User interviews
Last modified on Tue 19 Dec 2023


A user interview is a generative and qualitative research method. It’s a part of UX research where you swap out your lab coat for a detective's hat. It's a chatty, qualitative way to get inside the heads of your users or potential users. Consider this your first coffee date with users to get to know them better.

The goal is simple: Get rich, detailed info without making it feel like an interrogation. You want the "why" behind the "what," the stories behind the statistics. Knowing your users' motivations, pain points, and needs is a good baseline for a product users will genuinely value.

We usually go for semi-structured interviews. Think of it as a casual coffee chat but with a few talking points written down in your notes. You have some preset questions to guide you, but if the conversation naturally drifts toward something interesting, you’re free to wander. The script isn’t your master; it’s more like a trusty sidekick.

Our scripts, which you'll see later in this chapter, focus on open-ended questions. Let the users talk. These aren’t yes-or-no quizzes; we want the interviewees to elaborate their point of view. It’s ok even if they ramble a little.

Not all interviews are created equal. Depending on what you're after—nailing down a product-market fit, capturing the thoughts of potential users, or checking in with your longtime users—you'll want to tweak your approach. But don't worry, we’ve got guidelines for each scenario coming up.

Interview execution — Product-market fit interviews

Product-market fit interviews are a type of user research method that is specifically designed to understand if a product or service meets the needs and wants of its target market.

The goal is to validate our hypothesis about user problems and the solution that your product offers.

Validating the problem consists of asking participants to list all the problems they’re facing in that specific situation. You’re hoping they’ll spontaneously mention the problem you’re targeting and then they’ll place it high on the list of their priorities.

Validating the solution consists of asking users to come up with ways of solving their problem. You’re hoping that their ideas fit your vision of the product. Additionally, you’ll explain your product and see if they think it seems like a good solution to their problem.

There’s more nuance to this type of interview, and you can check all the sections of PMF interview in this template → GSheet

These interviews are typically conducted early in the product development process, before a product has been fully developed, in order to validate a new product idea, understand the market for existing products, identify areas for improvement and new opportunities.

Additionally, these interviews can also be used to validate a new feature, service, or design change.

You can find a script template for the product market interviews here.

Interview execution — Interviews with potential users

We typically roll these out during the discovery phase, and for good reason. We're on a quest to decode the habits, secret desires, and vocalized frustrations of an audience who hasn't yet gotten their hands on our product or service.

Interviews are a cornerstone of the discovery phase. But that doesn’t mean they’re not valuable at later stages. They can also help you refine the user experience, validate new features, or re-evaluate existing assumptions.

Use our tailored interview script (LINK) designed for potential users. It's broken down into three sections: Introduction, follow-up questions, and the heart of it all, the interview questions. But remember, every research project has its own flavor. Toss in questions specific to your domain and feel free to prioritize. Given you’ve only got about an hour for each interview, it’s a game of “Pick Your Battles” when it comes to questions.

As you sift through the interview data, you'll start to see patterns that will help you sketch out who your users are and how they navigate their way around problems.

To wrap up the round of interviews, revise or build the user persona and user map document based on the new insights.

Interview execution — Interviews with existing users

Think of interviews with existing users as a pulse check for your product. It's all about evaluating the current state of the relationship: Is the product still fulfilling the user's needs? Are there any friction points or room for improvement? The aim is to gain insights into how satisfied and loyal your users are.

Once again, you can use our tailored interview script (LINK) designed for potential users. It's broken down into three sections: Introduction, follow-up questions, and the heart of it all, the interview questions. As always, every research project has its own flavor. Toss in questions specific to your domain and feel free to prioritize. Given you’ve only got about an hour for each interview, it’s a game of “Pick Your Battles” when it comes to questions.

For more structured feedback, consider incorporating desirability testing or other standardized UX questionnaires like SUS into your interview questions. These can offer quantifiable metrics to complement the qualitative data you gather, giving you a more holistic view of user satisfaction.

