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Mastering User Interviews: a Practical Guide for UX Professionals

In this article, we explain what in-depth interviews are, what role they play within UX research and how to get started.

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What is a user interview?

User interviews are a research method in which the researcher conducts one-on-one interviews with respondents or test users from the target audience. The aim is to obtain in-depth information and insights about their needs, experiences, attitudes and behaviour. Unlike standardised questionnaires or surveys, in-depth interviews offer the opportunity to retrieve richer data by delving deeper into respondents' experiences and perspectives.

Importance of empathy and empathy when conducting in-depth interviews

It is important to note that data quality depends on how the interviewer or researcher acts during the interview. For instance, it is important that interviewer shows empathy and empathy, thus creating a confidential and open atmosphere so that respondents feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and experiences. The ability to listen carefully, ask through and pick up on non-verbal cues contributes to gaining valuable insights during the interview.

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Advantages and disadvantages of user interviews

A wide range of research techniques are used within UX research. In-depth interviews are an important part of UX research. Below, we have listed the biggest advantages of in-depth interviews:

  • In-depth insights. In-depth interviews allow researchers to gain in-depth and detailed insights about respondents' experiences, thoughts, feelings and needs. Through open and unstructured interviews, richer information is often gained compared to other research methods.
  • Flexibility and adaptability. In-depth interviews offer flexibility in terms of interview structure and can be adapted to the individual respondent. The interviewer can respond to the respondent's answers and ask deeper questions to gain a fuller understanding.
  • Contextual insights. In-depth interviews allow researchers to gain insights into the context in which users interact with a product, service or website. By exploring respondents' personal backgrounds, experiences and environments, in-depth interviews can provide rich and contextual information. This allows companies to better address the needs and wants of the target audience during the development process.

As with any research method, there are also drawbacks to conducting in-depth interviews. We have listed these for you below:

  • Time-intensive. In-depth interviews usually require more time and resources compared to, say, sending out a questionnaire. This can be overcome by conducting the interviews online and using a platform such as User Sense that takes most of the preparatory work around recruiting respondents out of your hands.
  • Limited sample size. Due to the intensive nature of in-depth interviews and the need for in-depth interactions with respondents, the sample size can be limited. As a result, it is often not possible to generalise results. Expanding the sample through user testingfocus groups or questionnaires may be of interest.

When do you conduct user interviews?

In-depth interviews can be used at different points in the development process. At User Sense, we distinguish three phases in the development process. You can read more about them here.

Discovery phase

In-depth interviews are particularly suitable in situations where you want to gain in-depth insights and a deeper understanding of user needs and experiences. They are especially valuable in the exploratory phase of UX research, when you are laying the groundwork for designing a new user experience. In this phase, in-depth interviews help to identify users' needs, goals and pain points.

Validation phase

In addition, in-depth interviews can also be relevant during the validation phase, when you want to test and verify specific aspects or functionalities of a design. By collecting direct feedback from users, you can validate design principles and identify any problems early on.

Optimisation phase

Finally, in-depth interviews can also be useful in the optimisation phase, where you want to improve existing designs. By conducting in-depth interviews with current users, you can gather valuable insights on what works and does not work in the current design, and generate ideas for improvements.

Combining with other UX techniques

It is worth noting here that combining different research techniques almost always helps to obtain a more complete picture. Therefore, consider conducting focus groupsuser tests or deploying questionnaires to validate assumptions and be able to generalise findings.

Recruiting respondents for in-depth interviews

Recruiting respondents for in-depth interviews often takes more time than estimated beforehand. In practice, it often turns out to be difficult to get respondents from the target group willing to participate, and a lot of time is spent communicating with the respondents. This is particularly the case when in-depth interviews are conducted on location.

We therefore recommend our clients to conduct in-depth interviews online. This not only makes it easier to recruit respondents, but also allows the survey to be conducted faster. Read more about recruiting respondents here.

