Skip to main content

Try Qualtrics for free

Free Account

User interviews: definition, questions and analysis

26 min read
What do your users need — and how should you engage with them? Here we explain how you can get to know your users, and their expectations of your products and services, with our complete guide to user interviews.


When you need to get user feedback quickly and efficiently, whether to improve a product or service, or help bring-to-market a new solution, one of the most effective methods is user interviews.

With user interviews, you can learn about how prospects and customers perceive your product or service, as well as its usability, and discover key insights that can help you make what you do (at every stage of the journey) better.

Let’s talk a bit more about user interviews in detail.

What are user interviews?

User interviews are qualitative, UX research methods designed to better understand those who interact with your company, products, or services.

Researchers will select and interview one user (a target audience member who interacts with your company to achieve their goals) and find out about their views on a topic by asking questions and recording the responses.

Unlike focus groups, research interviews are one-to-one and can take place in person, over a video call, or via a telephone call.

User interviews can be used to find out about:

As well as the above, the interview questions can explore a user’s immediate reaction to a stimulus or gain their reasoning as to why they would act in a certain way.

And by taking a semi-structured or structured approach to user interviews, researchers can quickly and easily obtain user experience insights to help improve products and services.

It’s all about designing great experiences.

What types of user research can you do?

There are two types of user research:

  1. Qualitative research: Interviewers collect non-numerical data through open questions and face-to-face interactions. This kind of research provides emotional or experience data (X data) that can be used to explain a user’s emotional decisions and how they perceive the company.
  2. Quantitative research: Interviewers use numerical data from sources that collect information over time and convert it into datasets or closed questions on a demographic survey. This kind of research provides economical or operational data (O data) like user demographic metrics and historical census reports.

Both types of data are useful for supporting business decisions and UX research — as long as you follow best practices.

Qualitative research provides answers to the thinking behind user decisions and explains ‘why’ users behave in a certain way.

Quantitative research can tell you about a user’s past activities and ‘what’ happened.

One can support the other – quantitative data provides context to qualitative experience information, while qualitative data provides meaning to the fact-driven findings of quantitative research.

Why conduct user interviews?

As user interviews give critical insight into what your prospects and customers think about your product, service, website, or any other element of your company, they can be a great way to improve the overall user experience.

User interviews are used for several reasons:

  • They provide general insights about what a user thinks about your products or services, giving your company information as to why users connect or don’t connect with your brand.
  • The information you gain about a user can be placed into your marketing personas or user journey mapping models for better user engagement planning.
  • You can investigate how a user will react to a new product change or a solution to a known problem, which can give development teams the confidence to move ahead with designs.
  • By getting user feedback, you get the users’ perspective on your product or service and ensure that they meet the user’s needs.
  • The insights from analysing user responses can help management to approve business decisions, as they understand the views of the user.

Want to go even further with your user experience and step into your customers’ shoes? Check out our ultimate guide.

What are the advantages of user interviews?

As well as the points mentioned above, the main benefits of using user interviews as a user research method are that these interviews can be quick and cheap to do.

Using digital tools and end-to-end software, data can be collected and analysed using integrated dashboards, helping researchers to keep organised and find results faster. New data can be uploaded in real-time to help guide new strategies and changes, resulting in a proactive — not reactive approach to user experience.

Not sure what UX research tools to use? We’ve compiled 10 of the best

Lastly, user interviews are simple to conduct. Whether they are structured interviews or semi-structured interviews, all that needs to be done is form questions ahead of time, interview a user and record their answers. No special training is required.

What are the disadvantages of user interviews?

Interviewers need to be able to remember and recall user answers accurately to understand the attitudinal information being received. However, researchers may recall an answer incorrectly, which could impact the accuracy of the result.

Bias is another challenge in face-to-face interviews. As the user is aware of the researcher’s presence, they could feel embarrassed or decide to be agreeable in their answers, leading to acquiescence bias. Likewise, the interviewer can also interpret answers and bias their own recall.

If interviewers make notes during the interview, their attention will be diverted and they could miss some vital user insights. The jotting down of notes could distract the user or make them feel uncomfortable speaking.

