Guide to User Interviews 2024

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Find out more about user interviews and why they're important. Learn who conducts them and why, the different types, and useful user interview tips.

[Featured image] A UX designer is studying for her user interview on her laptop.

Knowing what user interviews are and how to conduct them can benefit your company in various ways. The information gathered from user interviews can help companies introduce better products and services, build a better website, create a better shopping process, or design a better mobile application. Use this guide to discover what user interviews are, why they should be conducted, and how to be successful in the process. 

What are user interviews?

When companies need to gather data during the design and development process, they utilize user interviews. This user experience (UX) research method involves a live interview either with one individual or a group that usually lasts from 30 to 60 minutes. 

Companies conduct user interviews in person or online to gather information about user attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Interviews can occur during any design or development thinking stage, including ideation, prototyping, or usability testing. To conduct a user interview, interviewers typically follow a structured format (with set questions), semi-structured format (with set questions providing part of the feedback), or unstructured format, which may provide a more flexible approach. The interviewer typically records the answers for post-interview analysis. 

Read more: What Is a UX Researcher? How to Get the Job

Who conducts user interviews?

Companies conduct user interviews to determine the usability or viability of products or services. When determining usability—how easy and comfortable the product or service is to use— someone in the product or service design department usually conducts the interview. When determining the viability for how well the product or service solves the problem, someone in the product or service management department usually conducts the interview.

3 types of user interviews

Generally, companies use three types of user interviews. These include generative, contextual, and continuous interviews. 

1. Generative interviews are conducted early in the design process to get ideas from users. This type of interview involves broad questions and a structured format. 

2. Contextual interviews are used to evaluate the use of a product or service. This semi-structured interview happens in the place where the participant normally uses the product or service, whether at work, home, or the company conducting the interview.   

3. Continuous interviews help gather feedback from users on a consistent basis. Data gathered from these open-ended interviews helps improve a product, service, process, or to make it more customer-driven.  

How to conduct user interviews

Knowing how to conduct user interviews can help ensure their effectiveness. Consider using these strategies:

Define your objectives. 

To determine clear objectives for your user interview, have a meeting with your key stakeholders to discuss the intent of the research. Consider what users can tell you that might improve your product or service and how the information will affect your development process.

Build a rapport with users.

To put users at ease during an interview, it helps to build rapport. Try these tips.

  • If it’s a remote interview, ease into the telephone call with the user in a friendly manner to introduce yourself and explain the process.

  • For in-person interviews, greet your user by name at the beginning of the interview and offer a beverage.

  • During an in-person interview, maintain good eye contact and make use of affirmative nods or verbal responses like, "Okay, thank you."

  • Allow users to finish their thoughts without interrupting. 

  • Speak slowly and calmly.

Ask open-ended questions.

Instead of asking closed-ended questions that require a "yes" or "no" response, ask open-ended questions. These types of questions require a more detailed response, which means you'll gather more information. To get a detailed response, start a question with who, what, when, where, why, or how. Explore these examples for various stages of the design process:

  • What do you like about using (product/service)?

  • How would you describe your experience with (product/service)?

  • How often do you think you might use (product/service)?

  • Why did you decide to purchase (product/service)?

  • What issues do you have with (product/service), if any?

  • In what ways would (product/service) be useful to you?

  • What improvements would you make to (product/service)?

Craft extra questions and follow-up questions.

Some users might not be as talkative as others. Just in case, come to a user interview prepared with extra questions, or use follow-up questions to get users to expand their answers. Good examples of follow-up questions include:

  • "You mentioned X. Can you tell me more about that?"

  • "What did you mean by X?"

  • "What I'm hearing you say is X. Why is that important?"

  • "Can you give me an example of X?"

Avoid jargon.

Participating in a user interview can make some people anxious. There's a good chance your users won't understand UX jargon like "beta launch," "end user," "needfinding," and "prototype." To keep your participant comfortable throughout the interview, avoid using these types of terms. 

Read more: User Experience (UX) Terms: A to Z Glossary

Consider your interview environment.

Choosing an appropriate user interview environment can also ensure a more comfortable experience for participants. Instead of conducting interviews in your company office, consider a more neutral environment. Good choices include:

  • An empty conference room

  • A meeting room at a local restaurant 

  • A location the participant chooses

  • A remote user interview

Extra tips for first-time interviewers

Extra information can help improve your interview skills, especially if it's your first time. Consider these tips:

  • Come prepared with an interview guide, and tailor it to each participant. 

  • Ask easy questions first to help the participant feel at ease, and arrange your questions in an order that makes sense, such as sequentially or in groups or themes.

  • To help ensure authentic answers, refrain from leading the participant with biased responses like, "How nice," or "That sounds frustrating."

  • Give your participant your full attention by digitally recording the interview rather than taking notes (but be sure to ask permission in advance).

  • Tell the participant in advance how long they can expect the interview to take, and stick to that timeframe. 

Learn more about user interviews on Coursera

To conduct better user interviews and learn more about UX design, consider getting the Google UX Design Professional Certificate offered on Coursera. Throughout this seven-course series, you'll receive detailed information about UX research, learn about the design process steps, and find out how to apply UX concepts. Along the way, you'll create three projects to include in a professional UX portfolio, and you'll earn a shareable certificate from Google.  

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