people analysing users survey
Valentin Huang 01/08/2024
6 Minutes

User interviews can be explained as a valuable research approach in user experience (UX) which can be used by brands to gain insights into customer interactions with their products and services.

Understanding user interviews: a comprehensive overview

The process of conducting user interviews comprises a researcher interviewing an individual, such as a customer, who tends to interact with the brand’s products and services. As the name suggests, user interviews only focus on the responses and perceptions of one person at a time.

Most interviews take place one-on-one, either using the phone, video-conferencing or by setting up an in-person meeting. The researcher begins by asking a set of questions to the interviewee. The responses of the product user are recorded and later evaluated to understand their perspectives, experiences, and views about the product.

User interviews are handy for a number of purposes, such as evaluating consumer perceptions about a product/service, or understanding the effectiveness of a website towards achieving its targets.

people analyzing users survey

Diverse approaches to user interviews

A variety of approaches can be utilized to conduct user interviews. Perhaps the most striking part of the interview is that it is ‘live’ in nature. This implies that the moderator can conveniently identify any verbal and non-verbal cues during the conversation, come up with follow-up questions, and probe deeply into topics of the users’ interests. Hence, researchers have come up with a number of techniques to make the best out of these interactive and candid opportunities for gaining user insights.

Some of the approaches are discussed below:

Exploring generative interviews

The most common approach to user interviews is ‘generative interviews.’ These interviews are particularly helpful in finding solutions to problems that you don’t have much information about. When you are trying to find out ‘what you don’t know’, generative interviews are your go-to option.

Generative interviews are most popularly utilized in the early stages of product design and development cycles, especially when the team is hunting for untapped ideas and opportunities. It is important to note that generative interviews do not mean mere brainstorming sessions, but are thoroughly structured conversations that allow the company to obtain first-hand answers to their questions.

The role of contextual interviews

Contextual interviews are semi-structured in nature and allow the researchers to gain insights according to the context of use. Compared to interviews conducted in labs or virtual settings, contextual interviews are conducted more naturally within the user’s environment or context.

The questions are asked to respondents as they complete their routine tasks. Usually, the interviewer will shadow the interviewee into their workplaces, or probe questions while the user interacts with the product or service.

The dynamics of continuous interviews

Continuous interviews are done regularly when the team of interviewers sets aside a lot of time weekly to gain insights from their product and service users. The purpose of continuous interviews is to maintain regular research contact with the most valuable stakeholders of the brand, i.e. customers.

The decision-making power of user interviews

User interviews are powerful tools when it comes to decision-making. User interviews allow businesses to make informed vision decisions, and enhance the clarity and understanding of the respondent’s perceptions and beliefs regarding the brand, product, or service.

User interviews can also be used for strategic decision-making, where the participants’ expectations or pain points may be useful in crafting a plan for the product or service.

When conducting a user interview, mastering the understanding of the ‘customer journey’ is essential. It provides insights into the holistic user experience and enables target questions and solutions that may help you address specific pain points of the customer.

Expected outcomes from user interviews

When user interviews are conducted in due course, they provide profound insights about the users of a brand. In addition to this, user interviews are also important in learning about the experiences, routines, and challenges faced by customers. This data can be used to propose optimal solutions to their pain points.

The following section discusses some of the outcomes of user interviews

  • user pain points while experiencing the product
  • an understanding of the user experience with the product
  • the thoughts and feelings of users regarding a particular experience or topic
  • mental models of product users
  • the aspirations, goals, and key motivations of users
  • what aspects do users value and care about the most

Opting for interviews: timing and context

The versatile nature of user interviews allows them to be conducted during any stage of the product development cycle.

User interviews can be conducted during the initial product discovery. At this stage, the interviews are used to unveil themes and patterns of the respondents’ behaviors, experiences, and commonly faced problems

These interviews are also handy to test early product ideas to find out possible solutions, especially before the design and implementation are initiated.

Additionally, interviews are utilized as ‘usability’ or follow-up tests to allow users to be fluent and vocal about their decisions.

Finally, user interviews are used after a product is launched to take note of any evolving expectations or needs of consumers.

The critical importance of user interviews in research

User interviews have a crucial role to play in answering any kind of qualitative research question. Essentially, these are used to understand and evaluate the reasons behind consumers’ buying decisions.