Asking users about their thoughts on how a product can be used in the future is also fruitless as it asks the user to speculate beyond their knowledge. The same is true for design questions about a product or service. Users are not familiar with design processes so their responses won’t give accurate reasons why a design should be changed from one version to another. In these cases, watching the user’s behaviour with a designed solution will help researchers understand if the new design worked.

Sample size is also limited to the size of your interviewing staff, the area in which interviews are conducted and the number of qualified respondents in the area. You may have to conduct your interview across multiple areas to get the quantity and quality of data you are looking for.

When do you conduct user interviews? Where in the research process?

There are many times when user interviews can be useful for internal research, marketing, and development teams. Usually, these opportunities are early on in the development cycle for a product or service, though they can be used at every point in the journey.

For example, if they’re used at the beginning of a project, they can help teams understand the user’s perspective of their thoughts, behaviour, and desires.

On the other hand, if done during product development, user interviews can give answers that could help the creation of a new product idea, help improve current product designs or solve bad user experiences.

Check out our guide on idea screening and product concept testing if you want to see what resonates with your audience.

How do you conduct a user interview?

There are three stages to consider when conducting a user interview:

  • Before the user interview
  • During the user interview
  • At the end of the user interview

1. Before the user interview

You’ve decided to conduct a user interview to help you hear more about what your users think of your product or service. How do you begin?

  • Define what you want to achieve in the user interview

What is the overall purpose of the research, and what will help you feel you have met that by the end of the user interview?

  • Consider if you need an additional interviewer in the room

Having an extra person can help spread the workload. One person can interview the user and the other can take notes. This can also provide a nervous interviewer with additional support at the time of the interview.

  • Target the users you want to interview in advance, and ensure you have consent to record their answers.

This could be consent to be interviewed, recorded, and for use of their opinions. Missing this step can slow down the analysis of the answers.

  • Prepare your interview questions

You must get the questions right before the user interview. See our ‘How to write questions for a user interview?’ section for more information.

  • Prepare a list of follow-up questions and alternative format questions that ask for the same information.

If you’re worried about not getting the right information from the user, a series of follow-up questions or alternative questions that ask the same question can help you discover more information without making the user feel uncomfortable.

  • Decide your formality level for the interview

Having a completely structured interview stick to a rigid script and don’t allow for more conversation or digressions onto related topics. The opposite is unstructured interviews, which don’t have a script and take a natural conversation format. However, there’s a chance you won’t collect the information you want.

We recommend sticking to a semi-formal structure that uses structured questions, but the interviewer still has the freedom to ask follow-up questions and probe into answers further.

2. During the user interview

Here is a list of things to consider for when you start the interview:

  • Welcome the interviewee

Introduce yourself and give the interviewee an overview of what the research is for, how it will be used, and their role in the process. Not only does this help start building rapport between you, but it is also polite and gives reassurance to a nervous user who may not feel comfortable just yet.

  • Start with easier questions

You can ask them about themselves and have a short conversation that is off-topic, or ask simple questions like ‘How old are you?’ Asking simple questions that have an easy answer will give interviewees the confidence to continue in the interview, and help them relax into the interview.

  • As you ask questions, ask follow-up questions

If what the user said is interesting, feel free to ask more questions about the answer to see whether it gives you more useful information. Likewise, if you didn’t understand the answer, ask the user to rephrase it or explain it to you further.

  • Keep positive throughout the interview

It can be hard to do an interview when you or the interviewee is uncomfortable. It’s important to keep a positive attitude about the interview and use open body language and gestures. Also, don’t feel obliged to pill in pauses or silence. If you are giving your best impression, the user will respond in kind and give you a positive interview experience.

3. At the end of the user interview

  • Wrap up the interview

Tell the user about what the next steps are and how their data will be used. Then, ask them if they have any questions that you can help answer for them. Most importantly, thank the interviewee for their time and taking part.

Best practice interviewer tips for conducting the interview

If you’re okay with the process and plan, but you’re a bit concerned about how you can make a user interview effective and be a good interviewer, we have some tips that can help:

Engage with your interviewee

Make eye contact, nod, and give verbal cues like ‘Yes’ and ‘I understand’ so that the interviewee knows that you’re listening to them and engaged.

