How to devise effective user interview questions

Most people in a professional workplace have gone through the job interview process. It usually goes something like this: You apply for a job and go through a series of interviews where people ask you about your skills and experience, and then the company decides whether to bring you onboard.

This discovery process is beneficial for both sides — the candidate gets more insight into the company they might work for, and the company gets a better sense of how the candidate might fit into their business culture.

You might have even conducted a few job interviews yourself. So you know that to reach the right decision, there are things you need to learn about the people you interview.

When it comes to user research, this idea is no different. If you’re conducting experiments or gathering information about your users’ thoughts or opinions, there are certain types of questions you should ask to make sure you cover everything.

Understanding the right user interview questions to ask — and how to ask them — is an essential part of the user research process most often associated with qualitative user research.

Here are some suggestions for questions to ask in the interview process to get the most out of your user research results.

Keep things open

The best user experience research questions have a free-flowing nature. If you’re rigid in your interview approach, you’re going to get brief and unhelpful answers. The best way to avoid this is to be careful about how you frame your questions. This way, you’ll be better able to ease any tension in the room and calm a nervous interviewee.

Plus, no two interviewees are going to answer your questions the same way — and some may feel uncomfortable answering certain questions. This is why it’s important to avoid yes-no questions. If you ask a yes-no question, you’re going to get a yes-no response, leaving you scrambling to keep the conversation going and potentially missing out on useful insights.

Instead, focus on the why, what, or how. Ask a participant how a service you’re testing makes them feel and why they feel this way. Ask them how likely they’d be to use your service in the future or how often they’ve used it in the past. Structure your questions in a way that allows for this openness and creates opportunities for your interview to flow like a natural conversation.

Emphasize emotion

It’s your job to get interviewees to express themselves. This is especially important when you’re conducting face-to-face interviews. As you talk with an interviewee, keep in mind that they are more than what they reveal in words. It might be smart to open your interviews with some baseline questions about your responders’ lives to establish familiarity. The higher the level of comfort your responder has with you, the less they’ll view you as a stranger.

Your interviewees are going to react to your questions nonverbally too. If you ask a question like, “Would you recommend this service to someone in your family?” you can observe how someone’s facial expressions change or how they shift their body in response.

What’s more, if you notice that a certain question makes them uncomfortable, you can reassure them with positive reinforcement. Your interview isn’t going to go exactly as you plan because there’s a variable you can’t completely control — your interviewee.

Follow up

The interview process involves more than just the prep work. You need to be an active participant in the interview as much as the person you’re interviewing. This means you should be open to uncertainty when deciding which user interview questions to ask. Be prepared to ask follow-up questions and be sure to structure your list of questions to give yourself the flexibility to ask other questions when you feel it’s appropriate.

Asking follow-up questions about why your interviewee answered a certain way — for example, why they said they’re more likely to use a service if you make a certain adjustment — shows that you’re listening to what they have to say. Plus, if you don’t ask these questions, you might not get all of the information you need.

Interviews are flexible — lean into this idea, and don’t be afraid to improvise when it comes to your list of questions.

Keep things light

Think about the difference between talking to someone through a messenger app and talking to them in person. There’s a barrier between you and others when you’re typing into a computer or smartphone.

When writing user interview questions, remember that there’s an actual person on the other side. Think about starting with lighter questions — perhaps about what television shows they like to watch or what their favorite restaurants are. While this won’t directly relate to your user research, it sets the tone for your interview.

Again, it’s all about keeping things familiar. Your interview is mostly going to consist of your research questions, but if that’s all it’s about, you won’t be successful. You don’t want to have a robotic conversation — it will turn off your interviewee, and it certainly won’t help you get the information you need.

It’s fine to ask your interviewee questions that aren’t about your research as long as they don’t derail the overall conversation.

Remember your objectives

Think of the interview process as your showtime. This is the information-gathering portion of your user research, and it’s the most active part of the process.

When you choose user interview questions, it’s important to keep your objectives and reasons for conducting the research in mind. Striking a balance between being flexible and including questions you think will accomplish your objectives is the key to a great interview.

For example, if you’re launching a new product, ask users what they liked about previous versions to make sure you include those features in your new design. And if they start talking about what they didn’t like, listen, because this is valuable information too.

As you prepare to collect your information, think about what you’ll do with it. Jotform allows you to record and keep track of this information — who your respondents are, what their background is, what their responses are — and access all of it in one place. What’s more, you can customize your form to meet your exact needs and make sure everyone on your team understands your approach.

If you conduct your research correctly, you’ll have a trove of feedback to draw from. And because you’ll be compiling a lot of different responses, you’ll want to make sure they’re organized and within easy reach. If they aren’t, you won’t be able to perform an effective analysis.

Foster a back-and-forth conversation

There’s a reason conducting interviews is such a popular user research method. Going directly to your users and getting their unfiltered opinions about your business and what it offers can give you invaluable information. You probably already have an idea of what your business does well, but if you don’t ask other people, you’re unlikely to think or do anything different.

Interviewing people — and making sure that you carry out the process professionally — can give you insight into how others perceive your business and, most important, how you and your business can improve in the future.

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