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UX Research: How to Build an Interview Guide

“Qualitative research” is used to explore users’ reasons, opinions, and motivations–building an interview guide is a crucial step in this process. In this tutorial we’ll make sure you’re prepared by looking at how to build such a guide.

Your Goals

Before conducting an interview you should aim to plan out both what you’re going to say and how you’ll ask your questions. Your goal is to build a rapport with the person you’re talking to, making them feel comfortable, whilst being mindful that they’re probably time poor. The specifics will be where you get the main insights and these are generally framed around frustrations, motivations, and interactions. 

Your interview guides will also be contextual to who you interview; it’s good to tap into a mix of domain or industry experts, but also your target users.

Identifying Your Interviewees

Target User Group

As all UX professionals will tell you: you are not your user. You need to learn from the actual people who you will be designing for. It is important to consider the primary user and also any secondary users in the extended community. In my experience, it can also be valuable to speak with users who have extreme world views.

Experts and Industry Stakeholders

It’s important that you identify the domain experts in the field. These individuals will likely be time poor, especially if you’re looking to get insights from executives, or people who hold high positions. Therefore, once you know who you’ll be aiming to talk to, it’s important to be as accommodating as possible. A phone conference call or Skype can work well when doing research with this group of people.

Knowing How Many People to Speak With

Target User Group

If you’re starting from scratch you may need to speak with up to eight individuals. If you have a good foundation and existing research I’d recommend targeting around three people.

Experts and Industry Stakeholders

Experts are less readily available, but I’d recommend speaking with at least one industry stakeholder. If you’re new to the sector, aim for more; perhaps three people.

Recording Results

There are many tools to help with user interviews, but Screencastify is great for recording your screen and audio. You can use this to play back interviews and tests, whether you conduct them in person or remotely. It will also capture the audio from your laptop microphone. It’s a free tool with a premium version for $24 (at time of writing). 

Your Interview Guide

In the early stages of the design process, when creating an interview guide, get your ideas down quickly and crudely on large format paper.

Structure things by noting down broad questions and then get more specific as you go along. Start by dividing your sheets of paper into two large columns. Now, brainstorm some general questions on the left, by considering why and how the resultant data could be applied to your design project. This will help you focus on key frustrations, motivations and interactions that can be synthesised into post-it notes.

Planning Your Broad Questions

When putting together your broad questions be sensitive about asking anything that is unnecessary or jarring, such as “how old are you?”. You’re really looking to get some high level information for your persona artefact, learn more about the person’s background and build some rapport. 

Understanding a persona’s environment, for example, will bring life to the story. With this in mind, you might ask something like: “describe your last family meal. Who was there? Where did it take place?”

Planning Your Specific Questions

Think about questions that can help you understand this person’s motivations, frustrations and interactions:

Motivations

What do your users care about? What motivates them? Pay attention to tone. It’s not just what they say, but how they say it. It’s possible to tell the different levels of passion and emotion behind every statement. Read their body language; are their arms folded when they respond to you, are they smiling? These will give you cues on where to probe further.

body language
Observe body language

It’s important to differentiate between goals and motivations. A user’s goal will be the end point of a desired state, which the business facilitates, but what drives them to reach that point? Is it guilt? Financial drivers perhaps? A need to impress? Thinking about these drivers and framing your questions in this way will help you identify motivations.

Frustrations

What frustrates your users? What needs do they have that aren’t being met? Your questions should be framed in the best way to address each touchpoint along the customer journey. 

Think about what frustrates them not just from a digital perspective, but also non-digital. The user experience is everything. For example, from the moment that the customer walks into a retail store and talks to staff, to the packaging of the product, what it’s like when they take it home and open it for the first time. All the details.

Focus on each point of the journey and probe them to answer more specifically. You need to avoid getting them into “solution mode”. Some interviewees are good in this respect, others are “problem solvers” and it can be hard to get them to answer in the way that actually helps you. The best way is to acknowledge what they say, express your expectations up front, then filter out solutions and retain specific pain points.

Interactions

What is interesting about the way your users interact with their environment? This is probably the most important area of your research.

  1. Think about the business problem and a typical interaction between business and user. You might want to outline the different touch points along the journey first and then hone towards one specific touch point.
  2. Learn how they do their job, or whatever task it may be. Having a holistic perspective will give you a better idea of the context of why they take certain paths.
  3. Create a task flow; a series of steps and decision points along the way. You don’t have to really think about whether these are perfectly accurate, you’re effectively just learning the domain.

Share With Stakeholders

Once you’ve finished the first pass of your interview guide, book in a meeting with your team and other key stakeholders. Share your questions. You might even decide to send them to your client.

Get feedback; see what makes sense and what needs to be done. They might also have some ideas for additional questions to ask.

Conclusion

Your interview guide is effectively a plan of attack. Your approach will be a combination of balancing the desired outputs, but also thinking about your soft skills and building a rapport with your interviewee, so that they feel comfortable opening up to you.

The next part will be aimed at getting into specifics—as a rule of thumb it’s good to focus around: 

  • motivations
  • frustrations
  • interactions

This will provide the qualitative data which you can synthesis into an affinity diagram in the next phase of your UX Research.