How to Set up a Good User Research Interview

October 6th, 2021

The absolute worst website misstep you can make is to build a multimillion-dollar site that no one likes. But it happens all the time. It doesn’t matter how cutting-edge, stunning, or expensive a site is -- if it’s not built to give your particular users the best experience, you’re going to have to spend even more time and money fixing it.

Better to do it right the first time. That’s why we think user research is so important. Armed with the right questions and techniques, just a few user interviews with moderated usability testing can save you a ton of time, money, and headaches down the road.

We talked to Cherri Pitts, one of our user research experts, about how to get the most out of your interviews.

What do we learn from user interviews?

User interviews and moderated usability testing are the most rich and highly effective methods to get information from the users. We can talk with as few as five users to identify trends. We are very humbled by each test and always learn something that we had not anticipated. Sometimes we are confirming assumptions, and other times the user’s experience debunks them. We never know, and it's very exciting!

How do you pick users to talk to?

When we can’t get a list of users from the client, our next best step is to recruit from their website. We’ll capture users through an intercept (pop-up) survey to screen them and offer an incentive for helping out. This way we know they are users of the site and may be interested in supporting their own experience. 

Our last resort is to recruit from a third party that allows us to pick very specific demographics such as age, location, occupation, income levels, and much more. This allows us to find the target market, but we try to avoid this when we can because it costs our clients extra. Depending on how many users we need, it can get costly.

Take us through the process of setting up an interview.

We use software to schedule a time that works well for the user and the researcher. Allowing the user to pick their own time reduces no shows, and the software even sends a reminder 24 hours before. Giving them an incentive also helps to make sure they complete the tasks.

We’ve found it most effective to set up the interview as a one-on-one ZOOM discussion between the researcher and the user, so they can build a rapport. I normally do not speak with more than one user at a time to keep it personal and comfortable for them.

Although it's recorded for research purposes (with ethical guidelines), and the client can review the session later, they are always invited to attend as an observer or note taker. 

What types of questions do you ask them?

We start by setting expectations. We let them know that they are not being tested, that we are just trying to better understand the website’s usability. We try to reduce any pressure on them, letting them know that we view the session as a valuable source of information.

We ask them three to five warm-up questions to get them comfortable and start building rapport. Depending on the site, we may ask if they have ever heard of the company before, how they heard about it, or something related to the industry of the website we are testing.

We then start asking what they are most interested in exploring or give them a list of tasks to complete that has been determined by the XD team and client.

How do you determine whether they’re finding the important parts of the website easily?

We ask the users for their feedback on design elements and to complete a series of tasks to find specific items on the site. We don’t want to lead them, and we don’t give them hints. We want them to work through it as if they were alone. We observe how they complete the task and their confidence level while doing so, and we may ask why they chose a certain way. We also encourage them to share their thought process when they are confused or stuck.

For example, if they use the search feature instead of the navigation, we might ask whether this is how they normally find things on all websites. This can tell us whether they normally ignore the navigation or were intimidated by it.

Additionally, we also use a five-minute survey called the SUS (Systems Usability Scale) to determine the user’s perception of how easy the site is to use.

How do you make sure you’re getting all of the information you need when you talk to them?

When we write the questions, we know what we are trying to capture. However, there are times when the user stops and says, “Hmm.” When this happens, we may say, “Tell me about what’s going on,” “Can you talk more about this,” and other open-ended questions to allow them to express their thoughts without feeling judged or rushed. These are very rich with feedback that we may not have anticipated.  


We hope this helps, but we also know there is a learning curve to finding the right users and questions. Experts like Cherri do this everyday, and because they can help avoid fixes down the line, their services can decrease your overall costs. Talk to us if you’d like to learn more.


Ryan Pirkle

Ryan Pirkle

Sr. Director Marketing & Communications Americas