Turning conversations into actionable insights: Analyzing user interview data

So you've wrapped up the interviews and are now sitting on a mountain of qualitative data. It’s tempting to just hand it off to the team and say, "Make sense of this!" But hang tight. Your data needs to be sifted, sorted, and translated into insights that people can actually use. And yes, always keep your original research questions and objectives in your line of sight; they're your north star in this analytical journey.

The process of organizing and categorizing research data is called coding. Coding involves identifying and labeling meaningful segments of the data, such as specific quotes or themes, with a code or label.

Coding can be done along multiple axes. The Axis that is often used is the “feature axis”. This means that you will categorize your insights into categories that represent your features or flows, like “Onboarding”, “Registration”, or “Pairing the device”.

The other, “UX axis” should represent different aspects of user experiences and interactions. Erika Hall in her book “Just enough research” mentions that qualitative insights can be categorized in one of the following categories:

If you are feeling creative and see the need to use different or additional UX-focused categories, feel free to go wild.

Once you’ve applied these codes or labels, it's time to get comparative. Look at your data through different lenses—be it age, user role, gender, or any other metric that's relevant. To get an even fuller picture, cross-reference these findings with other data sources you might have, like Google Analytics.

Once you are done coding, check for the patterns and themes that emerge from the categories. And last but really not least — convert them into actionable insights. Communicating these findings in a way that everyone can act on. Whether it’s the designers, the product owners, or other stakeholders, make your insights understandable and actionable. For a deeper dive into the "how-tos" of reporting, be sure to check out the dedicated chapter on that topic.

User interviews — tips and tricks

Ah, user interviews. While they can seem straightforward, anyone who's conducted one knows that each is a unique experience that can either soar with grace or stumble into awkwardness. To help you stay more on the "soaring" side of things, here are some tips, tricks, and best practices.

1. Do Your Homework: Know Your Users: Before stepping into the interview room (real or virtual), make sure you’ve done your homework. Know who you're talking to. This doesn’t mean you need an FBI-level background check, but knowing a bit about the interviewee’s role, experience, and context can provide invaluable insights.

2. The Right Environment: Set the Stage: If you're interviewing in person, make sure the setting is comfortable and free from distractions. For remote interviews, double-check your tech set-up. Nothing kills momentum like a dodgy internet connection.

3. The Art of Listening: More Than Just Hearing: You’re not just there to ask questions; you're there to listen. That means not interrupting, no matter how eager you are to dive deeper into a point. Often, the most valuable insights come from letting the conversation flow.

4. Keep It Casual: Conversational Tones Work Wonders: The interview should feel like a conversation, not an interrogation. Keeping a friendly, informal tone can help participants feel more comfortable and more willing to share.

5. Mastering the Follow-Up: The Delicate Art of “Tell Me More”: When a participant mentions something intriguing, don’t hesitate to deviate from your script for a deeper dive. Follow-up questions like "Could you elaborate?" or "Why do you feel that way?" can unearth some gems.

6. Maintain Neutrality: Be the Switzerland of Interviewers: It's easy to influence responses without even realizing it. Be mindful of your body language and vocal intonation. Strive for neutrality to ensure you're collecting unbiased data.

7. The Summary Play: Confirm Your Understanding: Near the end of the interview, summarize key points back to the participant. This not only shows you've been listening but also gives them a chance to correct or clarify.

8. Take Great Notes: Your Future Self Will Thank You: Whether you’re jotting down notes or recording the session for later transcription, make sure you capture all the nuances. This is raw material for your coding process later.

9. Seal the Deal: Conclude Professionally: Thank your participants, reassure them about the confidentiality of their responses, and let them know the next steps on getting their incentive or how their input will be used.

10. The Post-Game Review: Reflect and Adjust: Once the interview is over, take a few moments to reflect. What went well? What could be improved? Each interview is a learning opportunity for the next.