Design process

How to Talk to Users. 5 Rules of UX Research Interview Questions


min to read

10 Jun



Table of contents

User interviews are the basis of any research. Good budget and time frames allow you to use many user research methods, such as eye tracking, click tracking, A/B testing, and many others, but personal communication with users is a must. If you are serious about your research, there is no way you can avoid interviewing.

As a UI/UX design agency, we at Eleken always base our work on research, and often research means interviews. Here we have collected the best tips and tricks for a successful UX research interview, proven by our team. Let’s go through all the processes of planning and interviewing.

Before we even get to making UX research questions, we have to think about a general research plan.

If you have already made up your mind about the methods and tools that you are going to use, jump to the next part. If you are not experienced and want to know how to start a UX research project, check out our detailed UX research plan template.

So, how do you prepare a user interview?

First of all, you have to define the goal of the UX research. It will be the reference point of all the questions, tools, and methods. Having a clear and feasible goal is crucial for research planning. If you are a newbie at user research, check out our articles on UX research and the UX research process.

After you have defined the goal, comes the search of the participants. When you do A/B testing, the more participants the better, but with interviews, things are harder. Having dozens of in-depth interviews is very time-consuming and also complicates the analysis of the results.

How many user interviews should you do? 

The number can be somewhere between 1 and 30. A “golden” number is 5 users, as recommended by Nielsen Norman Group. Most types of UX research follow this curve:

number of interview/saturation of data curve. First interviews: tons of new data!  more interviews: waste of your time

It may be different when the product is complex and there are numerous user personas to be represented. Take into account the time limits and the capacities of your research team.

Type of interview

Interviews can be part of various UX research methods. Here are the most common types of interview in user research:

  • In-depth user interviews (can take up to 30-60 minutes and include broad questions about lifestyle, usage of other products, needs, and desires)
  • Intercept interviews (watching people use the product in the natural environment and asking about their experience)
  • Usability testing (watching people using app or prototype and asking them questions about their impression, motivation, emotions, and so on)

In-depth user interviews may have different kinds of questions, such as “tell me about your typical day at work”, “how do you keep track of your spendings?”, or something else that is relevant to your project. The most important thing here is to keep in mind the goal of the research. However, asking abstract questions may bring up some unexpected but valuable insights.

Usability testing questions are focused on the usage of an app or prototype. The researcher guides the process of the app usage and watches closely at every step that the user does. First questions may refer to the general impression of the product and expectations of the interviewee. To guide users, researchers explain to them a certain situation and a task, for example: “You are a single girl looking for a partner through a dating app. You wish to set the age limit of potential partners from 25 to 30. How would you do that?”.

While a user is performing the task, the researcher observes their actions and asks questions like “What made you click this button?”, “How was your experience of using the app?”.

Intercept interviews may include a combination of precise and broad questions. Keep in mind that these types of interviews are typically shorter and thus give the researcher less opportunity to ask many abstract questions. Typical questions would be “Guide me through the process of booking a hotel room” or “Tell me what you were thinking of when you were looking at the dashboard?”.

Whatever type of interview you are planning, having a good script is essential even for an experienced researcher. The script may include general questions, user tasks, and specific questions. And making correct questions is not as easy as it may seem. There are some rules that make them clear, efficient, and unbiased.

How to create user interview questions?

The art of posing the right questions is not as easy as it might seem, but there are some universal rules that you should keep in mind when writing your script:

  1. Think of your target audience and make sure that the questions are clear for them. If your audience consists of people who are not very tech-savvy, avoid using professional slang.
  2. Go for open-ended questions that imply longer answers, not just yes or no.

- - - Do you use habit tracking apps?

+++ Please tell me what you do when you want to acquire a new habit?

  1. Use neutral words instead of value judgments. 

- - - Was the X feature hard to find?

+++ Please describe your impression when you saw the app

When avoiding neutral words is complicated, use both “negative” and “positive” features

+++ Was it easy or hard to find the “change language” button?

