User Interviews: The MVP of UX Research Methods

User Interview

And the Interview Dos and Don’ts to Live By

As a UX research method, user interviews are incredibly versatile. You can combine them with other discovery methods and customize them to ensure you get the best results. Of all the tools in the designer’s belt, user interviews are the go-to, the staple, the place you start from and return to.

Interviewing users allows you to uncover new opportunities for design innovation by empathizing with them. Yes, empathy is a major driving force for a successful user interview process. But that doesn’t mean your only job is to become besties with the interviewee.

User interviews require balance and skill as making too many missteps will lead you into a discovery ditch. Fortunately, even if you don’t have any experience with user interviews, not all is lost.

So, let’s talk about user interview best practices and mistakes to avoid as you start creating the user journey map.

About THAT Henry Ford Quote…

You’d be hard-pressed to find an entrepreneur or an innovator who hasn’t, at one point or another, uttered the famous words of Henry Ford:

“If I asked the people what they wanted, they would’ve said a faster horse.”

Maybe we can agree that:

a) There’s no evidence that (the historically problematic) Henry Ford even said this.

b) It’s a loaded statement that holds a lot of assumptions.

c) Maybe it’s also kind of true?

Hold your horses (pun very much intended), we’re not saying throw your user interview questions out the window. However, we do want to acknowledge some limitations of user interviews, before explaining why we still love them very much.

👉 Firstly, user interviews provide self-reported data, and you have to take it at face value. Personal biases and attitudes are a part of the process. 

👉 Secondly, participants WILL leave out data. Even with effective probing, you might not be able to get all the information you could use. Also, some people are just more private than others.


👉 Thirdly, the quality of user interviews vastly depends on the skills and perception abilities of the interviewer. In theory, you could set yourself up for failure from the start.


👉 Lastly – it’s true that people are not always great at suggesting solutions. Hence, people got cars and not faster horses. Though 15-minute city advocates might argue that we didn’t need cars at all, but that’s a different debate.

Therefore, while the well-known quote offers an important perspective, it doesn’t cover one obvious truth which is:

People might not always have the solution, but they know what their problem is.  

If you’re on the fence about this, just imagine sitting across from your doctor and discussing the symptoms you’re experiencing. Perhaps as a patient, you can’t name the solutions, but if the physician asks you the right questions and listens, you’ll provide them with essential data.

Why You Shouldn’t Skip the User Interview 

During the continuous product discovery, product-building teams will use various toolkits and research methods. But they won’t use all of them all the time, and some have wider applications than others. 

When it comes to user interviews, the most obvious reason to include them in your discovery process is their potential to highlight the customers’ pain points. And that’s the vital element when considering future business decisions. 

A savvy product owner and their product-building team will take the lead from the users when working on improved customer experience.

However, there are a few other vital benefits of user interviews worth discussing.

👉 Through empathy, they help you develop trust with the users.

👉 By listening, they promote understanding of users’ needs.

👉 They can confirm (or identify a new) target audience.

👉 They can help the team stay inspired during continuous discovery.

Sometimes, user interviews yield practical and important answers you weren’t expecting. For example, by talking to the participants, your team may learn about changes in users’ vocabulary, and the development of some new lingo or “online speak” that can impact how you build your product.

How Not to Mess Up the User Interview

In all fairness, you’d have to try hard not to extract any value from talking to product users. But that’s a low bar to aspire to. You want to make the user interview a great experience, an exploration of the user’s mind and emotional state.

Typically, the user interview method contains three parts, the prep, the actual interview, and the post-interview analysis. 

How long each part is going to take depends on various factors, but the duration of the interview portion alone should be somewhere between 30-60 minutes. While the user profiles and interview questions will also vary depending on your projects, there are some commonalities worth keeping in mind. 

To ensure the interview is a positive encounter for both you and the interviewee, here’s a quick overview of the dos and don’ts to remember during each section of the research. 

The Prep: Dos and Don'ts 

It might be worth highlighting that the person (or a team) in charge of the interview should take the preparation seriously. It’s also important to come up with a discussion guide that applies to the project you’re working on. 

🙌 Do: Carefully choose the participants. Make sure you stick to the representative sample of the target audience and don’t overdo it with the number of people. Up to five is a great start. 

⛔️ Don’t: Forget to include the stakeholders. They can help you define the purpose and goal as you’re preparing to talk to the users directly. 

🙌 Do: Diversify your interview guide. It should contain warm-up questions, open-ended questions, meaty questions, and closing questions. 

⛔️ Don’t: Treat your discussion guide as a script. Before you begin, remind yourself to adapt to the ebbs and flows of the conversation while not losing track of the goal. 

🙌 Do: Take the time to create a great environment. Our surroundings impact how we feel, think, and act. You want the participants to feel pleasant and relaxed as the interview takes place. 

⛔️ Don’t: Do it all alone. It’s a common practice to include another person in the interviewing process. They can offer support and share some responsibilities like note-taking and offering follow-up questions. 

The Interview: Dos and Don’ts

Even experienced interviewees may feel jitters before talking to the participants. A feel-good productive discussion can deliver so much valuable information, after all. So, consider the following tips when talking to the interviewees. 

🙌 Do: Mind your mood. Try to remember to smile so the participant can feel at ease as you focus on the questions. A positive attitude radiating from you will likely spread onto others in the room. 

⛔️ Don’t: Get sidetracked and lose all interview structure. You might find you enjoy chatting with the interviewee, but that the answers they give aren’t providing any value.  

🙌 Do: Build rapport. In practice, this means referring to the participant by their name, offering them a beverage, explaining the purpose of the interview, and starting with ice-breaker questions regarding their hobbies or pets. 

⛔️ Don’t: Overshare. This can be tricky as a part of building rapport with someone also includes offering information about yourself. While it’s fine to include a few tidbits, don’t go into long rants about your favorite sports teams or the cost of living crisis. 

🙌 Do: Ask to record the interview. Many user interviews take place online these days, but regardless of whether they’re via Google Meet or in person, asking for permission to record is a good idea. If the participants agree, you can review the material and catch something you’ve missed. 

⛔️ Don’t: Assume you know the user. For example, both you and the interviewee may be on a fitness journey. Therefore, you may assume their motivations are the same as yours. In reality, each of you may have had different triggers and reasons to turn to fitness. 

Post Interview: Dos and Don’ts

It’s best not to wait too long before entering the user interview retrospective. As you go through that process, remember the following as well. 

🙌 Do: Organize and structure everything. You will likely deal with a lot of information so creating mind maps and topic-specific reports can help. 

⛔️ Don’t: Include ambiguous data. If the answers you’re analyzing offer contradictory information or topics only adjacent to your project, perhaps set them aside and consider scheduling a follow-up interview.


The Final Do and Don’t

User interviews are incredibly valuable in the continuous discovery process. But they may provide even more information when paired with surveys, diary studies, focus groups, and other research methods. 

So, DO keep in mind that they’re not a perfect tool, even though it’s a must in product building. 

And DON’T forget that as with any skill, conducting a user interview takes practice and is usually a joint effort. 

Product Design
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