Do you know what user interviews are all about in research? If not, take a look at our article on in-depth individual interviews to learn about the different types of user interviews, their pros and cons as well as how to run such research. Individual interviews are one of the more popular research methods in UX, so it’s worth knowing as much as possible about them.
How to conduct user interviews? – table of contents:
- What are user interviews?
- Types of user interviews
- How to prepare for user interviews?
- How do you moderate user interviews?
What are user interviews?
User interviews (also referred to as Individual In-depth Interviews (IDIs) in UX research) are conversations with a single participant, usually lasting 30 to 60 minutes, during which the researcher asks questions about a topic of interest to gain a deeper understanding of participants’ attitudes, beliefs, desires and experiences with the product undergoing the study. As the interviews take place live (either online or in-person), moderators can easily spot verbal and non-verbal cues, respond to them in real time, ask additional questions, and dig deeper into the topic under study.
The candid, interactive nature of interviews often leads to unexpected data that would be difficult to obtain otherwise. User interviews in UX research are a relatively quick and easy way to collect qualitative data about users – their attitudes, behaviors and feelings. They also have the valuable advantage of combining well with almost any other research method – all to dig deeper into issues and trends learned from qualitative survey analysis, understand decisions made during card sorting studies or supplement information from focus groups.
Types of user interviews
Among user interviews, we can distinguish between generative, contextual and continuous interviews.
Generative interviews are the most popular type and we will mainly focus on them in this article. They are probably the best way to deepen our knowledge of our users. They come in handy early in the design process. They are structured in nature so that they are not chaotic brainstorming sessions, but effective interviews for gathering the information needed to answer specific and practical research questions (even if at this early stage of the process the research questions are quite broad).
Contextual interviews are a special type of semi-structured interview that gives researchers insight into the context of use. These interviews take place in the user’s natural environment (in context) so that the user can feel more comfortable than if the meeting place were, for example, a lab or a virtual set setting. During contextual interviews, researchers asked participants questions while they are performing specific tasks. This could be observing a participant in his or her actual workspace, or moderating a usability testing session and asking questions as users interact with the site using their computer or phone.
The last method discussed is continuous interviews, which are conducted regularly, e.g. by devoting a specific time each week to contacting a particular participant. The purpose of continuous interviews is to maintain contact with the most important users – customers. It is worth remembering, however, that the feedback received from continuous interviews can be a bit more diffuse than feedback from other, more targeted research methods.
How to prepare for user interviews?
User interviews, like all the other research methods we discuss, should begin with defining a research question that is specific, feasible and practical.
In the next step, take care of the interview scenario. Prepare a set of questions to ask the participants. Having such a list helps keep the conversation flowing and provides a good basis for taking notes and organizing data during and after the interview. Remember that a user interview is not an interrogation – such a scenario can be a great guide for the moderator, as long as it is flexible and allows room for spontaneous, open-ended answers and follow-up questions.
Here are some tips on how to create questions for an interview scenario:
- Ask questions that focus on past behavior more than on hypothetical scenarios (e.g., “How did you deal with …” instead of “What would you do if …”).
- Ask open-ended questions, allowing participants to elaborate on their answers and allowing them to express their own opinions (e.g., “What do you think about…” instead of “Do you agree with the statement that…”).
- Limit your own biases and assumptions. An interview can suffer heavily from the researcher’s top-down assumptions or biases. To keep yourself accountable for your assumptions and preconceived ideas, try to keep questions centered around words like “how” “why” and “what.” This will naturally guide the interviewee’s own opinions and answers.
- Prepare to question your assumptions. Generative interviews are only useful if you let ideas flow and pop up.
- Anticipate different answers to key questions and make a list of possible follow-up questions that will help you deepen an area and steer the conversation in interesting directions. Additionally, think about how you will keep the conversation flowing if the participant does not have an answer to your question at all.
