How to get the most out of User Interviews

How and why do we do User Interviews at Yoyo?

Online meeting

So what are they all about?

To create an engaging digital experience that delivers real impact for your business, it’s essential to use research to know your audience. If you want to truly empathise with people, to understand what they think, value, see and know, there’s no better way to find out than talking to them first hand.

User Interviews are focused conversations with individuals from your target audience that allow us to get a deep understanding of their needs, desires, pains and motivations. 

Far more than just an informal chat, a User Interview is semi-structured, with carefully considered key questions which guide the conversation towards topics that are relevant to the research questions at hand. 

Know when to use them

Interviews are particularly useful right at the beginning of a project when you don’t know much about your audience, as they are naturally open ended and exploratory. Unlike more rigid research methods like surveys, this means the user can elaborate and the interviewer can ask follow up questions that uncover unexpected insights and opportunities.

They are cost effective, and just a small number of conversations with real people in your target audience can uncover key insights that shape the creative and strategic direction.

Later in the design process, interviews can be used in combination with research methods like User Testing at the stage when a concept or product can be tested. Here they add a rich additional layer of qualitative data to the more formal observations. By asking questions we can understand why they acted in an expected or unexpected way, what they liked or disliked, and delve deeper into the reasons behind their actions.

These authentic responses and unique opinions are often extremely valuable as they provide actionable insights for immediate improvements.

Get prepared

To get the most out of interviews it’s essential to be well prepared, so take the following steps and you can’t go wrong.

Assess the situation

First you’ve got to make sure User Interviews are right for you. Factors such as the research objectives, research breadth, project stage, time available, participant number and participant type should be carefully considered before weighing up if they are the most appropriate method. Be careful not to underestimate the time required for interviews, as insightful conversations always require careful planning beforehand and analysis afterwards.

Choose your format

Interviews with individual participants can be done either in person or remotely.

Especially if conducted in a natural setting for the user, in-person interviews allow us to understand more about users in context which provides useful wider insights. It is however cheaper, easier, and at the current time safer to conduct them remotely.

They can be either conducted by two researchers with one guiding the interview and the other taking notes or by one researcher who takes a recording and transcribes notes later. The first is quicker but needs two people. The second takes longer but can be more thorough and direct quotes taken if needed.

Choose the right participants

When recruiting participants you should ensure they are a representative sample from your target audience. Depending on the nature of the research and the product or service in question, the users will fall in to one of 3 participant types:

  • Unspecialised Participant: This is anyone, this user is ideal in cases where the product is very general and intended for a wide use base. 
  • Typical Consumer: They meet some form of limited criteria as it relates to the product, prototype or subject being tested.
  • Specialised Professional / Expert Participant: They have a high level of expertise relating to the product, subject or prototype being tested.

Try to speak to both average users, as well as extreme users who will use the product all the time or in a very specific way. This increases the scope of exploration and will expand our understanding of what the product needs to provide. Also try to gather people from a range of cultural backgrounds and technical abilities. This is how you catch the details that could be alienating big groups of people.

Recruit them

Once you know who you want, the next step is to recruit them. You’ll find it far easier to recruit willing participants if they thoroughly understand what they are expected to do and why they are doing it. You also need to incentivise the participants to take part, either financially or by offering another incentive they feel is valuable. The level of incentive will depend on participant type and length of interview.

Get consent

Never forget to get consent. It’s best to ask in advance and you should explain how the data will be used and why.

Do your research 

The more specialist your participants the more important it is to familiarise yourself with who they are, what they do and the context that surrounds them in order to ask informed questions that lead to valuable answers. 

Ask the right questions

You’ve decided your research question and what you want to know, so now you just ask your users, right? Well unfortunately it’s not that easy. Research questions are not interview questions and if you only ask users what they want or how they would make a product or service better, most will have no idea or be unable to articulate it. 

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said ‘faster horses.’
Henry Ford

Instead you should plan questions that indirectly address key related topics such as:

  • What goals are users trying to achieve?
  • How do they currently do it?
  • What parts do they love or hate?
  • What difficulties do they experience along the way? 
  • What workarounds do they use?


You should never ask leading or biased questions and instead ask questions neutrally.

  • Don’t ask: Was it difficult to find X?
  • Do ask: Can you walk me through how you found X? 

This way you find out much more about their experiences, both positive and negative and also uncover their motivations, considerations and emotions. It also leaves room for further unexpected insights.

It’s also important to avoid just looking for evidence that confirms our assumptions, and instead you want to challenge the innate biases that you hold in order to make sure the design solutions are of greatest benefit to the user and therefore your business.

You also should avoid asking people to make predictions or remember events too far in the past. People will try to answer these questions but will naturally (and unconsciously) make up forgotten details and will never be able to tell you how likely it is they’ll actually do something. We’re all only human.

Nail the technique

Knowing what to say, when to say it, how to say it, and when to say nothing, isn’t easy and it takes skill to tease out insights that are relevant while leaving room to uncover the unexpected.

Like all skills, practice makes perfect and good interview technique is no different. These are my top tips on what to keep in mind:

  • Make the interviewee comfortable by breaking the ice with a little small talk.
  • Start wide and narrow down with follow up questions.
  • Be flexible with the order of questions and guide the conversation naturally.
  • Keep questions short and listen more than talk.
  • Encourage them to tell you more and allow pauses in conversation for them to fill. 
  • Ask why, even if you think you know the answer.
  • Ask for anecdotes rather than generic experiences.
  • Go off script if an unexpected but interesting direction is taken.
  • Get back on script if the conversation starts to ramble.
  • At the end ask if they have anything else they would like to add.

Extract the most value

Now you’ve got your qualitative data, the next step is analysis.

Sometimes there will be obvious themes or particular points that leap out at you but other times distilling and organising interview data into valuable and actionable insights is more challenging.

Thematic analysis

The best way to do this is to use an analytical process to identify themes.

Once you have notes or a written transcript that retains the information you need, you apply a process called ‘coding’ where you assign relevant labels to interesting information. Then these codes can be grouped and sorted into themes.

If you have a more deductive study, where you know exactly what you are interested in this will be relatively straightforward, but if it is more exploratory where you don’t have a clear idea of what patterns you are searching for this will take longer to build narratives.

Always try to: 

  • Avoid confirmation bias by making sure not to overlook information that goes against your preconceived assumptions and by looking for any contradictions. 
  • Avoid giving more emphasis to the most articulate or convincing user.
  • Avoid getting bogged down or overwhelmed by keeping sight of which themes matter and which don’t.
  • Remember that honesty and transparency in the process are essential for validity and will make the end results better. 

Refine and define

Once we’ve empathised with members of the target audience and analysed our findings into meaningful insights, we use one or more tools to communicate them with the project team and refine them further.

These tools are: User Personas, Empathy Maps, and User Journeys. Each helps us prioritise the design requirements, identifies opportunities, and keeps the digital experiences we create user-centred and rooted in their needs.

Now is the time

At this point in time it is more important than ever to listen to your audience. Times of crisis are catalysts for change and customers are reassessing their priorities and changing their patterns of behaviour and spending.

Now is therefore a great time to conduct User Research to rediscover what matters to customers and understand the impact those changing needs will have on your business.


If you would like to understand more about your audience but don’t know where to start then feel free to get in touch. We’d be very happy to help you improve the digital experiences you offer.

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