User interviews provide answers to research questions in words and not numbers, providing you a useful tool in the research puzzle. You can top up the benefits if you want to integrate the data from user interviews with quantitative research techniques, such as surveys or usability tests.

Navigating the challenges and limitations of user interviews

One of the key limitations of user interviews is that the data is primarily self-reported. While some may argue about the role of non-verbal cues and researcher observations, most of the data is still obtained directly from the participants. Thus, there may be chances of error in remembering and repeating facts.

Sometimes, respondents may intentionally or unintentionally skip out crucial information because they might misjudge its importance to the research.

The interview respondents may sometimes be reluctant to openly share their personal anecdotes or feelings, making it difficult to extract an adequate amount of information.

Learning how to conduct user interviews requires sufficient skill and practice. Some user interviews may be compromised because the researcher may lack interviewing abilities, may be unprepared, or may not have effective questions.

Strategies for planning and executing effective user interviews

The two most important strategies for conducting user interviews are discussed below:

  1. a) setting clear research objectives
  2. b) creating an effective interview guide

Setting clear research objectives

You can set clear research objectives by discussing with your stakeholders what they wish to learn, and what decisions they are planning to make. While setting objectives, think about how the research will support the business's goals, and what decisions it will enable.

Moreover, an elevator pitch provides a quick yet engaging introduction to the product concept and ultimately grasps user interest to drive a meaningful conversation during the interview.

Crafting an effective interview guide

The following steps can be followed to create an effective interview guide for your next user interview.

  1. Ask questions that shed light on past behavior, because it is often the closest indicator of the users’ future behavior. Try to base your questions on real-life, hypothetical scenarios where the respondent may have prior knowledge about the subject. 

    Going further, utilizing marketing personas in user interviews is essential as they help tailor questions and interactions based on representative user profiles, ensuring a more personalized and insightful exploration of user needs and preferences.
  1. Include open-ended questions in your interview guide to allow your participants to navigate the conversation, and steer it into engaging directions. The purpose of these questions is to produce unorthodox and out-of-the-box responses, rather than closed questions and answers.
  2. Set aside your personal presumptions and biases before the interview. The interviewer should remain accountable for his preconceived notions and try to use question words like what, how, and why. Using these words, the interviewee will be better able to steer their own answers.
  3. You should be ready with a list of follow-up questions, whilst anticipating a variety of responses to the key questions. Follow-up questions are important to maintain the flow of the conversation.
  4. Embrace a variety of personalities and conversation styles before conducting user interviews. Sometimes, the interviewees may be talkative, and sometimes they may be shy and introverted. It takes the sheer skill of the interviewer to keep participants focused or prepare more questions to keep the conversation going.
  5. Leading questions should be avoided because they often force the question to be directed towards a correct response.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you conduct user interviews?

To conduct a user interview, start by defining objectives, selecting diverse participants, and creating a structured yet flexible set of open-ended questions. Establish rapport, actively listen, and encourage candid responses. Analysis gathered insights to inform product improvements. Adapt your approach based on user product feedback for continuous refinement and user-centric development.

How do you practice user interviews?

Practice user interviews by simulating scenarios with colleagues or friends, using realistic user personas. Focus on active listening, asking open-ended questions, and adapting to varied responses. Record and analyze your sessions, seeking constructive feedback to refine your interviewing skills. Continuously iterate and apply lessons learned for ongoing improvement in user interaction.

How do you present a user interview?

Present a user interview by summarizing key findings, and emphasizing user quotes and insights. Use visuals like charts or personas to illustrate points. Highlight pain points, positive experiences, and suggested improvements. Conclude with actionable recommendations. Ensure clarity and relevance for stakeholders, fostering informed decision-making based on user perspectives.

What should I prepare for a user interview?

Prepare for a user interview by defining clear objectives, creating a structured set of open-ended questions, and familiarizing yourself with relevant user personas. Set up a comfortable environment, test your technology, and have any necessary materials ready. Cultivate a mindset of curiosity and empathy to ensure a meaningful and productive interaction.

Concluding Remarks

It is time to upgrade your product development journey with Harvestr, an all-in-one product management platform. Not only do its resources help you conduct seamless user interviews, but also offers a suite of services to uplift your projects from ideation to implementation.