How to conduct user interview?


Interviews can be a bit daunting, but by following these steps below you’ll unlock all kinds of insights and understanding that you’ll never get sitting behind your desk. Whenever possible, conduct your interviews in the interviewee’s space. You can learn so much about a person’s mindset, behavior, and lifestyle by talking with them where they live or work.

User Interview

Suggested Time: 60-90 Minutes
Level of Difficulty: Moderate
Materials Needed: Pens, paper
Participants: Design team, person you’re designing for
Outcomes: In-depth insight into people’s needs and motivations.
Keep in Mind: Experts are everywhere— and you don’t need a degree to be one. Treat your interviewee as an expert. You’re interviewing them about their life, and in that, they are the expert. Be curious and always give them the respect they deserve.

  1. Create a Trusted Atmosphere Start the conversation on a casual note. Talk about a subject that is unrelated to your research first to make the interviewee feel comfortable. Be considerate of the space you are in and make sure you have an appropriate level of privacy.
  2. No more than three research team members should attend any single interview so as to not overwhelm the participant or crowd the location. Each team member should have a clear role (i.e. interviewer, note-taker, photographer).
  3. Come prepared with a set of questions you’d like to ask. Start by asking broad questions about the person’s life, values, and habits, before asking more specific questions that relate directly to your challenge.
  4. Make sure to write down exactly what the person says, not what you think they might mean. This process is all about hearing exactly what people are saying. If you’re relying on a translator, make sure he or she understands that you want direct quotes, not the gist of what the interviewee says.
  5. What the person says is only one data point. Be sure to observe your interviewee’s body language and the context in which you’re talking.

Expert Interview

Experts can get you up to speed quickly on a topic, giving you key insights into relevant history, context, and innovations. Experts can often give you a systems-level view of your project area, tell you about recent innovations—successes and failures—and offer the perspectives of organizations like banks, governments, or NGOs. You might also look to experts for specific technical advice.

Suggested Time: 60-90 Minutes
Level of Difficulty: Moderate
Materials Needed: Pens, paper, notebook
Participants: Interviewer, expert
Outcomes: Access to in-depth knowledge in a certain area of expertise.
Keep in Mind: Find the balance between using experts to get a good understanding of the current situation and preserving space to think beyond the existing models.

  1. Determine what kind of expert you need. If you’re working in agriculture, perhaps an agronomist. In health? A doctor or policymaker may be a good bet.
  2. When recruiting your experts, give them a preview of the kinds of questions you’ll be asking and let them know how much of their time you’ll need.
  3. Choose experts with varying points of view. You don’t want the same opinions over and over.
  4. Ask smart, researched questions. Though you should come prepared with an idea of what you’d like to learn, make sure your game plan is flexible enough to allow you to pursue unexpected lines of inquiry.
  5. Record your Interview with whatever tools you have. A pen and paper work fine.

Extremes and Mainstreams

Designing a solution that will work for everyone means talking to both extreme users and those squarely in the middle of your target audience.

When recruiting people to interview, target both the big broad mainstream and those on either extreme of the spectrum. An idea that suits an extreme user will nearly certainly work for the majority of others. And without understanding what people on the far reaches of your solution need, you’ll never arrive at solutions that can work for everyone. More importantly, talking to Extreme users can spark your creativity by exposing you to use cases, hacks, and design opportunities that you’d never have imagined.

Suggested Time: 30-60 Minutes
Level of Difficulty: Moderate
Materials Needed: Pens, paper
Participants: Design team

  1. Think about all the different people who might use your solution. Extreme users can fall on a number of spectrums and you’ll want variety. Maybe you’ll want to talk to someone who lives alone and someone who lives with a large extended family. Maybe you’ll want to talk to both the elderly and children. Each will offer a take on your idea that can spur new thinking.
  2. When you talk to an extreme, ask them how they would use your solution. Ask them if they use something similar now and how it does or does not suit their needs.
  3. Select appropriate community contacts to help arrange meetings and individual Interviews. Make sure you’re talking to men and women. You might even stumble across an extreme user in another context and want to talk to them there.
  4. Be sensitive to certain extremes when you Interview them. They may often be left out of discussions like these so make them feel welcome and let them know that their voices are critical to your research.

Couple of important things to remember:

Establish Trust With Participants.

  • Listen patiently. Do not interrupt, and allow for pauses to give participants time to think.
  • Use nonverbal gestures, such as eye contact, nodding, and smiling, to reassure participants you are engaged and interested in what they are saying.

Encourage Participants To Show As Well As Tell.

  • Have participants draw what they’re talking about. Visuals often prompt more conversation.
  • Try asking “why?” in response to five consecutive answers.

Know What To Look For


  • What people “say” is often different than what they actually “do.” Look for cues in the things that people keep around them or the way they carry themselves.
  • Notice workarounds that people have created in order to make a system or tool serve their needs better.

Capture What You See.

  • Take lots of notes and photos of what you see, hear, feel, smell, and taste during a field visit.
  • Capture direct quotes when possible. Write down immediate thoughts without worrying about interpretation.

Frame questions in an open-ended way.

This helps you to further explore your challenge and elaborate on interesting themes you discover during the conversations. Try:

  • “Tell me about your experience …”
  • “What are the best/worst parts about …?”
  • “Can you help me understand about …?”

Encourage people to tell you their whole story and avoid questions that lead to just a yes/no answer.

Build a frame around learning, not pitching.


Before you can pitch the “right” solution, you have to understand the “right” customer problem. Your enthusiasm might affect your interviewee and make them bias.

Document results immediately after the interview.

I recommend spending five minutes immediately following an interview to document the results while your thoughts are fresh. Debrief with others later.

The diagram below was taken from a book called “Running Lean” – Ash Maurya. It’s a good book with lots of useful scripts and step by step guidance. Give it a try.


problem interview

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