As startup founders, we embark on a thrilling journey of creating innovative products that cater to the needs of our target audience. But how do we ensure that our products truly resonate with our users? How can we gain valuable insights into their experiences, problems, behavior, and opinions? The answer lies in the art of conducting user interviews.

User interviews are an indispensable tool for understanding our users and shaping our product strategy. They serve multiple purposes throughout the product development lifecycle. Whether you're in the initial discovery phase, testing early ideas, evaluating usability, or seeking to comprehend evolving customer needs and expectations, interviews are the key to unlocking the elusive realm of user insights.

During the initial discovery phase, even before you have a tangible product to test, user interviews play a crucial role. By engaging with potential users and asking open-ended questions, you can uncover broad patterns and themes that inform your product's direction. These interviews provide valuable context, enabling you to understand the real-world problems your users face and the underlying motivations that drive their behavior.

As you progress in your product development journey, user interviews become instrumental in testing concepts and early ideas for possible solutions. Before diving into heavy design work, you can validate your assumptions and gather feedback directly from your target audience. This iterative process helps you refine your ideas and align them with user expectations, increasing the chances of creating a product that truly resonates.

User interviews also serve as a follow-up to usability tests or other evaluative methods. While quantitative data from these tests provides valuable insights, interviews offer a unique opportunity for users to articulate their decisions or experiences in their own words. This qualitative data complements the quantitative findings, adding depth and richness to your understanding of user behavior and preferences.

Furthermore, user interviews remain a vital tool even after your product has launched. As customer needs and expectations evolve over time, conducting interviews allows you to stay connected with your user base. By continuously gathering feedback, you can identify emerging pain points, validate new features or improvements, and gain a deeper understanding of how your product fits into the ever-changing lives of your customers.

To conduct effective user interviews, it is essential to establish a structured and organized approach. Start by clearly defining your research objectives and the specific insights you aim to uncover. Develop a well-crafted interview guide that includes a mix of open-ended and targeted questions to encourage meaningful responses. Consider the recruitment process to ensure you engage with users who represent your target audience accurately.

Define Research Goals

Before embarking on the user interview journey, it's crucial to define clear research goals that align with your stakeholders' needs. By conducting stakeholder interviews, you can delve into their desires, decisions, and aspirations, ultimately identifying the core objectives that can be practically addressed through UX research.

Engage in thoughtful dialogue with yourself and your stakeholders, exploring the following questions:

  1. What do I want to know?
  2. How will I recognize when I've acquired that knowledge?
  3. Which company goals will this research endeavor support?
  4. What decisions will this research empower?

By pondering these questions, you'll uncover the essence of your desired insights through user research. User interviews, like other research methods discussed in this Field Guide, should be guided by a focused research question. This question must be specific enough to indicate when you've found the answer, actionable so that you can take meaningful steps based on it, and practical enough to fit within the scope of your research project.

For instance, aiming to answer the question, "Why don't people buy my product?" might prove challenging. There could be a multitude of reasons behind the hesitation, making it impractical to cover all aspects in a single study. This approach may not yield actionable results.

A more effective approach involves formulating questions like, "Does my pricing page effectively address my users' inquiries?" or "Why do individuals in my target market prefer X competitor over my product?" These questions can be addressed through user interviews, providing your team with valuable insights and a clear path forward once the study concludes.

By aligning your research goals, crafting focused questions, and leveraging user interviews, you pave the way for actionable and impactful outcomes. Let the power of user research guide you as you strive to build exceptional products and deliver exceptional experiences.

Crafting Effective Interview Questions: Nurturing Insightful Conversations

Once you are ready to conduct user interviews, it's essential to prepare a well-thought-out set of questions. This serves as a guide, ensuring a smooth and engaging conversation while also facilitating comprehensive note-taking and data organization during and after the interview.

Your list of questions should include inquiries that directly align with your core research question. Let's consider an example. If your goal is to understand how people research travel destinations, you might begin with a prompt such as, "Tell me about your last vacation." This can be followed by a more specific question like, "What influenced your decision to choose X as your destination?"

However, it's important to remember that an interview is a dialogue, not an interrogation. A well-crafted moderator guide should not only include targeted questions but also incorporate get-to-know-you questions. This approach sets a friendly and welcoming tone, allowing participants to provide spontaneous, open-ended responses. Leave room for follow-up questions to delve deeper into the participants' thoughts, experiences, and perspectives.