This question implies a short answer, so it is good to follow it with a more detailed one, like 

+++ What made it hard to find?

  1. Be careful with “why”. It seems to be the easiest way to make interviewees open up and tell more, but many people feel intimidated by “why” questions. If you see that the user is a bit confused by “why” questions, try using alternatives, such as:
  • What made you click this button?
  • Tell me what is your typical process of making an online purchase?
  • What are you thinking of?
  1. Make your questions consistent with the goal of the research. The goal is something you should always keep in mind, but it is a good idea to pass through all the questions at the end to see whether they give

Following these rules, you are likely to get a set of perfect questions. But let’s be real, some questions don’t fit in this formula. Here are some ways of dealing with such ¨imperfect¨ questions.

Long questions

There are some long questions that require a short answer. Often such questions are easier to write down than ask in person.

The solution is to put those long questions in a questionnaire. It can be sent out before the interview or handed at the beginning. A questionnaire would also prepare the interviewee for the conversation, setting the right focus.

On a scale from 1 to 5, how would you rate your experience of using the app? 1- extremely negative, 5 - extremely positive

Confusing questions

Sometimes prepared questions seem absolutely clear to the researcher, but during the interview, users find it difficult to understand them correctly and give a relevant answer. 

To avoid such a situation, think of different ways of asking the same question, like “why did you press that button?” and “what made you press that button?” or “what were you thinking of when you were performing the task?”. See what works better and adjust formulations during the interview.

Also, testing questions with someone before the interview helps to see the weak points and improve the script.

Some more UX research interview tips

Apart from a well-prepared script, there are other factors that influence the outcome of the interview. Here are some tips on how to make your interviews both fruitful for the researcher and enjoyable for the user:

  1. Taking notes is a great method that lets you document little things that you’ve noticed during the interview that would not be visible on the recording and that you might forget afterward. 

However, there is a downside: taking notes may intimidate the interviewee, and little breaks make you lose contact and interrupt the flow of conversation. Often when a person sees you taking notes of the conversation, they start thinking “what are they writing?” instead of focusing on the questions.

  1. Recording lets you focus entirely on the interview without worrying about what you might not have remembered. Even if you have little time for the research and won’t be able to watch them, these recordings may serve for future research. That’s why you should try to make a recording whenever you have the means for it. And if you rely on recording, make sure to check that everything is working correctly, the batteries are full, and don’t forget to get the consent of the interviewee for the recording.
  2. Make the interviewee feel comfortable. Provide a quiet space, offer a drink, and make sure that your research lab doesn't look like a scientist's lab.
Image credit: CoWomen on Unsplash
  1. The online interview has advantages as it allows the researcher to reach people who wouldn’t be willing or able to come to the lab in person. There are a bunch of great tools that make online user research easier than ever. To find out more, check out our list of the top UX research tools.
  2. Prepare an introduction to the interview. Explain in detail what the research is about, how long it will take, and what is the product (if needed). It is highly important to reassure the interviewee that the answers have to be as direct as possible and no one would be offended if they tell openly about the downsides of the product.

And once you are done with the interviews, comes the analysis of the information! That is the theme for a long read. Here is an example of the user research insights and how they helped us in making UI/UX design for Gridle.

A little recap

Correct questions and clear goals are a secret to effective UX research. To master the art of posing unbiased questions in user interview, follow these rules:

  • Use open-ended questions when possible (the ones that require longer answer than a yes/no)
  • Avoid value judgments, such as “useful”, “easy to use”, “helpful”
  • Don’t use too many why-questions
  • Adjust the words and terms that you are using to the target audience. Rehearse the questions with people outside of your team.
  • Set a clear research goal and make sure the questions are relevant
  • Plan in advance how you will document the interview, prepare 

The last point is arguably the most important. Preparation is the key. Make sure everything is ready, run a test interview before starting the real ones, and everything will go right.

Got any more questions? If you want to talk with professionals in UX research, don’t hesitate to contact us!

Masha Panchenko

Writer at Eleken