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12 Tips to Run a User Interview

Whether you are developing a new product or updating an existing one, one of your starting points should be talking to users. Getting to know more about how your product is being used, what the perceived differences between your product and the competitors are, and understanding the “must have” benefit of your product in the eyes of your most passionate users are a few invaluable insights you can acquire from talking with users.

Below I’ve compiled a list of good practices when conducting user interviews – enjoy! Be sure to reference Jackrabbit Mobile’s user testing kit for templates as well as our user session field guide for more information. Our digital product development firm knows the value of applying these expert techniques.

1. Decide what kind of people you’re interested in interviewing.

  • Try to focus each study on one user group only.
  • For example: K-12 school public school administrators might be considered a different user group from K-12 public school teachers.
  • Decide on criteria that would make someone unfit to be interviewed and include it in your application screener
  • For example, maybe your test is dependant on the assumption that the user knows how to use an iPad. Ask “How comfortable are you using an iPad?” and exclude those from consideration who answer lower than a certain threshold.

2. Drill down on secondary criteria that will make for a more telling interview.

  • This will help raise the chances your interviews will lead you to a strong conclusion (positive or negative) about what you are investigating.
  • Your approach here should be as calculated as possible. (ie. Users who have logged in in the past week to the app, users who just recently created an account, users with a score greater than 100, etc)

3. Form a hypothesis.

  • This forces you to focus on the levers you’re hoping to pull when testing, and that you are entering your test with a purpose.

4. Reach out to potential testers.

  • These people can be people you already have a previous relationship with, or a random sample of people with no prior experience with your brand or product. If you’re working on a product that doesn’t currently exist and you don’t have an email list to tap into, reference our usability session application form for a template for reaching out to users.
  • On the other hand, if you already have an app, you can pull email addresses and phone numbers from your server that has been filtered by any criteria you specify. Parse makes this especially easy.

5. Be sure to get a wide spectrum of users.

  • If you’re pulling users to interview from a database your company already has, and you’re having users log in with Facebook or Twitter you will have users’ Facebook ID.
  • Once you’ve decided on who you’re going to email and ask to interview, open a new tab in your browser and type “[FacebookID]” to check out their Facebook profile.
  • Make sure you get a representative spread of ages, genders, and ethnicities.

6. Email or call potential testers asking for 10 minutes of their time.

  • Don’t be afraid to do this before you have the interview logistics sorted and your script figured out. Scheduling before having everything finalized can be a good way to get started user testing when you have never done so before, because the
  • Be sure to introduce yourself, explain why you’re emailing them, and suggest a time for the interview to make scheduling easier. Here is an example email you can use.
  • “Hi XXX! I’m writing you because you’re one of the top scorers on our SWE Wine Quiz app. My name is Grayson – I’m one of the ones who built the app. I’m trying to make the app more useful for wine experts like you, and I really need your help to do that. Can I grab 10 minutes of your time next week to chat about the app? Very casual, no preparation needed at all. Let me know a time that works for you (EST) and a good number to reach you at. Tuesday at 11:00AM EST works on my side. Looking forward to it!”

7. Formulate your script for the interview.

  • Do this while you’re waiting for users to respond to your emails or call you back.Here are some good basic questions to ask. The details here will depend a lot on what you have defined as the goals of your study.
    • In what way is XXX app part of your life?
    • What do your favorite part about the app?
    • What made you download the app?
    • What reminds you to use the app?
    • What part of the app is easy to use? Hard to use?
    • Here are some growth focused questions.
    • Why do you love about the app?
    • What kind of person would you recommend the app to?
    • Why is that benefit important to you?
    • Where did you discover the app?
    • What would you use if you didn’t have this app?

8. Record the audio/video from your interview

If you have a Mac, a quick and easy option for this is Quicktime. It comes pre-installed on your computer

9. Conduct your interviews

  • Expect some people to be no-shows. It’s not your fault, people are flakey!
  • Write down the exact words people say (keep track of quotes)
  • If you get lost, ask the user to “tell me more about that” or “explain that to me”
  • Don’t forget to smile! Making people feel comfortable is very important.
  • After the interview, do a quick reflection with the interview team on what you found most interesting from the interview
  • You will forget things quickly, so be sure to log any bug reports, ideas, or findings in your product backlog
  • Save the file with the recording somewhere where the entire team has easy access to it. If you need to, listen again to the interviews and pull out even more quotes. If you do 5-6 interviews, it’s normal to have 200-300 quotes.

10. Organize your quotes, recording each onto its own post it note

  • is an awesome way to do this remotely. Trello or a Google Sheet also work well for simpler studies.
  • As a team, free associate and sort your quotes into groups.
  • Give each grouping a title. Feel free to change the titles as you go.
  • After you have everything grouped, find connections between the groups. Further separate the groupings into subgroupings.

11. Record and document your insights.

Everything you discuss and decide on should have a URL or home somewhere online. Whether it is your team’s internal wiki, project management tool, or our favorites, Trello and, you want to make sure as much information as possible is easy to reference in the future.

12. Email users back when you’ve implemented something that you learned from your discussion

  • No one will expect you to do this, which makes it all the better, especially if you’ve interviewed a subset of people already using your product.
  • It’s a great feeling for users to know they’re being listened to, and your conversation with him has spurred real change. Even if you don’t implement exactly what they asked for, people love to feel they have a say in product decisions.
  • Don’t get stuck in the weeds! Don’t feel pressured to implement exactly what users tell you they want. Instead try to read in between the lines and draw larger trends among the people you talk to. Listen to Emmett Shear of Twitch and (embedded below) for more great insights here on how to run a user interview and how user feedback drove development for Twitch.

What has been your experience with user interviews?  I’d love to discuss more in the comments below.

Feel free to reach out and chat below or on Twitter!

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