Give the user being interviewed space to finish their thoughts before you move on, interrupt or change the topic

Rushing the user will make them feel unappreciated and a burden. Instead, allow them to take their time, be patient and listen to what’s being said. You can always book more time for another session.

Ask neutral questions

By asking neutral questions, you are avoiding adding additional information into the question that could sway the interviewee’s response. Leading questions are examples of bias that assume you agree with a position or opinion to answer. These can be uncomfortable for the interviewee and won’t provide you with honest and clear answers.

Make notes about how the user responds as well as what they say

In addition to noting down the answers that users give, you can also note what they’re doing (descriptive), how they outwardly appear when answering (inferential), and whether they infer a judgment (evaluative).

Treat the interview as a conversation if you’re nervous

If you’re worried about the semi-formal format of the interview, you can return to a friendly tone and aim to have a conversation with them. In this conversation, it’s likely that the answers you need will still come out.

Still not convinced of the power of merging user research and data science to gain rich insights and fuel product/service decisions? Check out this case study.

How do you write good user interview questions?

In preparing the user question list, here are some useful dos and don’ts or best practices:

Do:

  • Make the questions with your research goal in mind

If you’re looking for insights into the user experience of a new mobile cooking recipe app, for example, ask questions about the user’s experience of cooking, how they use apps to help them cook, and where they get their recipes from.

  • Give your questions to another team member to look for errors or misunderstandings

Is the question phrased in the best way for the user to understand what they are answering? The team member can also provide their thoughts on the grouping or order of questions to get the maximum amount of information.

  • Include a list of follow-on questions that carry on the line of questioning into a theme or topic

These questions can be used if you get stuck while asking questions or to prepare you so that you don’t have to think on your feet. In constructing these questions, think of the responses you’re likely to receive and how you can probe deeper for each one.

  • Ask for one piece of information in each question

Combining multiple questions into multi-clause questions (like ‘What is your experience of this toy, and if it was bad, what could make it better?’) can be confusing for the user and you may not get enough information back that answers each part sufficiently. Instead, use follow-up questions to delve deeper.

  • Create extra questions

Some users may speak fast or have little to offer to some of your questions, which means that you run through the original questions quickly. It’s always better to have some spare questions ready to ask or to review your notes and take time to learn more about responses that interest you.

Don’t:

  • Create a vague question that does not ask for a clear answer or use the same questions continuously

Asking ‘How was your experience of that?’ can be tiring and monotonous after the first few instances. Keep your user engaged by varying question formats and asking for the right information the first time.

  • Forget to practice

Conducting an interview is hard. There is a lot to do and you must be on alert throughout the experience. If you’ve never done an interview, take some time to run through your interview stages and say the words out loud. You can see where you may need support or more work to make sure you keep to interview times and connect with your user.

  • Feel you have to stick to the questions you have created

Having a set of predefined questions (or a structured interview) ensures that you don’t miss a line of questioning that would help you reach your research goal. However, don’t feel confined by the questions and not ask any of your own. You can never know what information may come up, and being flexible with your time and questions can gain you insights that you haven’t considered before.

  • Use closed questions

Limit the use of closed questions that can only be answered with ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ responses as we want the user to open up about their experiences. Begin your questions with who, what, when, where, why, and how to encourage feedback. (You can use shorter closed questions that focus on small-talk at the beginning of the interview to create a rapport with the user. For example, asking ‘Did you have to travel far?’ at the start.)

  • Don’t directly ask users what they want –

Chuck Liu, Head of User Research at Chime said that users don’t know what is possible when they’re asked what they want in an experience. Instead, Chuck said there were three better questions to ask:

  • What are you trying to get done? (Gather context)
  • How do you currently do this? (Analyse workflow)
  • What could be better about how you do this? (Find opportunities)

In addition to the three Chuck shared, here are some more questions you may want to use:

  • When talking about [a topic], what habits do you have?
  • What would make [this process/product] better?
  • How did you find this experience?
  • What is your favourite part about [this product]?
  • How would this [product/service] benefit you daily?
  • What was the hardest part of using [product/service]?
  • What did you enjoy interacting with?
  • What product(s) or service(s) do you use frequently?
  • Why did you use the [product] in that way?
  • Where do you see yourself using this [product/service]?
  • What would stop you from using this [product/service]?