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Writing an effective interview guide

Writing a well-structured and effective interview guide is crucial to ensure you can answer the research questions. Download for free our sample questionnaire for an interview you could conduct during a concept study. Below, we have listed some things for you for when you get started drafting an interview guide yourself:

Purpose and structure of an interview guide
An interview guide is a document that guides the interviewer during the interview process. It serves as a guide to ensure that all relevant topics are covered and that in-depth information is obtained. Of course, the interview guide should be designed in such a way that the main and sub-questions of the study can be answered. It is also important that the questions are clearly formulated and the flow is logical so that the interview runs smoothly and respondents do not get confused.

Formulating open-ended questions and avoiding suggestive questions
Open-ended questions are essential in in-depth interviews as they allow respondents to speak freely and share their thoughts and experiences. Avoid asking suggestive questions that may influence respondents' answers. Instead, ask questions that start with words like "how", "what" and "why" to encourage comprehensive and detailed answers.

Including questions about specific UX elements and user behaviour
Although not a requirement, asking questions about specific UX elements and user behaviour can add value in the development process. This could include questions about the user interface, navigation, interactions, emotional reactions and other relevant aspects of the user experience. Make sure you ask questions that fit your research goal and make sure you have a good delineation.

In-depth interview example questions

To prevent the questions from influencing the results of the study, you want to ask interview questions that are clear and non-directive. Here are five examples of depth interview questions that are clear and non-directive:

Sample question: Can you tell me about your experience with [product/website/service] and how you used it?
This question encourages the respondent to talk freely about their experience without guidance or bias.

Sample question: How would you describe the process you followed in making decisions about [specific feature/functionality] within the product?
This question invites the respondent to share their thought process and decision-making, without influencing their answer.

Sample question: What are some challenges you experienced while using [product/website/service] and how did you deal with them?
This question encourages the respondent to talk openly about any obstacles they encountered, without suggesting how they should have dealt with them.

Sample question: What do you value most about [product/website/service] and why?
This question encourages the respondent to share and name positive aspects that they personally find important, without directing them to specific answers.

Sample question: Can you give me a specific example of a time when [product/website/service] exceeded your expectations? If so, what made it so special?
This question asks the respondent to describe a specific situation in which they were positively surprised by the product, without suggesting what that specific moment should be.

Tips for moderating in-depth interviews

It is important to be aware of the fact that the person conducting the interview - also called moderating - can influence the research results. To avoid this, we share the tips below:

Tip 1: Create a relaxed and confidential atmosphere during the interview
It is important to create a comfortable environment in which the respondent feels at ease and can talk freely. Start the interview with a friendly and warm introduction to ease tension. Reassure the respondent that there are no right or wrong answers and that you are interested in their personal experiences and opinions.

Tip 2: Listening techniques and asking follow-up questions to gain in-depth insights
It sounds obvious, but listening to the respondent is very important during interviews. This shows that you are interested and understand them. Encourage respondents to answer at length by asking open-ended questions that invite deeper reflection. Ask follow-up questions to obtain more details and ask about specific examples or situations. This will help bring out deep insights and meaningful stories.

Tip 3: Dealing with different participant personalities
Each respondent is unique and may have a different personality. Some respondents can be outspoken and talkative, while others are more introverted and reserved. Adapt your moderation techniques based on the respondent's personality. Be patient, respectful and encourage all respondents to share their thoughts and experiences.

Tip 4: Dealing with sensitive topics
Sensitive topics or personal experiences may come up during an in-depth interview. Be empathetic and respectful when dealing with these topics. Give respondents space to express themselves and indicate that they only need to share things they are comfortable with.

Tip 5: Manage time effectively
In-depth interviews can sometimes take longer than planned, especially if respondents have a lot to share. It is important to manage time effectively so that you can gather enough information within the time limit. Be clear and assertive when directing the interview. Keep in mind that it is not a requirement to ask a question if the respondent has previously answered it.

