How to design better products through user interviews
A four-step process on how to conduct user interviews like a pro.
Data and analytics can only tell you the “what”, but research and talking to people allow you to dig deep, understand their point of view and the “why” behind people’s behaviour.
As a designer, you will use various research methods to get to know your users. User interviews are one of those many UX research methods that can give you an in-depth understanding of the user’s values, perceptions and experiences. Combining them with usability testing, surveys or observations can provide with great insights which can serve as the foundation for designing your product.
Although user interviews are now becoming a mainstream activity in the design community, a bunch of them are poorly designed, which makes it difficult to draw meaningful results from them.
This blog will help you understand:
- Pros and cons of conducting user interviews.
- How to conduct and structure user interviews.
- What and how to ask the right questions.
- Tips on conducting and moderating user interviews.
Things user interviews cannot tell you
User interviews fail when you are asking people to either remember past use or speculate a future use of a system. What generates valid data is Present.
What not to do 🙅♀️
Asking precise steps they normally go through while doing something When asked the precise or detail steps while doing a task, users will often describe an idealized workflow without the many shortcuts, deviations and distractions that happen in real life.
Why does this happen?
- The human mind is uncertain and unpredictable. People can’t remember the details of how they used a website, and they often tend to make up stories to rationalize whatever they do remember (or misremember) so that it sounds more logical than it is.
- People are bad at anticipating what we might do in the future. Envisioning something which is not is a rare skill and people generally have no idea how they might use a new technology based on a description alone
What User Interviews can help you with ✅
- For exploration: User interviews are often used during the initial phase of the project. For exploring unknown use contexts and use cases.
The critical incident method: Ask users to recall specific instances in which they faced a particularly difficult case or when something worked particularly well. These extreme cases are often more vivid in users’ minds and can be helpful to come up with useful features.
2. To understand what works and what doesn’t:
User interviews can be combined with user tests and formal experiments with task scenarios to understand what problems users are facing, what works and what doesn’t and understand user behaviour.
How to conduct a user interview
Step 1: Defining the purpose
Step 2: Choose your audience
Step 3: Prepare a discussion guide
Step 4: Conducting user interview.
Step 1: Defining the purpose or objective
Brainstorm with your stakeholders/team members and think about what do you want to achieve after conducting these interviews. What are the questions you want to answer?
Start by asking :
- What will we be analysing: eg understanding “how” people make travel decisions?
- Why and WHAT are you trying to learn about our users?
eg: Are you trying to find about the end to end process of how people book and make their travel decisions.
or are you trying to find out what tools are they using or maybe the problems they are facing while making those decisions?
- How will that knowledge improve our product and inform our design process?
Step 2: Choose your audience
There are no set rules for how many participants you should incorporate in your project. It depends on what you are studying and how many user groups you want to involve.
- Begin with thinking how many users segments/personas you want to interview with. Start interviewing 5 users for each user segments.
- Incorporate IDEO’s method of recruiting both ‘Extremes’ and ‘Mainstreams’. By also including extreme users, you can be more confident that your research covers the entire spectrum of your target group.
Step 3 Prepare a discussion guide
Now we need to give a structure to our interview.
Sit down with your stakeholders and team again. Decide what topics you want to cover or you can start with brainstorming potential questions and grouping those into themes.
Begin the interview with a short introduction of yourself, what you do, why are we here today, make them comfortable. Tell them there are no right or wrong answers.
Ask them that you would require audio/video recording, for internal use only and will be confidential.
Now Start brainstorming about the themes. Some of them can look like:
- Background and intro questions (such as ethnographic data),
- Questions for gathering user behaviour,
- Topic-specific questions,
- Awareness: use of technology in general,
- The topic or product-specific questions, use of the product, user’s main objectives and motivations,
- Gathering opinion: about a certain product, finding their pain points,
- Product opportunity questions,
- Product reaction questions,
- Questions for closing the interview.
Find the right order of the themes that would ensure a smooth flow of conversation. If there are questions that require you to dive more deep put them in the middle.
Read it again, polish the questions. Remove repeated questions, and consolidate or separate questions where necessary. Make sure your questions allow you to tap into the emotions of your interviewee.
- Try to tease out stories from their recent past rather than asking about generic experiences.
2. Don’t lead the questions. Try to be as neutral as possible
3. Ask concrete examples rather than an abstract overview. you are likely to get more details. Ask follow up questions to dive deeper.
4. Critical and memorable incidents
Often, people will describe the incident in a way that tells you about things that don’t work or work particularly well in a design.
Example of Questions you can ask
Introduction and warmup
Getting to know the user, their routine, behaviour, habits and lifestyle, use of technology.
- What does your typical day look like?
- When do you normally first use the internet on a typical day?
- When do you use your phone first?
- What kind of apps or websites do regularly you use?
- Any lifestyle questions related to your topic.
Topic Specific Questions
- When was the last time you…
- What was the hardest part about.. tells you the real-life story of the topic
- What problems they had while using a product? How did they overcome it or what alternate solutions they found?
- What are the most important tasks you or other people need to perform in using [project website or application]? Why do you usually use this service?
5. What other products or tools have you tried out?
6. Have you paid for any of these other products or tools?
You can find more questions for your discussion guide in “Starter questions for user research.”
Step 4: Conducting the interview
Here are some additional tips that you should keep in mind while conducting an interview
- Have an interview partner: It’s impossible to take notes while listening to what your interviewees saying at the same time. If you can’t find a partner, audio or video record the interview so you can be focused on following up and asking questions. Don’t forget to ask for their approval first.
- Make them feel comfortable: Tell the user in the beginning that they are in control of this and we can stop whenever they want. There is no right or wrong answer and that they don’t need to answer everything, they can skip questions. It becomes very critical especially for matters related to personal or emotional wellbeing, for example, mental health issues or suicide prevention.
- Don’t lead the user: Don’t ask directed questions and try to ask more open-ended question. Don’t impose your views on the user.
- Don’t make assumptions: Ask WHY even if you think you know the answer. Don’t assume what users are thinking.
- Have conversations: Use casual language. With each question try to dig deeper and ask WHY or WHY NOT?
- Perform dry run: Practice taking the interview with someone else. It will help you understand the flow better or if there are any repetitive questions. If you have added tasks you will be able to understand which can be performed or not.
Analyzing your interview results
The last step is to make sense of all the data. Methods like thematic analysis/ affinity mapping turn that information chaos into themes and patterns, which can later serve as the foundations for other design methods such as user scenarios, personas, feature listing, etc. Let me know if you want to know about this in detail in another article.
Do you have any other suggestions or tips on how to conduct better user interviews? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.