Designing User Interviews

Designing user interviews

Purpose Of the Guide

Understanding the people you are designing for is a paramount step in the design process, and so one way to achieve that is through conducting user interviews. This tutorial will help design thinkers to understand users’ experiences from their own point of view in terms of:

  • Why they use products in a certain way
  • How they feel about something
  • How they perform various actions

Background (Current Situation, Problem, and/or Opportunity)

Interviews can be a great way to empathize with your users because interviews can give you an in-depth understanding of the users’ values, perceptions, and experiences. They allow you to ask specific questions, while remaining open to exploring your participants’ points of view. They are also often combined with other user research methods, such as usability tests or surveys, so as to gain deeper insights into objective results by asking a user about them and to elicit the user’s subjective opinion on products or interactions.

Brief Overview Of Key Concepts

As the word implies, semi-structured interviews are somewhat structured in that you prepare a set of topics you would like to cover during the interview, but still open enough that you can follow leads in the conversation and change the order of topics.

This means you have an interview guide with the questions or themes that you want to talk to the user about, but you are free to change the order of questions or to explore different topics that may arise during the interview.

User interviews can be very informative and helpful, but only if they are used correctly and for the right things. It’s important to know what you can expect to get out of interviews and what you shouldn’t expect to get out of interviews.

User interviews can be conducted for the following reasons:

  1. Exploration-before a clear concept has been defined or before a major redesign.
  2. In combination with user tests and formal experiments
  3. In combination with observations

User Interview Requirements

A good interview requires preparation and careful consideration on the part of the interviewer. It’s important to be aware of how to ask questions and how to listen in order to gain valid insights into your participant’s life and experiences

How to Structure User Interviews

When you conduct a user interview, it is paramount to consider the best way of ordering questions. Below are some tips on what to ask in the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of a user interview.


In the beginning of the interview, you should ask opening questions to set people at ease and build rapport. You should not ask about sensitive topics. Instead, focus on setting the stage and bringing your interviewees on board so they’re comfortable enough to be, and remain, open with you. Your questions at this stage can include the following: Brief participants what topics will be covered Brief participants how their data will be used Asking “safe” questions such as what their role is in their organization Asking concrete questions that are easy to answer


In the middle of the interview, you’re hitting high gear. Having established a direct channel with your interviewees (the users), you move on and ask the bulk of your questions. The predetermined order of the questions may change based on the direction the conversation is taking. Some of the tips here include: Keep the flow of the conversation as natural as possible, but cover the topics you want to cover. Pick up on what participants have said earlier and get full replies to questions they have only partially answered. Steer participants back on track if they go too far off topic. Show that you have been listening.


At the end of the interview, you wrap up in a way that makes participants feel as though they have said what they wanted to say and that their answers are valuable.

Things you should do include:

  • Asking if there is anything participants would like to add.
  • Telling your participants what you are going to do with their data and what the value is for them.
  • Thanking them for taking the time to help with your research.