The Art of the User Interview: Tips for Effective Questioning and Engagement in User Research


Hatched by Glasp

Sep 09, 2023

5 min read


The Art of the User Interview: Tips for Effective Questioning and Engagement in User Research


User interviews are a crucial part of the user research process, providing valuable insights into the needs, preferences, and experiences of your target audience. However, conducting an effective user interview requires careful preparation and skillful questioning techniques. In this article, we will explore the art of the user interview and provide actionable advice to help you navigate this process successfully.

Step 1: Prepare a Discussion Guide

Before diving into the interview process, it is essential to prepare a discussion guide that outlines the key topics and questions you want to cover. One important consideration is the length and complexity of your questions. Research shows that interviewees have limited capacity to retain information in their short-term memory. Therefore, it is recommended to keep your questions concise, preferably under 20 words. This will help ensure that interviewees can provide accurate and focused responses.

Step 2: 15 Things You SHOULD Do When Interviewing People

1. Put Yourself in the Mood:

Creating a positive and comfortable atmosphere is crucial for establishing rapport with your interviewees. Take a moment to center yourself and project warmth and enthusiasm.

2. Provide a Warm Welcome:

Greet your interviewees with a friendly demeanor and make them feel valued and appreciated. A warm welcome sets the tone for a productive conversation.

3. Build an Arc:

Structure your questions in a logical sequence, building upon previous responses. This helps create a narrative flow and encourages interviewees to share more detailed insights.

4. Explain that There Are No Right or Wrong Answers:

Make it clear that you are interested in their personal opinions and experiences, and that there are no right or wrong answers. This will encourage interviewees to be open and honest in their responses.

5. Start off with the Easy Questions:

Begin the interview with simple questions that are easy to answer. This helps interviewees feel comfortable and builds momentum for more in-depth discussions.

6. Ask Interviewees About Specific Moments in the Past:

To evoke detailed responses, prompt interviewees to recall specific moments or experiences related to the topic of discussion. Real-life examples add depth and richness to their responses.

7. Ask Follow-up Questions:

Don't be afraid to dig deeper and ask follow-up questions to clarify or expand upon interviewees' responses. This allows you to uncover more nuanced insights.

8. Prioritize Open-Ended Questions:

Open-ended questions encourage interviewees to provide detailed and thoughtful responses, rather than simple yes or no answers. This leads to more valuable insights.

9. Ask for Extremes:

To gain a deeper understanding of interviewees' preferences and experiences, ask them to recall extreme situations or scenarios. This can reveal hidden motivations and perspectives.

10. Ask to Observe Behavior:

In addition to verbal responses, consider asking interviewees if you can observe their behavior in real-life situations relevant to your research. This provides valuable context and can uncover insights that may not be easily expressed in words.

11. When in Doubt, Clarify:

If you are unsure about an interviewee's response or need further clarification, don't hesitate to ask for more details. Clear communication is essential for accurate data collection.

12. Keep an Eye on the Time:

Be mindful of the interview duration and ensure that you cover all the necessary topics within the allocated time. Avoid rushing through questions or cutting the interview short.

13. Minimize Note-Taking:

While it is important to document interview responses, excessive note-taking can be distracting and may hinder the flow of the conversation. Focus on active listening and only jot down key points.

14. Watch Out for Non-Verbal Clues:

Pay attention to interviewees' body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. Non-verbal cues can provide valuable insights and help you understand the interviewees' emotions and attitudes.

15. Finish with a Wrap-Up Summary:

Conclude the interview by summarizing the key points discussed. This provides an opportunity for interviewees to confirm or add any additional insights, ensuring that nothing important is missed.

Step 3: 7 Things to AVOID When Interviewing People

1. Don't Ask Leading Questions:

Leading questions can unintentionally guide interviewees towards a particular response. Keep your questions neutral and avoid influencing their answers.

2. Don't Fill the Silence:

Silence during an interview can be uncomfortable, but it is important to resist the urge to fill the silence with your own thoughts or suggestions. Allow interviewees time to gather their thoughts and respond authentically.

3. Don't Draw Attention to Specific Issues:

Avoid highlighting specific issues or biases during the interview. This can lead to biased responses and may hinder the exploration of broader insights.

4. Don't Ask If They'd Buy Your Product:

During user interviews, the focus should be on understanding user needs and experiences, rather than promoting or validating your own product or solution. Avoid asking direct questions about purchasing decisions.

5. Don't Answer a User's Questions:

While it is natural to want to provide clarifications or explanations during the interview, refrain from answering the interviewee's questions. This ensures that their responses are not influenced by your own knowledge or opinions.

6. Resist the Urge to Judge or Educate Your Interviewees:

Maintain a non-judgmental and unbiased stance throughout the interview. Avoid correcting or educating interviewees on their perspectives or experiences. Your role is to listen and learn.

7. Don't Express Your Own Opinion:

Keep the focus on the interviewee's thoughts and experiences. Avoid expressing your own opinions or beliefs, as this can unintentionally influence their responses.


Conducting effective user interviews requires careful preparation, skillful questioning techniques, and a genuine curiosity to understand the user's perspective. By following the tips outlined in this article, you can enhance the quality of your user research and gain valuable insights to inform your product development and decision-making processes.

Actionable Advice:

  • 1. Practice active listening: Focus on genuinely understanding and empathizing with the interviewee's experiences and perspectives. This will help build rapport and encourage open and honest responses.
  • 2. Continuously iterate and refine your interview techniques: Reflect on each interview and identify areas for improvement. Incorporate feedback and adjust your approach to enhance the quality of future interviews.
  • 3. Seek diverse perspectives: Ensure that your interview sample includes a diverse range of participants. This will help uncover different insights and perspectives, leading to a more comprehensive understanding of your target audience.

Remember, the art of the user interview is an ongoing learning process. Embrace the opportunity to continuously improve your skills and adapt your approach to meet the evolving needs of your users.

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