Get Better Insights From User Interviews

March 3, 2016

Getting user perspectives on product concepts and designs is an essential part of the product design process. A detailed understanding of the users, their needs and their goals is fundamental to creating a great product that users will love.

Users’ interviews are an exceptionally useful tool because it allows you to speak directly to users and get answers to specific questions that you have about your product. Moveover, interviews are especially valuable because they can help to uncover some issues or problems associated with using the product that were previously unknown.

Goals and Key Areas of Research

One of the primary goals of the interview is to get as much insight about the user as possible, focusing on their personal perspectives: feelings, experiences, stories, and examples. In particular, interviews are exceptionally useful for:

  • getting an understanding of your users: their habits, lifestyle, behavior, pain points, etc;
  • the context in which they may or will likely use the product;
  • the tasks they will need to complete or goals they can achieve using the product.

That is, the findings from your user interviews should give a good idea of the context in which your product is being used and the patterns of behavior a product must address, as well as discover the emotions that guide a user’s behavior.

Key product questions that user interviews can help to address are the following:

  • How are the users using your product?
  • Can users easily understand how to use your product?
  • Which of the tasks that users can accomplish with your product are the most important? Which are the most frequent?
  • Do the users find anything frustrating about using the product?

Depending on your research goals, an interview could be done in person or remotely, using Skype or any other video conference service. Remote user studies are a great alternative way to get insights from users who may be located anywhere in the world.

The most common (and valuable) areas of research during the interview are the person’s:

  • background and occupation;
  • use of technology;
  • goals;
  • motivations;
  • pain points.

Preparing and Running User Interviews

The quality of the interview and the data you’ll collect largely depend on how you listen to your interviewees and what questions you will ask.  There are some simple but effective guidelines to follow that can help you to get the most from your interviews.

1. Get seriously prepared.

Preparation is a key part of the effectiveness of user interviews. First, it is important to formulate the goals of your user interviews and define the strategic outcomes that you would like to get.  What do you want to learn from the user? Which user or business assumptions do you wish to validate? Second, write down all the important questions you should ask your interviewees. You can use some improvisation based on the situation, but 80% of questions should be well thought out and prepared in the interview script beforehand.

2. Pick the right environment.

It is generally better to interview people in their natural environment: their home, office, favourite co-working space, etc.

3. Avoid distractions.

Try to limit the distractions during the interview, like phone calls, emails, notifications or other people who may interrupt or get your and the interviewee’s attention.

4. Set the expectations.

Give the participants a short overview of the of the purpose of an interview,  your role in the product design process, as well as how the interview process will proceed. Also, make sure to inform interviewees that all their feedback and opinions will be kept anonymous.

5. Set the right tone and atmosphere.

Make the interviewee feel comfortable by being open and encouraging. Set the tone of your talk to friendly.

6. Ask the right questions.

Don’t ask any leading questions. Ask open-ended questions that usually lead to more thoughtful responses and encourage the person to give a substantive reply.

7. Observe and listen.

An interview is not a conversation. A conversation consists of two or more people who are exchanging information, but in the interview, your role is to listen and to make it entirely about your interviewee.

8. Be ready for the frank feedback.

The goal of the interview is to get honest feedback, that is why you should avoid giving your opinion or having any influence on the interviewee’s answers.

9. Record the interview.

You won’t miss important things with your records. Also, you can go back and listen to it later to get more insights or discuss it with your team.

10. Wrap it up with thank you.

Thank the participants for their time at the beginning and the end of the interview, and then thank them again in an email soon after. Whether you’re paying for the interview or not, they are taking valuable time out of their day to help you.

user interview

What are the good questions to ask?

  • Those specific and directly related to the research goals.
  • Questions worded in clear, technical-free language.
  • Questions that are neutral in tone.
  • Ones that aren’t leading, that is, not encouraging the respondent to answer in a particular way.
  • Open-ended questions that typically start with “who,” “what,” “where,” “when,” “why,” or “how”.
  • Questions about viewpoints and perspectives.

Keep these in mind as you ask questions and strive to uncover deeper but clear and specific answers.
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Do’s and don’ts

Here are some more do’s and dont’s that will help you to get the most out of users’ interviews.

  • Don’t pitch your product.
  • Don’t get defensive when someone criticizes your product.
  • Avoid biases and offering your opinions.
  • Don’t judge your users (positively or negatively).
  • Be open and curious to learn as much as you can about users’ experiences and perspectives.
  • Ask more about behaviors.
  • Avoid misunderstanding, but ask more questions to clarify instead of adding from your side.
  • Do not ask about future assumptions. Ask about past and present experiences.
  • Avoid generalizations and hypothetical questions.
  • Ask for personal examples as much as possible.
  • Keep interviews short and focused, not more than an hour long.