Embracing a conversational and exploratory approach during the interview will foster a comfortable environment, encouraging participants to share valuable insights freely. By maintaining a balance between structured questions and the flexibility to adapt and explore new avenues, you can unlock unexpected revelations and uncover hidden gems of knowledge.

As you craft your interview questions, keep in mind that they are a means to engage participants in a meaningful exchange. Each question should serve as a stepping stone, guiding the conversation toward the heart of your research objectives. So, prepare your questions thoughtfully, strike a balance between structure and spontaneity, and let the interview process unveil the profound insights waiting to be discovered.

Mastering the Art of Crafting User Interview Questions

As you prepare to conduct user interviews, the questions you ask play a pivotal role in unearthing valuable insights. To ensure the utmost effectiveness, consider the following tips:

  1. Focus on past behavior: Opt for questions that delve into past experiences rather than hypothetical scenarios. Discovering how participants handled real-life situations offers a more reliable indicator of their future behavior. Remember, this approach is not only relevant in job interviews but also applies to user research.
  2. Embrace open-ended questions: Encourage participants to elaborate and share their perspectives freely by framing questions in an open-ended manner. Questions like, "What is your opinion on Neoclassical architecture?" foster unexpected insights, whereas closed questions may limit the depth of responses.
  3. Mitigate biases and presumptions: In generative interviews, be aware of any biases or assumptions that might influence your questioning. Stay accountable by crafting open-ended questions centered around "how," "why," and "what," empowering interviewees to explore their unique answers without leading them toward predetermined areas.
  4. Remain open to challenging assumptions: While it's natural to enter interviews with some preconceived ideas, be receptive to the generation of new ideas and perspectives. Allow the interview process to flow organically, embracing the potential for fresh insights to emerge.
  5. Prepare follow-up questions: Anticipate various responses to your key questions and create a list of follow-up queries. These thoughtful follow-ups will enable you to delve deeper into intriguing areas, keeping the conversation engaging and insightful.
  6. Adapt to diverse conversation styles: Be prepared for participants with different communication styles and personalities. Some may be more talkative, while others might require gentle nudges through follow-up questions. Identify your essential questions to keep focused conversations and have extra questions ready to accommodate various interview dynamics.
  7. Avoid leading questions: Steer clear of leading questions that bias or prompt participants toward specific responses. Maintain objectivity by asking neutral questions that allow interviewees to express their views authentically.

By adhering to these principles and carefully crafting your interview questions, you set the stage for fruitful and enlightening conversations. Empower your participants to share their experiences, perspectives, and insights, paving the way for innovative and user-centric product development.

Feel free to download my free Sample User Interview Guide.

How to Recruit Participants for Interviews: Streamline the Process

When conducting research with human participants, there is unfortunately some administrative work involved, such as creating an interview schedule, collecting signatures, and exchanging emails, to ensure smooth operations.

Fortunately, there are ways to streamline the process, which we'll share below. But first, let's address the following:

Deciding who to interview

Revisit your research question and ask yourself: Who is likely to possess the answers I'm seeking? Apply the same principle to your most important interview questions.

Jot down the qualities you believe this knowledgeable respondent, who can provide the desired answers, would possess. This list serves as the foundation of your participant profile, which will guide the creation of your screener survey.

Consider this list as a starting point because it's possible that your initial criteria are too extensive or your profile is too narrow. Scrutinize each quality you've listed—does a participant need to be vegetarian, Black, married, or live in Southern California to offer valuable insights to your question?

Unless it's genuinely necessary for a participant to fit specific demographics, you can likely remove those criteria from your list. Filtering participants based on demographics often assumes a correlation between people's backgrounds and their behaviors, which risks introducing bias into your research and overlooking diverse perspectives.

Determining the number of interviews needed

Deciding on the appropriate number of interviews involves a touch of artistry. In general, talking to more people yields more information, but up to a certain point. The amount of fresh insights obtained from subsequent interviews diminishes. Eventually, the responses become repetitive, often sooner than anticipated.

Hence, it's wise to start with a small number. For most interview studies, 5 participants are sufficient.

