📹 New! Remote User Testing - Get video + voice feedback on designs and prototypes
Read more
Design Process

How To Nail User Interviews in a UX, HCD or Design Thinking Process

The full guide
How To Nail User Interviews in a UX, HCD or Design Thinking Process

Great! You’ve got your design brief, areas of interest you want to look into, and some user interviews lined up. But what‘s next?

Source: http://grownupsurvivalguide.com/2016/09/24/10-tips-for-rocking-an-interview/

This article provides you with hands-on advice on why and how to conduct user interviews in your UX process.

Some of the recommendations you are going to read might seem trivial and obvious but neglecting only one of them can ruin your entire interview. Trust me, been there, done that…?

How I failed

Only in recent weeks, I’ve conducted dozens of user interviews for some client projects at Hinderling Volkart. The last one I did, I completly messed up! I assumed my interviewee had already been on-boarded and informed about why he got interviewed. So, I skipped a proper introduction and jumped right in! «Here we go! Let’s start! Tell me about yourself!»

That was a big mistake…

Source: giphy.com

«Why the hell are you even talking to me? Do you even know who I am?», my interviewee furiously complained. I didn’t really know… As it turned out, he was an influential opinion leader in his field and the head of…

Well done! The mood was low and the energy down. The interviewee resent my questions and the interview became one of my longest hour ever…

If you DON’T want to fail like this, keep reading!

About interviewing people

If you are familiar with user interviews and what they are good for, you may also skip this chapter.

Reason and goal for user interviews

User interviews are a research method applied during the discovery phase of a human or user centred design process.

Double Diamond design process

A further developed version of my Revamped Double Diamond design process originally published here.

They help you gain a deeper understanding of people’s behaviour and their reason why they do what they do. In the best case, interviews reveal insights that help you answer your question.

"Insights are the dormant truth about an issue, one’s motivation, wishes, or frustration regarding a specific topic."

Creating services or products based on your own needs is easy! However, is very unlikely that you will ever design a product for yourself. If you want to make a product or service that meets your end user needs, listening to your users is essential. Interviews are just one way to do that in a effective and efficient fashion (Daniel Santos, FutureEverything).

Make sure you know why you interview people. Have a clear problem statement set and know what you want to find out.

User interviews often don’t give you all the answers you need. Sometimes they are the wrong instrument. They may fail when you are trying to ask people to remember how something happened in the past or speculate on a future use of something (nngroup, 2010).

You want to find out about people’s struggles and delights. Make interviewees recall specific critical incidents. This may be pain points or moments of pleasure. They help you reveal what lies beneath them.

Semi-structured vs. structured interviews

I am not fully going into details, but there are various types of interviews. This article refers to semi-structured interviews, but it can be applied to other interview types, too.

Structured interviews have a rigorous set of questions which do not allow one to divert. Semi-structured interviews on the other hand are more open. They allow new ideas to be brought up during the interview as a result of what the interviewee says (Wikipedia).

Be aware that user interviews are only one research method among many others. Check out this great overview of other design research techniques.

It’s about the interview experience

I recently bumped into Swiss documentary film maker Paul Riniker (Link to Wikipedia entry – German only). He’s produced over 70 documentaries, he’s been a journalist, and he’s been lecturing for more than 20 years. A thing he told me over a beer struck me:

"I don’t interview people. I have conversations with them (Paul Riniker)."

Whether you call it an interview (I’ll keep referring to it that way) or a conversation, conducting interviews is about providing an experience to the person you want to learn from.

Getting this experience right is crucial to making your interviewee feel comfortable and to getting the most out of it.

Interview team setup

From my experience, it is best to conduct an interview accompanied by a partner. First of all, facilitating and leading the interview becomes easier. Secondly, sharing each other’s thoughts and impressions after the interview provides another perspective.

Sometimes, there are other stakeholders taking part in an interview. This can be valuable to get them involved. Make sure that there are not too many people attending. This can be intimidating for the interviewee. Also, make sure they remain in the background and hold potential questions to the end of the interview.

