have an existing product, you might ask your users follow-up questions about a usability test you just conducted.

Unlike focus groups, user interviews are one-on-one. However, you will likely perform multiple interviews to get the answers you need.

Who Should Conduct User Interviews?

If you’re looking to gleam information on users or potential users of a product, you should consider user interviews as a potential research method.

You don’t have to be a UX researcher or expert to conduct them.

You might be working at a small company without a researcher but you want to find the truth behind your product users’ motivations.

You might even be an entrepreneur trying to see if people have a problem worth solving.

No matter your background, you can conduct user interviews if you’re equipped with the right tools and knowledge. That’s where this article comes in.

Why Should You Conduct User Interviews?

There are multiple reasons why you might turn to user interviews as a research method:

  • You want to know if your potential users truly have a problem worth solving
  • You want proof that your hypothesis about the user’s behavior is correct
  • You want to know how users are using a competitor’s product
  • You want to know how, why, or when users are using your product
  • You want to know how you can improve your product
  • You want to know what users dislike about your product
  • You want to ask follow-up questions to a usability test’s results
  • You want to inform the design of your empathy maps, personas, user journeys, or other research methods
  • You want to see your user’s reactions at specific steps of using your product
  • You don’t have enough time or resources to conduct a contextual inquiry

And if none of these are enough, if you work at a large company as I do, you might need the qualitative evidence in order to prove why the product should take one direction over another that a higher-up is pushing for.

How to Do User Interviews

Here are your steps to designing and conducting user interviews:

1. Have your product’s goal in mind

Before you start, you need to have an understanding of what your product’s goal(s) are. What problem is your product trying to solve? Who are your users? If you don’t have these basic questions answered, you should do your due diligence before starting user interviews.

2. Have clear objectives

What are you trying to learn from these user interviews you’re going to conduct? You can have more than one objective with your interviews.

Here are some examples:

  • Do users order food delivery through our app more when they’re out with their friends than when they’re at home alone?
  • Do users order from our product more during the morning because they like our breakfast items better?
  • Do people run into the problem of not liking how furniture looks in their living room after ordering it online?

If you’re working with stakeholders, ask them their reasons for needing this research. What is it they’re trying to uncover?

3. Set up your questions

With your goals and objectives in mind, set up specific questions to ask during your interview.

For example, if you’re trying to uncover why users are using a product, you can ask, “Tell me about the last time you used (Product Name).” This question is a great starting place because users will think back to their most recent experience. If users had a positive experience, you can prepare follow-up questions on why they’re experience was great. If it was bad, you can ask about those reasons too. It’s also great because it’s an open-ended, non-leading question.

You want to ask open-ended questions because they give you more detailed answers than close-ended questions.

Open-ended example: When do you choose to eat out with your friends?

Close-ended example: Do you eat out with your friends?

You also want to ask non-leading questions because, otherwise, the user answers will be tainted to go in favor of or against something. In other words, the answers will be biased if they are leading questions.

Non-leading example: You said you like to exercise in the morning. Can you tell me more about your exercise routine in the morning?

Leading example: What time of day do you want to use our app? (This suggests to users that they should use your app and should even want to use an app in the first place.)

4. Find your interviewees

There are multiple ways you can recruit the users or potential users you’re going to interview. You can use social media or reach out to a list of existing user contacts.

If you use social media, try to find groups where your users might be. For example, if you’re looking for people who exercise, you can find fitness Facebook or Reddit groups online.

When you reach out to potential interviewees, be respectful and honest about what you’re looking for. You should also have a plan of who you’re looking for. Are you just looking for people who work out, or are you looking for women in their 30’s who work out after giving birth and are trying to get back into shape? This is where going back to your goals and objectives can be helpful.

You should consider conducting more than one interview. After a few interviews (around 4-7), you start seeing a pattern of behavior or attitudes. Once you get clear patterns, you probably have enough answers to go to step 6.

5. Conduct user interviews

There are some important things to keep in mind when conducting your interviews:

  • Location: Conduct your interviews in a location that is not suggestive for the user to favor or dislike a product. For example, you might not want to hold the interview in your office if you have a lot of your product’s branding around. That might suggest the user be in favor of your product. You could also consider an online phone call or video conference.
  • Timing: Be respectful of your interviewee’s time. You’ll only be wearing your user out if your interview lasts 2 hours.
  • Compensation: Your interviewee is taking time out of their busy schedule to help you out. Compensate them for their time, such as with an Amazon gift card. And remember, some professionals’ time is worth more than others, so 30 minutes of a lawyer’s time should call for more compensation than 30 minutes of an average Joe’s time.
  • Appearance: If your interviewee is going to see you, be sure to look professional or, at the very least, tidy. You are representing your brand.
  • Be Prepared: Have everything above ready before the interview. Be there early and have your questions written somewhere for you to easily access.

General Tips: Explain why you’re conducting this interview to the interviewee. Be kind and courteous. That means you should let the person finish explaining their thoughts without cutting them off. Have empathy for your users. So if they don’t like your product, don’t try fighting them on their reasons. Simply show that you understand and ask how they think you can improve their experience. If the interview is not going in the direction you expected, modify your questions according to the person’s responses.

6. Organize your findings

Now that you’ve conducted the interviews and have your answers, it’s time to unpack and organize your findings. Go through your notes, transcript, or recordings and write down the similarities, differences, important highlights, what users liked, disliked, and anything else you find of interest that relates to your goals or objectives.

I have no doubt you have stakeholders that you’ll want to present your findings to. In that case, don’t only bring back your most important notes. Be sure to show them actual quotes from the interviews that relate to the goals and objectives. Quotes are a powerful source for presentations, so use them to exemplify your qualitative research.

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