The Art of the User Interview: A Comprehensive Guide to Effective Questioning


Hatched by Glasp

Sep 09, 2023

6 min read


The Art of the User Interview: A Comprehensive Guide to Effective Questioning


User interviews are a crucial part of the design and research process. They provide valuable insights into the needs, preferences, and behaviors of the target audience. However, conducting a successful user interview requires careful preparation and execution. In this article, we will explore the art of the user interview, focusing on the steps to prepare a discussion guide, essential do's and don'ts when interviewing people, and actionable advice to make your interviews more effective.

Step 1: Prepare a Discussion Guide

To ensure a smooth flow of the interview and gather meaningful insights, it is essential to prepare a discussion guide. One important consideration is the length of the questions. Research suggests that interviewees have difficulty retaining a lot of information in their short-term memory. Therefore, it is recommended to keep questions under 20 words. By keeping questions concise and focused, you make it easier for interviewees to understand and respond effectively to your inquiries.

Step 2: 15 Things You SHOULD Do When Interviewing People

To conduct a successful user interview, there are certain actions you should prioritize. Let's explore these essential steps:

  • 1. Put yourself in the mood: Before the interview, take a moment to mentally prepare yourself. Be open-minded, empathetic, and ready to listen actively to the interviewee's responses.
  • 2. Provide a warm welcome: Create a comfortable and welcoming environment for the interviewee. Establish a friendly rapport from the beginning to encourage openness and honesty.
  • 3. Build an arc: Structure your interview in a logical and coherent manner. Start with general questions and gradually move towards more specific ones. This approach helps interviewees ease into the conversation and provides a smooth flow of information.
  • 4. Explain that there are no right or wrong answers: Make it clear to the interviewee that their opinions and experiences are valuable, regardless of whether they align with your expectations. This encourages them to share their genuine thoughts without fear of judgment.
  • 5. Start off with the easy questions: Begin the interview with simple and straightforward questions. This helps interviewees feel comfortable and builds their confidence, leading to more insightful responses later on.
  • 6. Ask interviewees about specific moments in the past: To gather concrete and relatable information, prompt interviewees to recall specific instances or experiences. References to real-life examples enhance the authenticity and depth of their responses.
  • 7. Prioritize open-ended questions: Open-ended questions encourage interviewees to provide detailed and nuanced answers. Avoid yes/no questions, as they limit the scope of the conversation and may not elicit valuable insights.
  • 8. Ask follow-up questions: Dig deeper into the interviewee's responses by asking follow-up questions. This allows you to explore their perspectives more thoroughly and uncover underlying motivations or considerations.
  • 9. Ask for extremes: To understand the full spectrum of user experiences and preferences, prompt interviewees to share extreme examples or instances where they felt particularly positive or negative. This helps uncover valuable insights that may not be apparent from average or moderate experiences alone.
  • 10. Ask to observe behavior: In addition to verbal responses, consider asking interviewees if you can observe their behavior or actions related to the topic of discussion. This provides firsthand insights and helps validate or challenge their verbal responses.
  • 11. When in doubt, clarify: If an interviewee's response is unclear or ambiguous, don't hesitate to seek clarification. Ask probing questions to ensure you fully understand their perspective and avoid any misinterpretations.
  • 12. Keep an eye on the time: Be mindful of the interview's duration and ensure you cover all the necessary topics within the allotted time frame. If time is running short, prioritize the most important questions to gather the essential information.
  • 13. Minimize note-taking: While it is crucial to document the interview, excessive note-taking can be distracting and may hinder your ability to actively listen and engage with the interviewee. Find a balance between taking notes and maintaining a meaningful conversation.
  • 14. Watch out for non-verbal clues: Pay attention to the interviewee's body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. Non-verbal cues can provide additional insights and help you better understand their emotions and reactions.
  • 15. Finish with a wrap-up summary: Before concluding the interview, summarize the key points discussed. This helps ensure that both you and the interviewee are on the same page and provides a sense of closure to the conversation.

Step 3: 7 Things to AVOID When Interviewing People

To conduct effective user interviews, it is equally important to be aware of the pitfalls to avoid. Let's explore these critical considerations:

  • 1. Don't ask leading questions: Leading questions can unintentionally influence the interviewee's responses and bias the data you gather. Instead, focus on neutral and open-ended questions that allow interviewees to express their thoughts freely.
  • 2. Don't fill the silence: Silence during an interview can be uncomfortable, but it is essential to give the interviewee time to think and respond. Avoid filling the silence with unnecessary chatter or jumping to the next question prematurely.
  • 3. Don't draw attention to specific issues: Avoid highlighting specific issues or biases during the interview. This can lead to biased responses or inhibit interviewees from sharing their genuine thoughts and experiences.
  • 4. Don't ask if they'd buy your product: User interviews are not sales pitches. Avoid asking interviewees directly if they would purchase your product or service. Instead, focus on understanding their needs, preferences, and pain points.
  • 5. Don't answer a user's questions: As an interviewer, your role is to facilitate the conversation and gather insights. Avoid providing direct answers to the interviewee's questions, as this may influence their responses or skew the data.
  • 6. Resist the urge to judge or educate your interviewees: It is important to approach user interviews with an open mind, free from personal judgments or biases. Avoid correcting or educating interviewees on their opinions or experiences, as this can hinder the authenticity of their responses.
  • 7. Don't express your own opinion: During the interview, it is crucial to remain neutral and refrain from expressing your own opinions or preferences. This allows interviewees to share their thoughts freely and prevents any potential influence on their responses.


User interviews are invaluable tools for gaining deep insights into the target audience. By following the steps outlined in this guide, preparing a discussion guide, incorporating essential do's and don'ts, and implementing actionable advice, you can conduct more effective and meaningful user interviews. Remember to put yourself in the right mindset, ask open-ended questions, observe behavior, and actively listen to interviewees. These practices will enable you to gather valuable insights and make informed design decisions.

Actionable Advice:

  • 1. Practice active listening: Focus on listening intently to the interviewee's responses, without interrupting or formulating your next question in your mind. This helps you truly understand their perspective and gather more meaningful insights.
  • 2. Use visual aids or prompts: To enhance the interview process, consider using visual aids or prompts that help interviewees express their thoughts more effectively. This can include images, diagrams, or prototypes relevant to the topic of discussion.
  • 3. Conduct pilot interviews: Before conducting the actual user interviews, consider conducting pilot interviews with a small group of participants. This allows you to test and refine your discussion guide, ensuring it is clear, concise, and effectively captures the information you need.

By following these actionable advice and implementing the strategies discussed in this article, you can conduct user interviews that yield valuable insights and drive the success of your design and research efforts.

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