If you do not have anyone to assist you, record the interview. Paying full attention to your interviewee and taking notes at the same time is challenging. Furthermore, your attention to the interviewee dwindles.

Interview user journey

An interview is like a user journey in three phases:

  1. Pre-Interview & On-Boarding
  2. Interview
  3. Post-Interview & Off-Boarding

You could extend this and add more phases or touch points over the entire experience.

1. Pre-Interview & On-Boarding

Once you have recruited interviewees, instruct them and provide a smooth onboarding process.

Furthermore, you want to have a written interview guide prepared. It serves as a guideline to ensure the consistency throughout your interview process. This is especially valuable if different people conduct user interviews.

As you do in an agile process, it helps to do test-interviews, practice and iterate your interview guide.

2. Interview

Provide a more formal and transparent introduction once both parties have made themselves comfortable. Then, start with the actual interview questions.

2.1. Introduction to the user interviews

An introduction could include the following components. Apply the bullets in the order that suits your flow:

Here is an example script for a potential introduction:

Interview structure & content blocks

I usually structure my interviews in three parts:

2.3. User Interviews questions: DO’s and DON’Ts

Here is a list of things you should take into account when you ask interview questions:

Using a visual card sort to find out about people’s sentiments towards different donation methods

Using a visual card sort to find out about people’s sentiments towards different donation methods – img/illu/project credits to Manish KC, Radina Doneva, Laura Morley, Shirley Sarker. Illustrations by Laura Morley

Off-Boarding & Post-Interview

After the interview, thank your interviewees again for taking their time and point out the value of their presence.

Engage them in some casual small talk once again before you see them off. This might give you the chance to get some extra information.

Do a follow-up with your peers and start downloading and sharing your findings while they are still fresh. It is helpful to use color-coded Post-it®s with different categories such as:

An interview download to happen right after the interview using different colors.

An interview download to happen right after the interview using different colors.

One general rule to that (also check out these 5 pro tps for using post-its by Davis Levine):

One thought per post-it

Last but not least, send a follow-up message to your interviewees. Say THANK YOU again and let them know they can always connect back to you.

That’s it… You are done!


User interviews are a powerful tool to generate insights and help you evaluate and hopefully solve a problem.

"You wanna learn from your interviewees and not the other way around."

This article was originally published on Dan's Medium page.

Thanks for the support and collab on this article Davis Levine, Daniel T Santos, Manuela Miksa, Tamar Hächler, Adrian Zumbrunnen.

This post is based on my personal professional experience and additional learnings gained at Hyper Island and via collaborating with IDEO’s Matt Cooper-Wright.

Further reading:

Design and prototyping for everyone

Sign up to the Newsletter

Get notified of the latest product updates and news at Marvel.

Design and prototyping for everyone

Design and prototyping for everyone

Thousands of individuals and teams use Marvel to design and prototype ideas.

Get Started, it's Free!

After finishing a Digital Experience Design Master’s programme at Hyper Island, Dan is joining Swiss agency, Hinderling Volkart, as Experience Director UX. He teaches as a part-time lecturer and for almost ten years, has held positions in the digital field at agencies such as Jung von Matt/Limmat, Publicis and Scholz & Friends.

Related Posts

Spending the time and energy to properly define how an end-product should look and behave is an absolute must. By dedicating time on this step you can help save time, money, and other resources further down the line; and using wireframes is a great way to do this! Wireframes are seen as the skeleton of a prototype. With a wireframe,… Read More →

Starting a project can be a daunting feat for even the most skilled designer, it’s a time consuming and often difficult task. Having had the ‘light bulb’ moment but knowing what to do with it can be tricky. While creating products is a continuous process, the design process can help you test and validate the effectiveness of an initial idea…. Read More →

Over the last decade, organisations and big business brands feel closer than ever before. You can now get a personal response in minutes from some of the biggest companies in the world by messaging their team on socials. And listening to user feedback isn’t where the company-user interactions end. Today more than 50% of Fortune 500 Companies have made co-creation… Read More →