For a vast majority of the product and user research teams we’ve spoken with, time is the limiting factor that stops them from speaking to their users. Speaking to your users takes too long.
Effective user interviews go beyond gathering data. They help you put data into context. Your user interview findings can help your team prioritize, uncover bugs, and remedy confusing flows before they’re finalized.
To help you conduct the most useful research, we’ve put together the perfect “cheat sheet” for conducting user interviews: best practices, foundational ideas, and a few do’s and don’ts.
Product teams and UX researchers use a wide variety of tools and methods to collect information. Effective teams know how and when to use these tools.
User interviews allow researchers to gather information through conversations with users. It’s one way to collect qualitative data — adding a layer of humanity and narrative to quantitative data.
So when should you do user interviews? If your team wants new ideas, deeper insights, or help identifying design problems, user interviews are the gold standard.
If you go into your user interviews unprepared, it will show in the results. You’ve got to do your homework and take the time to frame your interviews.
“I've been shouting about pre-planning your interview questions a lot lately. It sounds obvious, but the quality of the INTERVIEW is directly tied to the quality of the INTERVIEWER,” says Hannah Shamji, a customer researcher and strategist.
A user research plan serves as a reference point; it contains your project’s timeline, stakeholders, and objectives. It should summarize the purpose of your research and explain logistical decisions.
In short: user research plans keep your interviews on track. Without thoughtful preparation, your chance of getting quality feedback is diminished.
A thorough user research plan typically has an outline similar to this:
Document the details about why this research is necessary and who the stakeholders are.
Clarify business goals and challenges. And make sure there’s agreement on project goals, the pain points of your users, and your user interview methods.
How many team members are able to dedicate their time to interviewing participants and analyzing the data? What platforms or tools will you be using to conduct your interviews?
Your research plan should include the estimated time it will take to conduct thorough interviews, notes about or links to other resources, and when to expect a final report.
Spell out the goals of the research and predicted outcome(s).
Include a breakdown of your participants and how you recruited them.
Create an interview guide so that every interviewer is on the same page. Include instructions for the research session, user interview questions, and wrap-up steps.
For the sake of this article, we’ll assume you’re conducting semi-structured interviews. (Meaning you’re going into each user interview with a set of pre-determined questions, but the interview could deviate slightly depending on how the participant responds.)
Writing your user interview questions is arguably one of the hardest parts of user research. Let’s take a look at a few best practices for user interview questions:
Your questions should contain:
And you want to avoid:
Your questions should move from broad to detailed throughout the interview.
Not quite sure what to ask? Here are a few suggestions, and they can all be modified to fit your current situation.
This is far from an exhaustive list of user interview questions, but it’s a great start. You can build from here and ask follow-up questions as necessary — hopefully adding more context and clarification to participants’ responses.
Now that you have a thorough plan in place and quality user interview questions, you’re almost ready to start. But how you conduct your interviews also affects whether or not your participants feel at ease and comfortable communicating their thoughts.
Ribbon allows you to easily schedule and conduct moderated video interviews.
Here are a few things to strive for and a few things to avoid during your user interview process:
About 5 to 10 minutes before your interview is supposed to finish, you’ll want to start wrapping it up by introducing closing questions.
After the session is done, take a few moments to reflect on the interview. Write down any final observations, and discuss the interview with any other teammates that were present.
“It’s important that you take time to absorb the data through a progression of analytical steps. Upon completion of the interview, several core ideas as well as additional questions may be evident to you. It’s useful to make note of these ideas and questions shortly after the interview,” says Anne Galletta and William E. Cross in their book Mastering the Semi-Structured Interview and Beyond.
Ideally, you should schedule user interviews at least 15 to 30 minutes apart so you have time to digest each interview.
Finally, schedule a time with your entire team to debrief. Plan plenty of time to recap observations and contextualize data by linking it to your objectives and other information. From there, your insights should be clear and actionable.
Ready to start your user interviews? Explore how Ribbon can help simplify user interviews for your team.