User interviews are organized by people with the following responsibilities:
A person who is in charge of product usability. They’re asking “How usable is the product to the user?” This is often a product designer who develops artifacts (such as prototypes) to help the team understand how the user understands the product.
A person who is in charge of product viability. They’re asking “How viable is a product to the user?” This is often a product manager who develops the best questions to learn if the team is actually developing the right solution for the problem the user needs to solve.
Successful User Interviews in 6 Steps
- Define the problem you're trying to solve.
- Determine your targeted user persona.
- Develop interview questions.
- Gather a solid sample size.
- Analyze your results and share them with the team.
- Adjust your roadmap accordingly.
Why Are User Interviews Important?
User interviews are important because teams can find themselves in love with what they’ve built to the point that they can’t see the problems with it. This is also known as confirmation bias, a term coined by psychologist Peter Wason. In product development, confirmation bias drives us to believe we’re building the right thing…because it’s what we’re building. As a product team, we fall into the trap of marveling at what we’re building simply because we’re in the thick of it (and we’ve spent all that time). Without tools like user interviews, it becomes hard to convince us that we haven’t delivered the best product ever created.
It is important to note that many product development professionals are not the typical or targeted user that makes their product successful. A user interview helps us break free of our confirmation bias by talking directly to the customer and hearing their story without interruption. Great user interviews save teams time and effort down the road by helping us avoid creating a bad product now.
How to Conduct User Interviews
- Define what problem you are trying to solve to all team members involved to ensure alignment. The risk of not finding alignment means your team’s analysis will be scattershot. You’ll then be unable to create coherent adjustments to the product you are developing.
- Identify what users are most impactful regarding the problem you are trying to solve. In other words, what users are the archetype for the problem you want to solve? If you bring in just any user, you risk getting useless information, since they may not struggle with the problem you are trying to solve.
- Come up with questions to understand the user's story. It’s important to avoid asking leading questions or yes/no questions. You are there to understand, not steer users’ opinions.
- Gather enough users to see if there are any patterns in the stories they tell. This usually ends up being between five and eight participants.
- Analyze the stories and share them out with the team.
- Adjust your product roadmap based on what you’ve learned.
Some great resources to look at when doing user interviews:
How to Improve Your Product Research | Built In: This is an article I wrote that will help you take the research you conduct and learn how to create user interview discipline, how to market your findings and how to sell those findings to the right stakeholders.
How to Conduct User Interviews | Interaction Design Foundation (IxDF): This guide will give you some great examples of how to conduct interviews, when to do so and templates to get started.
Just know that your user interviews will get better when you share the findings with relevant stakeholders, get feedback and iterate.
What Are Benefits of User Interviews?
User interviews are great to help you find the customer’s story. For important projects, it’s critical to understand whether or not what you’re building makes sense to those who you want to use it. There is no better way than asking users directly. Without understanding how users will engage with the product, what you build will fall prey to confirmation bias.
I’ve seen companies fail because they created products customers don’t like. It’s important to go out and understand why your users hate your product before you ship it.
What Are Risks of Ineffective User Interviews?
With that said, if you do user interviews without identifying what problem you’re trying to solve and the people with whom you are trying to solve it, user interviews become a big waste of time. You risk turning off the people that you need to convince with the interviews, from team members to stakeholders, not to mention users themselves.