User Interviews

User Interviews

Interviews should be a part of any substantial project. It is important to distinguish between stakeholder interviews and user interviews:

  • Stakeholder interviews are conducted with people in role who do not use a product but nevertheless have an interest in the product’s success.
  • Users are people who interact with a product and access its information or functionality in order to pursue their own goals.

Stakeholder’ and users’ goals are often different. For example, an academic department may view its website as a way to announce news and events whereas its users may be primarily interested in requirements for their major (or vice versa). User interviews are a way to maintain objectivity and ensure that sites and applications will help users meet their needs.

Types of interviews

Interviews may have different levels of structure. More structured interviews follow a strict set of questions, and may not allow for follow up questions or digressions. Such interviews tend to be easier to conduct and get more consistent data, as all interviewees are answering the same questions. However, they may miss out on important insights by not following promising tangents.

More unstructured interviews are more conversational, and rely less following a fixed script. These kinds of interviews have the freedom to pursue issues raised by the interviewee that the interviewer may not have thought of, but the data across interviewees tends to be less consistent. Unstructured interviews are often incredibly challenging, though doing them in pairs may help in consistency.

Interviews may also be structured more as observations of interviewees completing routine tasks within their own environment. In such cases, the interviewer prepares almost no questions, and does not seek to guide the interviewee. By observing the interviewee and asking questions why and how they do things, the interviewer can get a very authentic sense of the goals that website users have, the tasks they complete, and the challenges they create.

Interview Best Practices

Interviewers should get consent from interviewees to be interviewed, and to protect their privacy. Interviewees may offer candid opinions and personal information in an interview. Those kind of information can provide valuable insight, but particulars should not be traceable back to individuals. Raw interview transcripts or recordings should shared with as few people as is feasible (often no one beyond the interviewer herself), and should never be shared with a client. Consent can be best gained through signing a form given to the interviewee before the interview. The scope of the privacy assurances should be reviewed both in the consent form and when beginning the interview.

  • Interviews should be done at the beginning of a project, before any design has taken place. The insights gathered from the interviews should drive all other design decisions.
  • Regardless how structured the interviewed is, it is always best to write a protocol of question and follow up prompts. Test these questions with colleagues as part of a practice interview before conducting actual interviews.
  • If a website or application has many audiences, be sure to get interviewees from each. 

Further Reading