User interview being conducted

Challenges in User Interview

Interview is one of the most common methods used in user research. There are plenty of techniques to do it properly. However, even though you are certain that you have ticked all the how-to-do-good-interview checkboxes, there are still unforeseen challenges that you have no control over. As a UX designer, here I have collected some challenges from my experience that might be worth discussing.

What if interviewees mention about others’ experiences?


One crucial point of conducting an interview is to learn about interviewees. During the interview, when you ask a question about their experience of something, at times, you will find them talk about others’ experience, not theirs. This is what you must be careful with because it isn’t their direct experience that we aim for and want to learn about. This happens because some people don’t have much knowledge or experience regarding the topic or question asked. Therefore they try to answer the question from what they have heard or seen from others. You can simply notice this when they start mentioning “other people did…” or “I see people do…”. 

When it happens, let the person talk until they finish. There might be some interesting insights you might want to dig deeper. Otherwise, you may interrupt politely, repeat the question and emphasise on their own experience/story. A question like “How did you do it?” or “What would you do it?” might help. Tell them that it is alright if they don’t know the answer or have little-to-no experience. Make sure you don’t make it sound rude. Remember that you are having a conversation with someone, not interrogation. This can prevent wasting time on interviewing people and you learn nothing about them. 

What if interviewees don’t talk much? 

Some people aren’t really open when it comes to talking to strangers especially if it is the first time they meet. There are several ways to go about this issue. It could start from welcoming an interviewee when they arrive. Greeting, offering some drink, and having some casual conversation can help comfort them and make them relax. Before going straight to the interview questions, some warm-up questions could be helpful too. During the interview, if they don’t talk much, you may need to add more effort to comfort and encourage the interviewees. It is totally fine if they have some pause before while answering. Don’t rush. If you run out of time, cut it short. Last but not least, don’t put words in their mouth.

Nevertheless you should still be aware of the length of the interview. Long interview might not be good for both interviewer and interviewee as it just exhausts everyone. You would be tired to keep your focus and the interviewee would just want to finish it by answering carelessly. 



What if interviewees talk off the topic?

Different people have different stories although they may have similar experience but it is still different in small details. Don’t take it for granted. The point of the interview is to learn about people’s story/experience and one way to learn is to listen actively and carefully because they are “the experts on their own experiences”. So let them answer freely. At times you will discover surprising stories and good insights. 

Anyhow, sometimes it is the question that is confusing rather than they misunderstand it. After they start answering, if you feel that is not what you ask about, you may stop them and explain your question some more. Be careful to not lead them. A way to prevent this is to do a pilot test or test run by conducting an interview with a couple of people to review your questionnaire and measure the time it takes to complete. You might also find that some questions are repetitive and can be combined or removed. So you can check if others understand the questions the same way you do and if the questionnaire length is appropriate.



To conclude

One may say that an interview is just a work of art. There are many details and ways to master it. I would say the more you do the better you get. Mostly it is about solving unexpected problems, handling a conversation, and dealing with people professionally. Just be mindful when you are listening and speaking. Eventually you will develop your own style.

Here is another article by Mária Ilona Horváth about user interview that covers from planning, conducting to summarising data.