What's the most important thing you've learned about conducting User Interviews?


I’m putting together a short course on conducting user interviews. If you had one thing to share with folks at the beginning of their research practices, what would it be?

The best pro-tip that I’ve ever gotten was to type your own notes during the interview sessions. Not only do you not have to go back and try to type everything up, but it created periods of silence in the interview that participants will often try to fill.


The one tip I’ve found most useful (I think it might be Chauncey Wilson’s) is to remember that it’s not a normal conversation. The social cues are different in an interview. In a normal conversation we tend to contribute to 50% or more of the discussion. In an interview your contribution to the conversation is more like 20% so resist the urge to talk more than your participant. And as you’ve alluded to some of that is learning to be silent and letting participants fill in the gaps.

The other tip I remember is that even though you’re extracting information it shouldn’t feel like a cross examination, so watch your tone and body language.


My biggest piece of advice is to make sure you have a solid research plan before talking to anyone. Here are the basic questions you and your team should be able to answer:

  • Why are you doing the research?
  • How will your research be used?
  • What is the participant criteria? (who are you talking to in order to gather this information)
  • How will your research be performed?
  • Who will be involved in the research?
  • When will the research take place?
  • Where will the research take place?

Here’s a more in depth post of you are interested: http://blog.handrailux.com/improve-ux-research-planning/


[This is an interesting story from the Atlantic about the use of analytics tools to measure employee engagement.]
It is fascinating that we can empower such tools and tons of data like emails to extract such insights. The lesson in the story is not that it can be done but whether the results will be put to good use in a timely manner. My PRO TIP is make sure that it is!


I got a new one recently. Instead of asking “do you have any questions?” at the end I now ask “what questions do you have?” and I get TONS more feedback than before. Brilliant!


that’s interesting because my top tip is the absolutely opposite. If you are writing you are not actively listening.

My tip is - learn the 7 stages of listening, and practice them every day. I still struggle a lot of the time, but being present is more important than whatever you need to do later.


I agree with keeping the frame of mind that this conversation is different than a normal conversation (as Daran said) though I also agree with the point about writing distracting from active listening (by avangelist).

In terms of note-taking, if I’m doing remote user interviews I’ll discreetly keep unstructured notes (jotting down keywords as we go) so I can go back and reference certain points once the user has finished their thought but usually I don’t take notes - especially if it’s in-person (which I admit can be a bit more cognitively tricky to manage).

I think the best tip I’ve learned (and one that I stress when training others) is to use silence as a tool. People tend to talk more when they’re slightly uncomfortable (even though it may be uncomfortable for the facilitator too), so those extra 3 seconds of silence after the user responds might elicit further clarification or additions that would otherwise we lost in the usual flow of dialogue. Same thing applies with broken questions - I find that people can’t resist filling in the blanks and pregnant pauses.


Wow! We love that broken question tip. Thank you


Learn to build rapport, and it starts at the door (especially if you’re personally greeting the participants from the start).

If you’re conducting research in other countries, learn their culture before you step into a session with them. For example, in the Philippines, I found out sessions go much smoother when participants were given snacks and drinks from the beginning, and you chat with them about their family/friends/kids before going into the specifics. In Singapore, they just want to get straight into it so you won’t waste their time, and then after the whole session when your recording has stopped, they’ll open up much more for you to glean insights.


Great tips all throughout this conversation. On taking notes, I am in the less is more camp. I don’t take notes on my laptop because I don’t like to put a machine between the participant and myself (even though yes, this would be the fastest solution - faster isn’t always better). I take hand written notes but mostly as an interview tool. I’ll jot down things I want to follow up on (so that I don’t have to break flow and interrupt) and use my notes as a way to create that silence several people have noted - I’ll get really into, like dotting my i’s and crossing my t’s or something, lol, so that the participant feels the need to fill that silence. Mostly though I take few notes and try to keep up eye contact and good non-verbal feedback so the participant knows I’m really interested.


haha! That’s how most of my conversations go in real life! 80/20 :slight_smile:

To add to this, just act natural. Be casual about the conversation. Reframe it as a conversation and not an interview and all will be well. Doing this will reduce the pressure.