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How to Conduct Successful User Interviews to Get the Information You Need

When you solve a problem or create a solution, there will more than likely be someone on the other end of it.

1. If you design a pair of glasses, there will be someone who wears them daily.

2. If you design a training course, there will be attendees that will experience it.

3. When you deliver a speech, there will be people listening.

So, how do you make sure that what you design is useful for your end-user?

When done well, interviews are a great way to obtain a deep understanding of your user. You will be able to solve problems based on a close and empathetic observation of who your user is and build the solution around their needs.

"Interviews create connections between builders and customers. It makes the problems tangible and human."
– Steve Portigal, Interviewing Users.

Before we get started, let’s define what a user interview is. “User interviews are where a researcher asks questions of, and records responses from, users.” (Interaction Design Foundation, 2017). They are a great way to obtain the information that you need from your user and in turn will enable you to gain a sense of empathy and a deep understanding for their situation. When you have insight into your user, you are able to design a solution that aligns with their needs.

Now let’s look at some tips for conducting a successful user interview.

1. Build Rapport

Before you begin to obtain an understanding of your end-user, it is useful to build an element of rapport with them. By building rapport, you will encourage your user to share their honest insights with you and you will therefore have better insight into their thoughts and day to day life.

Here are some tips to build rapport:

1. Thank them for sharing their experiences with you (Interaction Design Foundation, 2017).

2. Be non-judgemental – there is no right or wrong answer, only experiences in the eyes of the user.

3. Try to dress in a similar manner to them. You don’t want to show up in a suit if they are wearing casual clothes. This could make them feel like they are in a formal interview and may affect their behaviour and in turn the extent of information that they share with you (Interaction Design Foundation, 2017).

2. Take Notes

When you are interviewing your user and observing them in their environment, be sure to take notes. These notes will assist you when you need to recall the information that you gathered.

Your notes can be descriptive, inferential or evaluative in nature (Danzico, 2010).

Descriptive notes: “See something and write it down” (Danzico, 2010).

Inferential notes: “Use inference to describe your observation” (for example “she was inspired about X") (Danzico, 2010).

Evaluative notes: “Make a judgement from inference and behaviour” (for example “the employees here do not have a positive relationship with X") (Danzico, 2010).

3. Have an Interview Sidekick

When you are interviewing it is extremely useful to have a trusty sidekick. While one of you is interviewing the user and guiding them through the process, the second one can take notes (Interaction Design Foundation, 2017). This enables you to take quality notes whilst also providing your undivided attention to the interviewee.

Tip: If you are the only one interviewing, ensure that you have a voice recorder handy to capture what happens (Henry Ford Learning Institute, 2009).

4. Open Versus Closed Questioning

Use a mixture of open and closed questions to enable you to obtain a variety of information from your user.

Closed questions are useful if you require a yes/no answer to a question. They provide you with limited answers, and therefore tighter statistics (Farrell, 2016). An example of a closed question is “Do you agree with the way bullying and harassment claims are handled here?”. If you ask this question you may just receive a yes/no answer from your user.

If you use an open question you will obtain more of an explanation from your user. For example, an open question would be “How do you feel about how bullying and harassment claims are handled here?”. This will encourage the user to provide you with their opinion as well as an explanation for the reasons why. In turn, this will provide you with a deeper understanding of their thoughts and experiences.

Whilst it is good to use a mixture of open and closed questions, open questions provide you with more detailed information and will better support you to understand your user (Farrell, 2016).

5. Be Curious

When the user is telling you their stories and explaining their day-to-day experiences, it is easy to make assumptions as to why. Be curious throughout the process and prompt your user to explain the reasoning behind their thinking/experiences (Henry Ford Learning Institute, 2009). You may be surprised by what answers they give you and it could potentially completely alter the information that you end up with.

6. Interview a Variety of Users

It is important to interview a variety of people within your target audience to avoid any biased data based on a limited amount of opinions (Henry Ford Learning Institute, 2009). If there are two sides to a problem, ensure to understand the viewpoint of each. For example, if you are designing a restaurant menu, you could interview both meat eaters and vegetarians to gain a full overview of your target audience.

We hope that these tips added value to you and we trust that they will support you to obtain important insights into your end-user. To design a solution that works for your user, you need to gain a deep understanding of who they are, what their experiences are, what they are motivated by and what challenges them. The interview process is a great way to achieve this. If you have any tips for how you interview and obtain information from your user, we would love to hear about it! Happy interviewing!

If you like this blog, you will like our Human-centred Design Playbook for instructional designers and learning and development practitioners. This will be the toolkit for the rest of your career. It enables you to use the principles of Human-centred Design to create effective learning experiences and solve business problems. Learn more here


Danzico, L. (2010). User Interview Techniques [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from

Farrell, S. (2016). Open-Ended vs. Closed-Ended Questions in User Research. Retrieved from

Henry Ford Learning Institute. (2009). Using Interviews in Design Thinking for Innovation Classes. Retrieved from https://dschool

Interaction Design Foundation. (2017). How to Conduct User Interviews. Retrieved from

Portigal, S. (2013). Interviewing Users. Rosenfeld Media.

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