User Interviews: What They Are and How to Conduct Them
User interviews are one of the UX tools we use to understand, through our users, what solutions our products provide, what problems they encounter in their use, or what pain points can help us create solutions or improve the existing ones.
Before the COVID-19 Pandemic, some companies were resistant to implementing Home Office models for their teams and were conducting various User Interviews to evaluate whether remote work could avoid unnecessary commuting for the team and thus speed up delivery times for different projects, as planning could be more agile with less downtime due to commuting.
Time ended up demonstrating that this idea was not so far-fetched and that it could be viable, at least for companies in the creative and technological sector. Implementing it allowed to reduce downtime and improve the satisfaction of the company's workers.
User Interviews cover a wide variety of skill sets. User Experience (UX) Designers, who are the ones who implement them, have to play the role of researchers, scientists, journalists, and psychologists, to decipher, through this method, what improvements can be implemented to their products and services to improve customer satisfaction levels and, therefore, sales.
In this article, we will provide you with a guide so that you can understand what this tool consists of and how to implement it.
What is a User Interview?
User interviews are one of the UX tools we use to understand, through our users, what solutions our products provide, what problems they encounter in their use, or what pain points can help us create solutions or improve existing ones.
Typically, it is conducted during the initial concept design, ideation phase, or during a product redesign.
Like many other types of interviews, user interviews consist of a relaxed dialogue between two people with one person guiding and asking questions and the other following and responding.
What makes user interviews different are the goals that the interviewer hopes to achieve at the end of the session. Typically, this user research tool is used to obtain valuable information about user behaviors, needs, motivations, and pain points in order to create an outstanding and successful product.
Why conduct User Interviews?
Interviews provide insight into what users think about a site, an app, a product, or a process. They can point out what site content is memorable, what people feel is important on the site, and what improvement ideas they may have. They can be done in a variety of situations:
They can be conducted at various points in the design process and will point out what areas users feel need improvement or what is appealing and memorable to them.
Like many other user research methods, user interviews can help drive the creation of other important design tools, such as Customer Journey Maps or UX Personas.
They can be conducted at the end of a usability test to better define what the user thought about the experience and get more detailed feedback.
Understanding people's expectations, hearing their frustrations, hopes, needs, daily routines, and motivations informs designers about the steps that should be taken to make a product that people are excited to use.
While designers, researchers, or stakeholders may have their own hopes or desires for the product, if they don't align with users' needs and expectations, the product is less likely to succeed.
User interviews help ensure that the product being designed is valuable both to the user and the company.
How to Conduct a User Interview
First of all, think of an interview as a type of research study, not a sales session or an informal conversation. Then, use the following tips to make your interviews more effective.
1. Set a goal for the interview
To set the goal of your interview, you can answer a couple of preliminary questions:
What do you want to know about your users or what hypothesis do you want to confirm with concrete data?
How will you use this information to improve the design of your product?
Your answers should always be concrete and precise. Do not set "know about our users" as a goal for an interview, because such a general question will not get you anywhere.
Examples of specific goals for your user interview:
Learn how people searching for a job interact with mobile devices
What behaviors do people have when carrying out home cleaning tasks.
Identify possible frictions in certain areas of an online store.
With all this in mind, you can start planning the interview details.
2. Choose the place for your interview (Online or In-Person)
User interviews can be conducted in many different places: at the user's home, in a controlled environment like a laboratory, or remotely, using online meeting tools.
Consider these factors when choosing locations:
User convenience and comfort: What location will be most comfortable and easy for the users? Will they be less likely to cancel if the session is in their office or at their homes?
Team convenience: Do you want your team to observe the interviews?
Context and examples: Is it important for users to have their own tools and other environmental elements in the interview? Artifacts can jog the interviewee's memory and can also paint a better picture of users' processes for the interviewer. However, sometimes taking people out of their usual environments can help them think freely and creatively.
Bias: Is it likely that the location will influence the users' stories? If you take people to their Acme office and ask them about using Acme, will they say nicer things about Acme than if they were in a different place?
