Interview users

Interviews help you learn more about users, how they use a service and what they need from it.

Interviews are an important research method throughout the entire service design and delivery process. Use interviews when you want to: 

  • learn how your service fits into the users’ life and when they need the service 
  • get a deeper understanding of the user pain points and problems 
  • explore the user perspective.

Who to include in the interview  

The interview team  

A note taker should be present for each session, you may also choose to include an optional observer.

To stay safe, make sure you have one other person in the room with you apart from the participant. 

Observers watch and listen. They are important for certain kinds of research, like lab-based usability testing. But think about how their presence may impact the participant. Consider the situation before you invite an observer in the room.

Number of participants 

You will typically interview 1 participant at a time. However, if you’re interviewing people that use a service together, it may be helpful to speak to them as a pair or in a small group.

For example, you might interview: 

  • family members who help each other 
  • members of a team who work together.

Interview length  

Interviews usually take between 30 minutes and 2 hours. The length depends on the complexity of the subject and the number of questions you have. 

Longer interviews will give you more detail, but they may make it harder to recruit participants. For long interviews, plan breaks to avoid fatigue or consider splitting the session. 

Location for research  

Interviews can take place almost anywhere. You should make sure the participants can access the location. They may need to know how to contact you for entry to the building or use a lift rather than stairs.

Example interview locations:  

  • a home or workplace 
  • over the phone 
  • a research studio 
  • a cafe 
  • a public library. 

Recruit research participants 

There are different ways to find people to participate in user research. Include current and future users of the service you’re researching. 

Prepare consent forms 

Before your interview goes ahead, make sure you have informed consent from the participants  

Think about whether you need to record the session. If you do, make sure the consent forms cover the recording. 

Send consent forms before the session, this gives people time to read and think about what they are consenting to. 

Structure the interview 

Plan your interview structure ahead of time and create a discussion guide to help you and other interviewers stay on track. This will help you and other interviews collect comparable information. Don't follow the discussion guide word for word, instead use it as a guide to stay on topic.

The discussion guide should include: 

  • introduction script, this tells the participant who you are, introduces the observer or note taker and explains the purpose of your research  
  • consent prompt, this reminds you to ask the participant for consent to talk to them and record 
  • planning checklists, this makes sure you have all the equipment and facilities you need on the day 
  • sort your questions by topic 
  • follow-up questions to learn more.

When you’ve created your discussion guide, test your questions and structure by practicing with a colleague, friend or family member. Revise any questions that aren’t clear and re-order your topics if the practice interview doesn’t flow well. 

Write the questions  

Work on questions with your team. Open ended questions encourage a full and detailed answer rather than a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

It can be good to start out with a few simple questions to get the participant talking and build rapport. For example, 'Tell us about you and your work?' 

Open questions usually start with ‘why’, ‘how’ or ‘what’.

Avoid confirmation bias

When writing your questions avoid confirmation bias. Confirmation bias happens when a question directs a participant toward a response that aligns to your pre-existing ideas, opinions or assumptions.

Good starter questions may include: 

  • 'How do you …' 
  • 'What are the different ways you …' 
  • 'What do you think about …' 

Plan follow up questions  

Make sure you understand what the participant has said. Use follow up questions if you’re unsure or would like more detail.  

Follow up questions can include: 

  • ‘You said … when/why/who was that?’ 
  • ‘Can you tell me more about …?’ 
  • ‘In what way …?’ 
  • ‘Could you elaborate on … to help me understand …?’ 

Get the most out of the interview 

During the interview make sure you really listen and show the participant you’re interest in what they’re saying. To get the most out of the interview:  

  • get there early and don’t leave the room during the session
  • be mindful of video and audio recordings and what you say during, before and after a session
  • keep your main questions in mind and let the conversation develop naturally by digging into new and interesting issues
  • take time to adjust to the participants conversation pace and style, don’t change the flow of the interview
  • be comfortable with silence
  • focus on stories and real examples, avoid generalities and talking about how things ‘should’ happen.
If a participant goes off topic wait for a natural break and gently bring them back to what you want to talk about.

Take notes 

Think about the specific things that the team needs to understand, including the goals or objectives of the research. 

Write down anything interesting or relevant that you see or hear during the session, incude: 

  • direct quotes, use quotation marks to show that this is what they said, not your interpretation 
  • behaviours and patterns, write ‘appear to’ or ‘seems’ so you know this is your observation 
  • design problems or pain points
  • ideas and suggestions or gains.

Use a single note for each observation and write exactly what you see or hear not what you think it means. This way, the notes will be unbiased and can represent the voice of the user. If you have recordings, make them available so people can confirm their observations and get verbatim quotes. 

Write down time stamps for anything important — this will make it easier to find this part of the recording. 

Completing the interview  

Once you’ve finished the interview, it’s a good idea to:  

  • thank the participant 
  • reconfirm consent 
  • make sure any personal information you’ve collected is stored securely, on paper or in recordings
  • use your planning checklist and pack away your equipment.