Tip 6: Take notes during the interview
Take notes during the interview to capture important points, insights and quotes. This will help you maintain focus and keep track of key information. In the most ideal scenario, the notes are taken by a second person in the role of observer. This way, the person conducting the interview - the moderator - can fully focus on the conversation.

Tip 7: Be flexible and adapt
Every in-depth interview can go differently, depending on the respondent and the dynamics of the conversation. Be flexible and adapt when necessary. Sometimes it may be necessary to deviate from the interview guide to go deeper into interesting topics or explore new insights. Be open to unexpected twists and turns and stay alert for valuable information to emerge.

Analysing user interviews

To make analysing in-depth interviews as easy as possible, it is important to have a well-thought-out plan for this beforehand. We have listed some tips for you below:

1 - Make sure you have good (video) recordings
To be able to do a good analysis, it is very important to be able to watch or listen to the interviews again. For this, you need permission from the respondent. Are you going to recruit respondents yourself? Make sure you communicate this in advance. If you have respondents recruited by User Sense, this is automatically set up properly.

2 - Make use of (automatic) transcription
Processing interviews from speech to text - also known as transcribing - takes a lot of time and effort. For instance, transcribing an hour of audio easily takes four to five hours of work. You can therefore use platforms that do this automatically. Do you conduct in-depth interviews via User Sense? Then we make transcriptions of all sessions available free of charge.

3 - Take structured notes
Think carefully beforehand about how you are going to take notes of the in-depth interviews. Here, it can help to add a hashtag (e.g. #painpoint) to each note, so you can easily filter by this afterwards.

4 - Identify patterns, themes and insights
Make sure all in-depth interviews have structured notes. Once you have done this, you can export all the notes into a CSV or Excel file. Using the different hashtags, you can then group the notes and identify patterns.

Sharing results after user interviews

Communicating and sharing research results is essential to expose as many stakeholders as possible to the added value of UX research.

1 - Share interview results in a clear format
Make sure you present research results in a clear and concise way so that they can be easily understood by different stakeholders. Make sure key findings and recommendations are clearly highlighted. Wondering how we do this? Download our free sample report.

2. Create a highlight video
Bring the results to life. Transform the most important fragments of the interviews into a highlight video that highlights the core of the research. Make sure the video is no longer than 10 minutes. You can do this using  our platform.

3. Presenting results from UX research
To prevent the results of your research from ending up in a drawer, it is advisable to present the results to the relevant stakeholders. Make sure you focus on the aspects that are most relevant to the stakeholders. Use the report and the highlight video to explain the results.

Step-by-step plan for conducting in-depth interview

  1. Preparation and planning. Define the purpose of the study and formulate specific research questions. Establish a realistic schedule and start recruiting respondents in time to avoid delays.
  2. Recruitment and selection of respondents. Define what criteria respondents should meet and on what basis you want to exclude respondents. Let User Sense help you with recruitment or start recruiting respondents yourself.
  3. Draw up an interview guide. Make an interview guide with relevant questions and topics. Make use of open-ended questions to gather as much input as possible and make sure you don't ask any guiding questions that could influence the survey results.
  4. Choose the right tool or location. Make sure you do an internal test run to make sure everything goes well on the day of the survey.
  5. Conduct in-depth interviews. Create a relaxed atmosphere and put the respondent at ease as much as possible. Ask open-ended questions, listen actively and ask follow-up questions to gain in-depth insights.
  6. Ensure good reporting. Make use of recordings to be able to review the results afterwards. Think in advance how you will take notes, so that you reap the benefits of this during the analysis.
  7. Data analysis and interpretation. Use automatic transcription or work through the interviews yourself. Infer patterns based on the transcription and the notes you took.
  8. Reporting and delivery. Make sure you feed back the results to stakeholders in a clear format and work with a highlight video to bring the results to life.

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