3. Select the profiles and the sample size
Recruiting people for your interview is always crucial. The best approach is to create several profiles based on both demographic (gender, age, place of residence) and behavioral criteria (operating system, activities, type of use), and capture it in a document.
This document is called "User Recruitment Screener" and it serves as a guide to always have clear the criteria that will be used for recruitment. With it, you will be able to facilitate recruitment and, furthermore, obtain higher quality results.
It is also not necessary for you to create profiles that cover 100% of the target users: two or three are usually more than enough to obtain information without falling into repetition.
As for the sample size, it will depend on the project:
In some sectors (Medicine, Administration) a sample of between 5 and 10 users is more than enough.
If you only have one user profile, 5 users will allow you to gather more than enough data to draw conclusions.
In other sectors (Transportation, Energy) the sample size could be 20 people, even more.
4. Structure your interview
All interviews have to have a defined structure. A good script will allow you to collect the information you need without distractions, as well as address certain topics as the interview progresses.
This script will allow you to avoid blockage situations and continue the conversation even when the user responds with a NO to one of the questions posed.
The basic structure that you always have to take into account is as follows:
Presentation of the interviewer
Purpose of the interview
Authorization for recordings
General introductory questions: these will serve to gain the user's trust and empathize with him
End with the interview
5. Elaborate the questions before your interview
When preparing the questions, start with the most obvious ones. In fact, these are the ones that have to do with the user themselves.
Preparing questions as a team and opening up the process to everyone involved in product development is an excellent idea.
If the estimated duration of the interview is an hour and a half, prepare questions for two hours or even more. There will be some of them that the user cannot answer or that they answer at the same time as others, especially in a semi-structured interview with open and general questions.
Finally, check if you can add additional follow-up questions to get more information or even delve into details. Sometimes the user may not give you a concrete answer, but you can ask for some detail.
In fact, the script is not in itself a strict document: it is a mere guide that the interviewer will use to be able to address the topics of the interview, but they will have the freedom to delve deeper as the conversation progresses.
6. Build a Relationship with the User so They Feel Comfortable
People are more likely to remember, talk and let their guard down if they feel relaxed and trust the interviewer and the process. Here are some tips for an effective interview. Have a video call or phone call (or at least some interaction) with the user before the interview.
Have a video call or phone call (or at least some interaction) with the user before the interview.
Before the interview, explain the purpose of the interview and how the data will be used.
Make the user feel listened to by taking notes, nodding, maintaining frequent eye contact.
Let users finish their thoughts. Do not interrupt them.
Do not rush the user. Pause. Slow down your speech. Speaking slowly has a calming effect and indicates that you are not anxious and have time to listen.
Start with questions that are easy to answer and unlikely to be interpreted as personal or critical. For example, instead of "What was the last book you read?" try "What do you like to do in your spare time?" The latter is open, while the former assumes the user read a book recently; those who didn't may feel stupid.
Show some empathy by asking related questions. For example, imagine a user says they couldn't communicate with the customer service team. You can show some concern by asking the user to explain how they felt.
Be authentic and don't pretend empathy. Acting can make you seem fake. It's better to be yourself; don't say something if you don't genuinely feel it.
7. Perform an Analysis and Report of Results
With all the notes you have collected, it will be necessary to proceed with the data analysis. Keep in mind that there are objectives and the collected data will serve to refute or validate the proposed hypotheses.
Translating the users' responses into relevant information is crucial in order to prepare the results report of the interview. This report can have the following structure, similar to almost any other report you are going to present internally or to a client:
3- Methodology used: selection criteria and methods; script used during the interviews and the questions asked.
4- Main findings: you can present this translated information in tables and categorized according to the order of the questions to facilitate the understanding of the report.
5- Recommendations to be implemented, along with their degree of importance or urgency.
6- Appendices with all relevant information about the process followed.
Like any good report, it should be actionable, meaning that the recommendations should be able to be turned into concrete actions in your product.
We hope that this guide will help you prepare for your upcoming user interviews, especially to plan them to get the information you need from your users.