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January 31, 2023 - 6 minutes

User Interviews: The UX/UI Designers Guide

User interviews can be a great way to gather valuable information from participants and improve your designs. 

Juliette Carreiro - Tech Writer

As a UX/UI designer, you know that user interviews are key. These 30 or 60 minute interviews with participants are essential for success: how can you design a product that’s ideal for users without hearing directly from participants?! You can’t. This article has everything you need to fully understand user interviews and implement best practices into your future interviews. 

What are User Interviews? 

To put it simply, user interviews are a research method used by UX designers to collect user data. In addition to generating qualitative data, you can also observe the user’s feelings, perceptions, and experiences as they relate to your design. The vast majority of UX design is problem solving; there’s an issue that exists, such as a tough to use webpage that UX designers are tasked with improving. And to improve upon something that already exists, there’s no better way to get suggestions than from real user experiences. 

Benefits of user interviews: 

  • They are fast and easy to conduct

  • You can understand the user’s perceptions and experiences

  • You can ask follow-up questions

  • You can understand both verbal and nonverbal cues

  • You can ask for clarification or additional information

When to use user interviews

Even though user interviews can be helpful for lots of cases, they aren’t the best choice at all times. Take a look at the best times to conduct user interviews: 

  • Before beginning the project: you may want to jump right into your work, but taking a second to conduct user interviews can help you define your buyer personas, journey maps, main goals, primary improvements, and more. 

  • Shortly after beginning the project: once you’ve used the information gathered from the initial interviews to start working, it can be helpful to check back in with users to ensure you’re on the right track. 

  • Close to the end of the project: once you’re almost done, it’s a good time to do shorter and quicker user interviews to check in and see how users feel about the finished product. It’s hard to open yourself to critique that late in the game, but it’s certainly better to know of any issues before the product is released! 

Although the three times we mentioned are solid choices for user interviews, there are a few times when you should not conduct user interviews. If your client has enough analytic research to back up their request, there might not be a need for user interviews. And if you can’t pinpoint the right group to interview or you won’t get a full picture of the user pool from just a few interviews, other research methods may be more effective long-term. Lastly, no one likes wasting time; if you don’t have clear questions and clear outcomes, there’s no point in conducting interviews. 

How to Conduct User Interviews

It may seem simple, but conducting user interviews properly will make all the difference. Here’s what to keep in mind: 

  1. Prepare the participant: this can come in many forms, but making sure the participant is prepared is crucial to the success of your project. Ensure the following:

    1. The user feels comfortable and heard

    2. The interview process and purpose is explained to the user 

    3. You ask simple questions and let the user finish their complete thoughts

  2. Prepare yourself: before starting the interview, make sure you know what you want to accomplish. Prepare both questions and follow-up questions to get all the information you need. And most importantly, prepare answers and follow-up questions for unexpected situations; your participants won’t always answer as you anticipate. 

  3. Think of thoughtful questions: simple yes/no questions won’t get you anywhere. Open-ended questions that get the participant talking can help you not only get the information you need, but also extra information that you maybe didn’t expect. 

  4. Avoid leading questions: you may think it’s more straightforward to ask a participant “Why do you like using our product?” but this question makes two assumptions: that the participant uses the product and likes it. And if you frame it as a yes or no question like, “Do you use our product in the morning?” the participant may just answer, “yes” and provide no additional information. 

  5. Be clear and concise: ask questions that are clear and obvious to the participant; many user interview sessions are time-limited and if you have to clarify or provide further information, you could be wasting valuable time. 

Possible concerns with user interviews

User interviews can be great ways to get valuable feedback, but there are some things of which to be cautious: 

  • Participants may not feel comfortable sharing their feedback or opinion as openly as you would like. It may take some introductory questions and time for the participant to open up. 

  • The human memory isn’t perfect; participants may guess about memories or round up or down in their answers, creating inaccurate results. 

  • Participants aren’t experts on the subject. They may not fully understand the purpose of the interview and accidentally leave out valuable information. 

User interviews vs. usability testing

There are many research methods available; choosing the proper one for your project could be the deciding factor. These are the main differences between the user interviews and usability testing: 

  • Participant involvement: in user interviews, participants have to be vocally active, contributing to the conversation and providing information. During usability testing, however, the participant doesn’t need to talk as much; they just need to test the product. Gathering information about their experience can also be completed via surveys or written questionnaires. 

  • Tester involvement: for user interviews, the interviewer needs to be lively and build some sort of rapport with the participant to get information. On the other hand, the goal of usability testing is for the participant to act as if they were on their own and therefore, the tester should be present but forgettable so that the most realistic results are gathered. 

  • Timing: although user interviews can be conducted throughout the entire design process, usability testing can, understandably, only be used when there’s something for the user to test. This can mean that feedback only comes much later in the process and can be harder to implement. 

User interview and usability testing might seem similar, but there are two fundamental differences: user interviews reveal the participant’s feelings and thoughts about a design; usability testing reveals the user’s ease and process while using the design. 

User interviews can be a fantastic way to get the information you need. But before you do anything, make sure that you thoroughly define your goals and are sure that it’s the best research method for you. Happy designing!

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