- Expect various conversation styles and personalities. Some participants will get talkative, others, secretive.
- Avoid homing questions. Guiding questions prepare the participant to answer in a certain way, suggesting the “correct” answer (e.g., “Why do you think, our product is a good solution”).
With the research question and interview scenario defined, it’s time to recruit research participants. You should consider “Who is likely to know the answers I am looking for?”. Then list the characteristics that this person is likely to possess. This list will be the basis for creating a participant profile and conducting a screening survey. We wrote more extensively about participant recruitment in this article.
After successful recruitment, plan a schedule of interviews. Their time may vary depending on your needs and capabilities, but averaging one session takes about 30-45 minutes. In most cases, this is enough time to allow a few minutes for a warm-up and a comprehensive interview. At the same time, it is short enough that it is easy to schedule such an interview and will not take up too much of the researcher’s or participant’s time.
Remember to communicate appropriately with study participants. To help participants remember the date of the interview and get to the right place at the right time, send them an email with the most important information: the time, date and place of the study, present the general topic of the study and include your contact information.
How do you moderate user interviews?
Adequate preparation for the survey and scenario testing is a crucial stage that requires sound preparation. To make sure everything goes according to plan, always test the tools you plan to work with. Test the software you’ll run, make sure it doesn’t need updating, check your internet connection and charge your devices if necessary.
Also make sure your study area, or at least your desk, is neat, as well as your background if you are interviewing remotely. This will allow both you and the interviewee to focus better. Also check if all the materials you need – files, images, websites, physical prototypes, etc. – are organized and always at hand. Once you have all these elements in order, it’s time to start user interviews.
Begin the interview by introducing yourself. Briefly explain the reason for the interview and its expected duration – the person you are talking to may already know all this from your previous communication, but always briefly convey this information at the beginning of the interview. Ensure that the participant feels comfortable. Establish a bond, assure that there are no right or wrong answers, and warm him or her up with a short chat (if only about the weather) to get to know each other better and loosen up a bit.
Remember that this is all about building trust, not about befriending. Provide the respondent with a sense of security and confidence when answering. Speak slowly and clearly. Before you formally begin, ask the interviewee if they have any questions, and if possible, give a specific answer.
Begin the interview with simple and general questions that are easy to answer and not judgmental or suggestive. As the respondent opens up, move gradually to the more specific ones that require more elaborate answers. Remember to ask additional questions: if something is unclear – ask for an explanation, if you want to go into more depth – encourage the participant to expand on the thought. Don’t be shy to ask questions that seem obvious or to which you think you know the answer. It’s worth remembering that awkward silences are not unusual during user interviews. You have to get used to it.
Also, never rush a participant – after you finish speaking, let it “hang in the air” for a few seconds longer than is normal and comfortable for you (e.g., try counting to 5 in your mind before answering). There may be a situation in which the participant fills this silence on his own, expanding his answer. If, in turn, he doesn’t do this, you are assured that you have given him enough time, and you can move on.
In your career as a researcher, sooner or later you are bound to come across a respondent who has a lot to say (or even too much to say). If the participant begins to deviate from the question asked or unnecessarily prolongs the answer, be prepared to diplomatically return to the subject. Don’t let the interview drag on significantly, as both you and your interviewee, need to respect each other’s time.
If necessary, you can always plan to continue the interview at another time. After the last question and answer, remember to thank the participant for his or her time and valuable information that will help in further project work. Also ask if he or she has any comments, questions or anything to add from you at the end.
User interviews are one of the most popular research methods in UX, and no wonder – a 1:1 interview with can provide us with a lot of valuable information concerning not only the customer’s opinions and feelings about the product but also about their behavior, motivations or biases. It’s worth taking care to properly prepare for the interview and to make sure it goes smoothly (without delays, technical problems or unfavorable environmental conditions). We hope that the tips presented in this article will help you properly plan and conduct in-depth interviews with users! And get the most out of them!
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