User research interview questions
Learn how to craft effective user research interview questions – get tips from UX research experts and examples of user research interview questions you can use for your own studies.
As more and more businesses shift their focus to user-centric design, UX research has become an essential part of the design process. But conducting effective user research is easier said than done, and knowing what questions to ask is crucial.
In this article, we delve into the world of user research interview questions and explore the best practices for writing them. We'll cover tips from UX research experts on how to craft effective questions, including whether to use standardized or tailored questions, how many questions to ask, and the importance of open-ended questions. We'll also provide examples of user research interview questions for different stages of the UX design process.
So whether you're a seasoned UX researcher or just getting started, this guide will help you write great user research interview questions and collect valuable insights to inform your design process.
How to write great user research interview questions
When it comes to writing user research questions, there aren’t many hard and fast rules on what’s right or wrong, beyond adhering to basic research ethics and avoiding leading questions. For that reason, we asked UX research experts for their tips on writing qualitative user interview questions.
Generally speaking, all the experts we spoke with gave similar best practices for user research interview questions. Cyndi Marasigan, UI/UXdesigner at ExaWeb, rounds this up nicely:
“In general, it’s important that the questions gather in-depth data and insights. This can involve open-ended questions that encourage participants to share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. However, if a study involves too many questions, participants may become overwhelmed or lose interest, which can result in low-quality responses.”
One common question we wanted to know the answer to was whether you should have a set of standardized questions for every project, or if you should tailor questions for each different project. This turned out to be quite polarizing, with experts weighing in strongly on either side.
For example, Grant Polachek, Head of Marketing and Operations at Squadhelp, said his team tailors UX research questions to each project:
“We ask a balanced mix of open-ended and closed-ended questions to acquire more engaging and insightful responses based on the customer experience. Moreover, we ensure a neutral conversational tone to these questions to gather more objective and honest answers.”
On the other hand, Milo Cruz, CMO at Freelance Writing Jobs, whose role includes managing UX research projects, sat on the other side of the fence:
“Standardization ensures consistency in the questions received by our research participants, with the exact wording, and in the same order. This reduces data collection variability and makes comparing results across participants easier. Often, standardized questions are best left open-ended because this will allow them to provide more accurate answers than limiting their responses to mere ‘yes’ or ‘no’."
While James Nesbitt, Founder of Myth Digital, suggests using a standardized set of questions with the flexibility to add project-specific questions, or remove irrelevant ones:
“Using this standardized approach helps to reduce the risk of bias inadvertently creeping into questions that could affect the responses, and so gives us more reliable data. It also makes sure that nothing gets missed and allows us to iteratively improve our question set as we learn from each project.”
Having a mix of standardized and project-specific questions is likely the better approach, but according to James Sowers, Director of Ventures at The Good, no matter which path you take there is always one goal: “to get a good understanding of the target customer and the problem you’re trying to solve.”
As for the number of questions, the consensus is between 5–20 questions, depending on the stage of research/development. According to James Sowers:
“How many questions you ask isn’t as important as the intent behind them. Your UX research should feel more like a conversation than a checklist of questions. The best way to accomplish this is to ensure that you dig in and take their answers further than surface level. Ask follow-up questions, ask for more details, ask ‘why’, and ask for clarification.”
With the above in mind, here are our top tips for writing user research interview questions:
- Ask open-ended questions to allow for rich data during the interview (but ask close-ended questions during the screening stage – more on this below).
- Be clear and concise to not cause confusion.
- Include a mix of standardized and tailored questions.
So what should these questions look like? Check out our example questions below.
Example user research interview questions
You can organize user research questions into categories depending on the stage of the interview. Most notably, the differences will be in the pre-interview/screening stage, during the interview, and after the interview.
Of course, the exact questions you ask will depend on your research goals, the information you want to find out from users, how you plan to use the findings, and, if applicable, what other stakeholders want to find out – all of which will likely differ between projects.
However, there are some questions that are relatively universal for every project.
Screening questions help to filter interview participants. Here are some examples of questions you can ask:
- What age group are you in? (Providing age range options)
- How would you describe your gender?
- What is your household income? (Giving ranges as options)
- What product do you use to do X?
- How much time do you typically spend online daily? (Though bearing in mind, people usually underestimate this figure)
- How much experience do you have with X type of product?
These questions, while not ordinarily open-ended, help to narrow down the pool of participants to get you to those who will probably provide the most insight during the rest of your research.
Now we’re getting to questions you’ll ask your users during the research interview. Discovery questions help you get to know your participants a little better and understand how they behave. Such questions can include:
- What does your typical day look like?
- What are some common problems or issues you have when you do X?
- How do you currently go about (problem or pain point)?
- How much time do you spend doing X?
- Describe the last time you tried to do X?
- What are some websites or apps you use the most?
- What role do these websites or apps play in your daily life?
Questions like these are open-ended as well as clear in terms of what you’re hoping to find out.
User behavior questions
Now to the more specific details. User behavior questions help you figure out the needs of your users in the context of your product or service offering. Some of these types of questions can include:
- What devices do you typically use to access X?
- Is there anything you find difficult to do or hard to find when using X?
- Is there any way in which X doesn’t support your needs currently? If so, why?
- Are there any products/services you use that do similar things to X? If so, why do you use them?
- What is the most important task you use X to do?
- What do you think would be a fair price to have (problem/pain point) resolved?
- If you don’t currently use X product, what would it need for you to start using it?
These questions can be conceptual, i.e. discussing a product idea or by using an existing product as an example.
User opinion questions
If you already have some designs in the works that you’d like to test before nailing them down, you can use the research interview as an opportunity to figure out which designs your users like the most. Otherwise, you can use an existing product to gather opinions to work from. Some example questions include:
- What is the most and least appealing part about X product?
- What do you think is the primary function of X product?
- What are the hardest/easiest parts of using X product?
- Was there anything missing or surprising about X product? If so, why?
- How would you improve X product in a way that best suited your needs?
Notice how, overall, these questions start off broad and move into more specific details. Your user research interviews should follow this pattern regardless of the topic-specific context – this way you get a better chance to build rapport with your interviewees as well as not overwhelm them with too much right away.
Start asking your users the right questions
User research interviews are an excellent opportunity to avoid going into the product development process blind. The interviews provide tons of data that you can use to help build solutions that real end users will find valuable, as opposed to what you think they’ll find valuable).
And once you have an initial design or product to test, you can use our usability testing questions guide to understand how your users interact with your product.
At this point, you’ve hopefully got a few great ideas for interview questions (that you’re definitely writing down for later, right?) and you’re itching to get started with your research. If so, why not sign up for a free UsabilityHub plan? You’ll get access to unlimited active tests to help you get started with your user research.
Alexander Boswell is a freelance writer specialising in B2B SaaS and eCommerce marketing with a particular interest in the world of data, as well as a business Ph.D. candidate. When he’s not writing, he’s nerding out playing D&D and Magic: The Gathering.