Where do you conduct a user interview?

The environment of the interview room can set the tone for the rest of the interview. If you were being interviewed, you’d like to be in a comfortable, warm, and inviting environment that is semi-formal in appearance where you can relax.

Whether the interview is in your office, in a rented space, in the user’s own environment, or in public, choosing the right environment can help you have a good user interview. Here are some considerations to remember when choosing your location:

  • Is the space comfortable?

Is there access to a toilet and heating? Can you spend an hour sitting comfortably? Can you provide a glass of water or tea as a refreshment?

  • Is the location convenient for your target users?

If your user is vulnerable or unable to commute to the interview location easily, this will delay the interview process and may prevent you from getting the information you need from your target audience.

  • Is the location a brand-neutral zone?

If your location shows favouritism to a particular brand or company, it can unconsciously bias the interviewee, who may feel more inclined to favour the brand in their answers also.

If users are remotely being interviewed, consider whether technology would be a challenge for them and what the best communication method is for carrying out the interview.

How do you analyse user interview data?

After the interview with your user, you’ll have a lot of qualitative notes and these will need capturing and organizing in a central location.

Once you have the information stored, you can start considering what the information tells you, by following these steps:

  1. Consolidate your notes (descriptive, inferential, and evaluative) in one place. Fill in any gaps and order the information so that it is grouped by theme or question.
  2. Look through the results and see if there are common threads of user experience. Ask yourself what this tells you about the user’s profile, and what that could mean for your marketing personas.
  3. Pull out key quotes that can help describe what issues or experiences the user is facing, as these can be used as evidence in stakeholder conversations.
  4. Use semantic content analysis to understand the emotional drivers and language choices in the responses.
  5. Create keyword clouds or mind maps to help you visualise the information and common words. This could help you identify themes or trends faster.
  6. What actions can you take away from the feedback that could help improve the product or service offering?

After this initial stage, you can start thinking about:

  • Combining this data with other user data

This can help you compare, validate, and support user trends or provide evidence of issues to resolve. With more data sets, you may want to consider using a spreadsheet or an integrated technology platform that can handle text and sentiment analysis for you.

  • Investigating the data further with more research

If your user interview has identified areas of poor customer satisfaction or poor user journeys, then following up with a customer satisfaction survey (or usability testing or user journey map), can help develop these insights into actions.

  • Visualising your data into charts and reports

These can be stakeholder-friendly methods for sharing results and allow a smooth transfer of knowledge to interested parties.

What is the difference between user interviews and usability testing?

Researchers may confuse a user interview with usability testing, as both of these research methods have a focus on the user, however, there are some key differences that make these two methods unique:

Usability testing involves a user interacting with a product or service to see how well it functions and solves their goals. By seeing the end user’s reaction to a product or service’s interface at the mid-to-end stages of the design and development cycle, the company can evaluate the user-friendliness of the system.

Based on this definition, a user interview can be on any topic and occurs at the early stages of user research, while a usability test requires a user to be involved in testing the design and function of the product or service.

Usability testing avoids bias as the user’s interactions are not influenced by an interviewer; instead, it’s based on observing the user’s actions. In a user interview, however, insights are reported directly from the user with the help of an interviewer asking questions.

This face-to-face continuous relationship between the user and the interviewer is kept to a minimum during a usability test, while a user interview relies on the rapport built between the two people to create trust and openness.

Lastly, and most importantly, usability tests are best used to evaluate whether a design is useful and easy to interact with. This can be useful in understanding what design elements to improve or remove.

Get started with user interviews

No matter what kind of approach you want to take to your user interviews (both structured and semi-structured), we can help you to create and conduct sessions that capture the information you need, as well as provide the platform to analyse the data for your research projects.

Our survey software powers more than 1 billion surveys every year and is used by more than 11,000 top brands and 99 of the top 100 business schools. With it, you can get answers to your most important market, brand, customer, and product questions.

You can also use our intuitive survey design software (featuring powerful logic and more than 100 question types) to create the perfect questionnaires for user interviews.

It’s sophisticated, easy to use, and readily scalable. Get answers and insights from your audience — wherever they are — and turn that insight into action.

Start creating your own surveys today, for free, with our software. Get your free account here.

Start creating your own surveys today