User Interview Fundamentals

The 1 Line Description

Trends might uncover ‘what’ people’s behaviors are, but in order to know ‘why’ you have to ask them.

When to use it

During early stage discovery, and then at a regular frequency thereafter.

Key Ideas

The Fundamentals

The key to running effective interviews is by beginning with a solid understanding of why you need to talk to these particular individuals at this point in your process. Always have an outcome in mind and do not conduct interviews for the sake of it. The answer to this will be different for each concept, but a good place to start is to sit down as a team and address these points:


  1. What do we think we know?
  2. What do we think the problem might be?
  3. Who do we think is experiencing this?
  4. Why do we think these people are affected by this problem?


  1. What job is this product meant to do?
  2. Who do we think needs this?
  3. How do these people currently achieve this goal (if at all)?
  4. What are the main friction points in the current process?
In addressing these high level questions, you will be able to form a hypothesis to guide the structure and purpose of your interviews.

Nuts and Bolts

Asking the right questions

  1. Do not ask leading questions
  2. Leading question: Why do you hate your mother in law?
  3. Non-leading question: How do you feel about your mother in law?
  4. Use ‘how’ questions wherever possible
  5. ‘What’ questions often lead to simple/one word answers
  6. ‘Do’ questions often lead to yes/no answers
  7. Try to ask only what is absolutely necessary
  8. Prompt for more detail with simple ‘whys’ or ‘hows’
  9. You should be doing very little talking
  10. Think very carefully about how you order your questions in an interview plan
  11. Try imagining how you might answer the questions, and order them in the most natural way possible
  12. Allow your questions and plan to adjust as necessary based on learnings from each interview

The environment

  1. Avoid taking notes on a computer, it’s alienating
  2. If possible, have two team members in the interview
  3. One should focus on conducting the interview
  4. The other should be taking notes with pen and paper
  5. The setting should be as comfortable as possible
  6. Avoid rooms with lots of noise and distractions
  7. In person is always better.
  8. It creates a connection and sense of ease between interviewer and participant
  9. You get behavioural data - including body language and facial expressions

The Output

Tagging key takeaways at the end of each interview will make it easier to identify the overarching themes across all of your participants when you’ve finished conducting interviews.

Ultimately, the qualitative data you collect and the themes that this data reveals will be used to address your hypothesis. If you’ve asked the right questions, and chosen the right people as participants, this hypothesis will be either validated or disproven.