Conducting User Interviews for Digital Products

Posted by in Design, UX Design tagged with ,

Illustration of one person interviewing a user about a digital product with a whiteboard and sticky notes in the background

In this post, we explore how incorporating user interviews into the digital product design process provides value and, ultimately, saves time and money.

During product roadmapping or discovery workshop engagements with clients, it is inevitable that someone makes assumptions about what target users want. These may or may not be correct. If these assumptions are correct, the time and resources spent building related features will be worthwhile. However, if they miss the mark, you could build something that no one uses. And nobody wants to fall into the build trap.

Running user interviews can help you validate or refute these assumptions before you spend time or money building out features. Let’s explore how.

Creating Value with User Interviews

Sometimes, user interviews can make or break a digital product. Critically, they provide valuable insights throughout product design and development processes that help teams make educated decisions based on real data.

This type of field research and ethnography doesn’t have to be complicated:

  1. A researcher sets out to validate (or refute) an assumption that’s been made about a digital product or service.
  2. They find users who represent the target audience.
  3. They ask specific questions about how a user interacts with a product or prototype.

The key to user interview success is to focus on quality over quantity in selecting the right users. One of your team members can conduct three user interviews in the course of a morning or an afternoon. If you have designed good questions, your data should be easy to read without adding a lot of analysis time.

Image of a user interview showing an interactive prototype on the left and the interview subject on the right.
Running user interviews for a beach cleanup product as part of a Design Sprint with the Alliance for the Great Lakes.

Wireframes and Prototypes in User Interviews

While the value of a well-researched set of questions cannot be overstated, visual aids can also make a big difference in user interview success. During a product’s UX Design process or during a design sprint, we often share wireframes or clickable prototypes to help interview subjects better understand an intended customer journey.

Similarly, if you’re working on a product redesign, the existing product can help you identify specific user pain points to fix.

Selecting the Right User Interview Protocol

If you want good findings from a user interview, you will need a good protocol. Below are a few simple tips on how to get started:

Select the Right Users

First, make sure to recruit existing or target product users. Internal stakeholders make terrible interview subjects. You won’t get the objective feedback necessary to qualify your efforts as successful. For example, recruit real people whose traits reflect those you identified in user persona exercises. While some of those traits might also be based on assumptions, choosing the right type of user for an interview will make a big difference in the results you get.

Ask Non-Leading Questions

Next, avoid questions that may lead or bait your interview subject, such as:

  • How do you feel about this design?
  • What do you expect this product to do?
  • Should the search bar be in the upper right?

User interviews are not the same thing as a focus group interview. You are trying to discover how people use your product. For example, ask your users:

  • When do you use the product?
  • Can you show me how you log in and perform task x?
  • What are the different devices or computers you use to log into the product?

Don’t lead interview subjects and avoid emotional prompts.

Interview Users in their Work Environment

Also, interview your users in the room, chair, position and set up they normally use to engage with your product. It may be logistically tough to do this, but you are better off with a few good interviews in a real work environment than 15 offsite interviews. Context matters.

Record the Session

Finally, record each interview. This will fill gaps in your notes and give you something to refer back to if questions arise. Be sure to capture the computer or device your subject uses as they answer questions. If the interview is remote, use a videoconference tool that supports recording. If the interview is conducted in-person, a smartphone on a tripod will do.

User Interviews: Final Thoughts

To sum up, most products can benefit from strategic user interviews. While they may take some time up front, they save large amounts of time and money over the long haul. Plus, the insights they provide can inform important product decisions. Finally, user interviews offer concrete data about how people use your product, whether negative or positive. In the long run, that’s a very good thing.

Mightybytes is a Chicago-based digital agency and Certified B Corporation. Connect with us on LinkedIn or get in touch via our contact form.