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  • Writer's pictureTamara McKenzie

Unlock the Power of User Interviews: A Guide to Conducting Effective User Research

If you're responsible for the user experience at your company or organization, conducting user interviews can be an incredibly powerful tool. This document defines user interviews, explains when it's worth investing in them (spoiler: often!), explores how to conduct them according to best practices, and shows how qualitative research methods like user interviews fit into a broader strategy when combined with quantitative data.

What Are User Research Interviews, Exactly?

A user interview is a conversation between a researcher and a user, with the goal of learning more about the user's experiences, behaviors, and needs related to a product or service. User interviews can take many forms, from structured questionnaires to open-ended discussions, and can be conducted in person or virtually.

The important thing to understand about interviews is that they're conversations between human beings to generate understanding around things that you simply cannot see in your quantitative data. That being said, there is a right way and a wrong way to conduct user interviews.

When Is It Worth Investing In User Interviews?

While interviews are among the best user research tools, interviewing users costs both time and money. So before you start scheduling sessions, it's worth taking the time to reflect on whether the investment will help you answer your most pressing questions about users at the current moment.

User interviews are most useful when you're looking to gain deep insights into user needs and behaviors, and that can happen at various stages of the product life cycle, no matter where you are in the product design process. The insights that you gain from interviewing in all of the above situations can save you time and money in the long run by helping you build a product that truly meets user needs.

Is There Ever a Time When Investing in User Interviews Doesn't Make Sense?

If customer feedback about your overall product is positive and you feel pretty certain that you're meeting user needs, but you have questions about things like UX of specific features that could really make an impact on your bottom line—other methodology, such as usability testing, maybe a better investment currently.

How Do You Conduct User Interviews?

Learning to conduct great interviews and qualitative analysis in order to generate actionable insights is a real skill set. There are a lot of misconceptions around this, with some product professionals assuming that it's somewhat intuitive. I'm going to walk you through the basic steps of conducting a set of user interviews so that you'll have a basic knowledge of how the process works.

Step 1: Define Your Research Questions According to Your Research Goals

Before conducting user interviews, it's important to define your questions for this particular research project. What do you want to learn from your users? What assumptions do you want to validate or invalidate? Defining your research questions will help you stay focused during all of your interviews and make sure that you have not only a nice conversation but data on the topics that are most important to you.

Step 2: Define the Ideal Research Participants and Decide on the Sample Size

Before you begin recruiting participants for your study, take a look at your research questions and think about what subset of users make the most sense to interview. Make a list of participant criteria that you can bring with you to the next step, which actually (finally!) involves making contact with users.

Now you know which types of users you'd like to interview—but how do you decide how many users to interview? In all likelihood, you can expect your sample size to be in the range of 10-25.

Step 3: Recruit Users and Schedule Your Interviews

Once you've established and formulated your research question and identified your ideal participants, you'll then need to actively seek and find individuals who are willing and available to participate in your interviews. This is a crucial step in the research process, as the quality and quantity of your research data will depend heavily on the participants you are able to secure. You may consider a variety of methods to recruit participants, such as reaching out to potential candidates through social media, networking with colleagues and peers, or leveraging existing relationships with individuals or organizations relevant to your research topic. It's important to keep in mind that recruitment can be a time-consuming and iterative process, and you may need to adjust your approach or criteria as you encounter challenges or gaps in your participant pool. By being proactive and persistent in your recruitment efforts, however, you can ultimately ensure that your research is grounded in a diverse and representative set of perspectives and experiences.

Step 4: Create Your Interview Guide

An interview guide is a crucial tool that can help you conduct effective interviews. This guide is essentially a list of questions and topics that you plan to ask during your interviews. It is important not to skip this step, as a well-thought-out interview guide can help you gather valuable information and insights from your interviewees.

To create an effective interview guide, start by identifying the main goals of your interview and the information you hope to gather. Once you have a clear idea of what you want to achieve, you can begin to develop a list of questions and topics that will help you achieve these goals.

When writing your interview guide, make sure to use clear, concise language and avoid complicated jargon or technical terms. It is also a good idea to have a colleague look over your interview guide to see if they have anything to add or if there are any areas that could use further clarification.

Remember, a well-crafted interview guide can help you conduct more productive and insightful interviews, so take the time to put in the effort and create a guide that is tailored to your specific needs and goals.

Step 5: Conduct Your Interviews

Take some time to build rapport with your interviewees and let them know what to expect. That's it! After our step-by-step guide, we've dedicated a whole section to common pitfalls and things to remember when interviewing users, so keep on reading!

Step 6: Analyze Your Data and Extract Actionable, Valuable Insights

The good news is that while the analysis of interview data does have to be systematic and thorough, it doesn't have to be complicated. One way to make analysis more thorough is to create a coding system, which involves tagging each piece of data with a descriptor or category. This can help you identify patterns and themes in the data. Additionally, it can be helpful to create a visual representation of the data, such as a chart or graph, to make it easier to analyze. Finally, you can find a method that works for you and inform yourself via online research or by consulting with experts in the field.

More User Interview Best Practices To Keep In Mind

  • Conduct the Interview in an Ideal Setting: Make sure that you're in a place where you can hear each other. If you're on Zoom, make sure that there won't be any interruptions on your side.

  • Build Rapport Before You Get Started: In other words, do whatever you have to do to get the conversation flowing before you jump into your interview questions.

  • Embrace Active Listening: Make sure to listen carefully to what the participant is saying, and ask follow-up questions to clarify their responses. Don't leave data on the table!

  • Record Your Interviews: Recording the interview allows you to focus on the conversation and take more detailed notes later.

Common User Interview Mistakes To Avoid

  • Scheduling Too Many Interviews in One Day: Though user research is my full-time job, when I'm interviewing users, I generally never go beyond 2-3 interviews per day.

  • Leading Questions: For example, asking a user whether they think that it's frustrating to find a good recipe leads them to dwell on their frustrations.

  • Not Following Up on Responses: If something sounds like it's scratching the surface and you want details, ask!


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