User Interviews

Your constantly-updated definition of User Interviews and collection of topical content and literature


What are User Interviews?

User interviews are typically performed with the potential users of a design, as part of an ideation phase or during early concept development. User interviews follow a structured methodology whereby the interviewer prepares a number of topics to cover, makes a record of what is said in the interview, and systematically analyzes the conversation after the interview.

User interviews are one of the most commonly used methods in user research. They can cover almost all user-related topics and be used, for example, to gather information on users’ feelings, motivations, and daily routines, or how they use various products. The interviews often follow the same methodology as qualitative interviews in other fields, but with the specific purpose of informing a design project. Because user interviews typically have to fit into a design or development process, practical concerns such as limited time or resources often play a role when deciding how to carry out such interviews. For instance, user interviews can be conducted over a video or voice call if time is restricted. On the other hand, in projects with sufficient time and resources, an interview may be conducted in the user’s home, and designers might even be flown overseas if the users reside in another country.

While many interview methods used in design projects are borrowed from other fields such as ethnography and psychology, some have been created specifically for use in design contexts. An example is contextual interviews that take place in the participants’ everyday environment. Contextual interviews have the advantage of providing more insights relating to the environment in which a design will be used. As such, a contextual interview might uncover flaws within a product’s design (e.g., the product is too heavy to be carried around the house by the user) that a normal user interview might not.

Literature on User Interviews

Here’s the entire UX literature on User Interviews by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Featured article

How to Conduct User Interviews

How to Conduct User Interviews

User interviews can be a great way to extract information from users for user experience understanding, usability understanding and ideation. They are cheap and easy to conduct and can be readily conducted by anyone who can ask questions and record the answers.

Author/Copyright holder: Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-SA 2.0

Before we look at how to conduct user interviews, we need to take a look at some of the drawbacks of interviewing:

  • Interviews, even if they are contextual (e.g. based on observing the interviewee using the product prior to interview), tend to give insights into what people say they will do and this is sometimes (often even) not the same as what they actually do.
  • Human beings have memory issues and can often not recall details as clearly as they would like. Unfortunately, it is a human tendency to try and create these details (this is not even a conscious process) and to tell a story the way we think something happened rather than how it happened.
  • Users aren’t designers. Interviews should stick to concrete examination of what is happening and how the user feels. They should not try and get the user to create their ideal product or to suggest improvements.

It’s important to keep these drawbacks in mind when designing your interview questions (or indeed – when making up interview questions on the spot when examining what you have observed the user doing). You should also take them into account when evaluating a group of user interviews – interview data gives you a starting point to examine problems but rarely a finishing point which delivers 100% certainty as to what to do next.

Arnie Lund, the author of User Experience Management, said; “Know thy user, and you are not thy user.” User interviews are a great way to get to know your users... but is your company actually conducting them?

What is a User Interview?

User interviews are where a researcher asks questions of, and records responses from, users. They can be used to examine the user experience, the usability of the product or to flesh out demographic or ethnographic data (for input into user personas) among many other things.

Author/Copyright holder: Liz Danzico. Copyright terms and licence: Fair Use.

The ideal interview takes place with two UX researchers and one user. The first UX researcher focuses on asking questions and guiding the interviewee through the interview. The second takes notes. If a second researcher is unavailable for this – then videoing or audio recording an interview can be a good way to record the information elicited. If the researcher asking questions takes notes – there’s a good chance that the interview will be derailed and become hard to manage.

Typical topics covered within user interviews include:

  • Background (such as ethnographic data)
  • The use of technology in general
  • The use of the product
  • The user’s main objectives and motivations
  • The user’s pain points

Don’t feel limited to these topics. If there’s something you need to know that you can learn by asking your users (as long as it’s not offensive or threatening) you can ask a question about it.

There is also a special type of user interview known as the contextual interview. This is an interview which is conducted after (or during) the observation of a user using the actual product. It’s an interview “in context” with usage. These are very common in usability testing and assessment of products and even in information visualization.

Author/Copyright holder: RezScore. Copyright terms and licence: Fair Use

Preparing for User Interviews

Preparation for user interviews begins with recruitment; you want to ensure that you recruit a representative sample of users for your interviews.

Then you will need to create a script to ask questions from (unless you are doing a contextual interview in which case you may still create a script but are likely to wander off-piste from that script a lot during the interview).

Some tips for your script include:

  • Make sure you begin by explaining the purpose of the interview – what are you trying to achieve?
  • Also explain how the person’s data and any data you collect will be used from the interview.
  • Try to keep leading questions to a minimum. A good question is “Do you use instant messaging?” rather than “How often do you use Snapchat?” The former lets you explore what the user actually does. The latter presupposes that user is working with Snapchat and that’s the extent of their instant messaging activity.
  • Keep it reasonably short. If you read the script aloud and it takes more than 10 minutes to read… it’s probably too long. Interviews should, ideally, be less than 1 hour long and the majority of the time spent should be the interviewee talking and the researcher listening.

Don’t forget that scripts are a guide not a bible. If you find something interesting takes place in an interview and there are no questions, on the script, to explore that idea… explore it anyway. Feel free to amend the script for future uses.

When scheduling your interviews, it’s a good idea to leave 30 minutes or so between each interview, it gives the interviewer some time to make additional notes and compile their thoughts while everything is still fresh in their mind.