Begin by recruiting 5 individuals since you will likely need at least that many. Based on your requirements, you can always recruit additional participants later:

  • Consider the amount of information you require—the more complex the situation you're investigating and the less initial knowledge you possess, the more participants you'll need to engage. Depending on complexity, you might aim to recruit 6 to 10 participants.
  • If there are significant subgroups within your pool of potential interviewees (e.g., multiple age groups), it's prudent to recruit 3-5 individuals from each subgroup. Adjust the number accordingly.
  • If you haven't conducted open-ended interviews recently or need practice, add two or three extra interviews to your list. If all goes well, you'll have additional data.

Remember, during discovery research, it's crucial to maintain an open mind and have a flexible research plan. You can plan and budget for any number of participants, but it doesn't mean you have to recruit them all at once. Generative interviews often provide insights on who to interview next. If an interview leads you down an unexpected but relevant path, follow it.

Recruiting participants for interviews can be a quick process, enabling you to respond to emerging lines of inquiry promptly.

Delivering the interview

During the interview itself, create a warm and welcoming environment that encourages open and honest dialogue. Actively listen to your users, allowing them to express their thoughts, experiences, and emotions freely. Avoid leading questions that might bias their responses and instead focus on understanding their perspectives.

Note-Taking / Example

How to Analyze User Interview Data: Making Sense of the Records

Transcriptions and audio/video recordings are invaluable tools for capturing and sharing verbatim accounts of interview sessions. However, as the researcher, it's your responsibility to derive meaning from these records.

To save yourself a significant amount of work at the project's conclusion, develop good note-taking habits and transcribe and tag data as you progress.

For each interview:

  1. Transcribe audio and video recordings: Convert the spoken content into written form, ensuring accurate representation.
  2. Convert shorthand notes into clear sentences: Transform abbreviated or fragmented notes into complete and coherent statements.
  3. Organize and contextualize jot-down notes: Arrange and provide context for any brief or fragmented notes you took during the interview.
  4. Utilize qualitative coding: Employ qualitative coding techniques to tag and categorize your data, enabling efficient analysis and retrieval.

In some study designs, it may be appropriate to allow interviewees an opportunity to review the transcripts, notes, and initial analysis, enabling them to suggest corrections or retractions. Consolidate all your records, including copies of the recordings or field notes and any amendments provided by the interviewee, in one place for easy retrieval in the future.

Synthesizing and Organizing Insights: Making Sense of Qualitative Data

When working with qualitative methods like user interviews, it's easy to become overwhelmed by the abundance of information. To maintain focus during analysis, prioritize answering your research questions. Avoid asking the data additional questions without a clear plan or purpose (although you can always revisit the data later with a different research question in mind). Properly tagging and storing interview data ensures it becomes a valuable addition to your research repository.

For most interview analysis and synthesis, Google Sheets or your preferred spreadsheet tool will suffice. Additionally, we recommend using platforms like Miro, MURAL, or Figjam to organize your notes and identify emerging themes in the data.

Synthesis / Example

Sharing Snippets and Insights

User interviews provide audio and video recordings that offer rich, first-person accounts of the user experience. Incorporating audio/video clips into your findings adds a human voice and face to the data. If you share interview snippets during the process, ensure that stakeholders understand these clips may not necessarily represent trends across participants since the final analysis has not yet been conducted.

Mind maps, word clouds, and storyboards serve as effective ways to present interview data to stakeholders who may not have the time or patience to delve into spreadsheets or large datasets.

Insights Template / Example

Miro (Tool) - Interview Note-taking / Synthesizing / Insight Generation Template
Sign up | Miro | The Visual Workspace for Innovation
Miro is a visual workspace for innovation where teams manage projects, design products, and build the future together. Join 60M+ users from around the world.

Remember that user interviews are not a one-time affair but an iterative process. As you gain new insights, iterate on your product, and conduct subsequent interviews to validate your hypotheses. This iterative approach ensures that you remain in tune with your users' evolving needs and enables you to create products that truly delight and serve.

User interviews are a powerful tool for startup founders seeking to build innovative products. By conducting interviews throughout the product development lifecycle, you can uncover valuable insights, validate assumptions, and understand evolving user needs. Embrace the art of user interviews, and let the voice of your users shape the destiny of your product.

This artifact is part of Stage 2 of the Venture Buildinag Framework.

This is a powerful output as you work to ensure you are Building the Right Product.