How to Conduct a User Interview

Conducting an interview is simply a question of running through your script or asking the questions that you have. However, there are some tips to make this more useful as a process:

  • Make your interviewee comfortable – dress in a manner similar to them (you in a suit them in a tracksuit is going to make it feel like a job interview rather than a user test), make sure they understand you are testing a product or an idea and not the user themselves, offer them a drink (non-alcoholic), conduct a little small talk (but only a little) before you start, etc.
  • Try to keep the interview on time and heading in the right direction – the reason scripts are useful is because you can reference them for this
  • Try to focus on the interviewee and not on note making – it’s just plain rude to bury your head in your notes. Maintain eye contact, keep a conversation flowing and record the interview rather than getting lost in note making.
  • Thank the interviewee at the end of the process – not only is this polite but you can offer a chance for the interviewee to ask any question of their own at this point too.

Author/Copyright holder: Victorgrigas. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-SA 3.0

Reporting on User Interviews

User interviews tend to provide qualitative rather than quantitative data. Compiling the results of many interviews can be challenging. Word clouds and mind maps are two good ways of presenting qualitative data in an interesting but easy to understand format. Written reports are fine but try to contain them to the key data and leave all the minor stuff in appendices.

You can download the template for Conducting an Interview with Empathy here:


The Take Away

User interviews are a cheap and easy way to get data “straight from the horse’s mouth”. However, it’s important to bear in mind that there are limitations to this technique and you may discover what people say they do rather than what they actually do. Conducting interviews is simple. Write a script and go through it with the user. Make sure to keep the user informed and comfortable as you do.

References & Where to Learn More

Course: User Research – Methods and Best Practices:

Some additional tips on user interviews from the Nielsen Norman Group -

Why listening to users isn’t always the right thing to do also from the Nielsen Norman Group -

Some ideas for questions in user interviews - - .izil93jqf

Hero Image: Author/Copyright holder: David Davies. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-SA 2.0

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Learn more about User Interviews

Take a deep dive into User Interviews with our course User Research – Methods and Best Practices.

How do you plan to design a product or service that your users will love, if you don't know what they want in the first place? As a user experience designer, you shouldn't leave it to chance to design something outstanding; you should make the effort to understand your users and build on that knowledge from the outset. User research is the way to do this, and it can therefore be thought of as the largest part of user experience design.

In fact, user research is often the first step of a UX design process—after all, you cannot begin to design a product or service without first understanding what your users want! As you gain the skills required, and learn about the best practices in user research, you’ll get first-hand knowledge of your users and be able to design the optimal product—one that’s truly relevant for your users and, subsequently, outperforms your competitors.

This course will give you insights into the most essential qualitative research methods around and will teach you how to put them into practice in your design work. You’ll also have the opportunity to embark on three practical projects where you can apply what you’ve learned to carry out user research in the real world. You’ll learn details about how to plan user research projects and fit them into your own work processes in a way that maximizes the impact your research can have on your designs. On top of that, you’ll gain practice with different methods that will help you analyze the results of your research and communicate your findings to your clients and stakeholders—workshops, user journeys and personas, just to name a few!

By the end of the course, you’ll have not only a Course Certificate but also three case studies to add to your portfolio. And remember, a portfolio with engaging case studies is invaluable if you are looking to break into a career in UX design or user research!

We believe you should learn from the best, so we’ve gathered a team of experts to help teach this course alongside our own course instructors. That means you’ll meet a new instructor in each of the lessons on research methods who is an expert in their field—we hope you enjoy what they have in store for you!

All literature

How to Conduct User Interviews

How to Conduct User Interviews

User interviews can be a great way to extract information from users for user experience understanding, usability understanding and ideation. They are cheap and easy to conduct and can be readily conducted by anyone who can ask questions and record the answers. Author/Copyright holder: Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung. Copyright terms and licence: CC B...

  • 7 months ago
How to Do a Thematic Analysis of User Interviews

How to Do a Thematic Analysis of User Interviews

You have been in the field talking to users and you now find yourself with a massive amount of audio, notes, video, pictures, and interesting impressions. All that information can be overwhelming, and it’s difficult to know where to start to make sense of all the data. Here, we will teach you how to go from information chaos to patterns and them...

  • 4 weeks ago
Design for All

Ch 42: Design for All

42.1 What is Design for All?Contemporary interactive technologies and environments are used by a multitude of users with diverse characteristics, needs and requirements, including able-bodied and disabled people, people of all ages, people with different skills and levels of expertise, people from all over the world with different languages, cul...

Book chapter
Laddering Questions Drilling Down Deep and Moving Sideways in UX Research

Laddering Questions Drilling Down Deep and Moving Sideways in UX Research

Laddering questions help you direct your research in order to get the most valuable information from interview subjects. This can help you expand the remit of the research or to focus it to where the roots of problems really lay.Laddering questions are a variant of the “5 Whys” principle. The idea is to use questions that begin with “why” to eli...

  • 3 years ago
Pros and Cons of Conducting User Interviews

Pros and Cons of Conducting User Interviews

You have gotten a green light from your stakeholders to conduct some user research for your design project, and you think user interviews might be the way to go. After all, they seem straightforward, and interviews are one of the most widely used user research methods—so, they should be a safe choice. But, as with all research methods, there are...

  • 1 week ago
How to Prepare for a User Interview and Ask the Right Questions

How to Prepare for a User Interview and Ask the Right Questions

Getting great interview results requires careful preparation. You need to be clear about the purpose of your research, decide whom to recruit, do all the practical preparations and—finally—you need to design a great interview guide detailing the questions you want to ask. Here, you will learn how to prepare for user interviews and how to ensure ...

  • 3 days ago
How to Moderate User Interviews

How to Moderate User Interviews

Carrying out user interviews can be chaotic! You must handle a lot of things at once to ensure that your participants are comfortable and that you get valid results. You must listen to what your participant is saying while also keeping track of where to go next, which questions you haven’t asked yet, how much time you have spent, how to formulat...

  • 5 months ago