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A design method for engaging customers on what they think about your products.

The nuts and bolts: User interviews are when you ask users questions and capture their answers. Interviews are a great way to get insight into what people think of your product. They can help you investigate its usability and experience, as well as learn more about demographics or ethnicity by asking questions specifically for those purposes during an interview.

man interviewed laptop website

What’s in an interview? Not the job-getting kind — the kind where you talk to your users and see how they’re using a product, what they like and dislike, and what makes them tick. Even a quick conversation can help you validate ideas, avoid pitfalls, and keep your product on the fast track to awesomeness.

We’re constantly interviewing users of Helio— to see what’s working, and what isn’t. We do the same for our clients and their services. There’s nothing like honest feedback from users to keep your head out of the clouds and your feet on the ground!

Who To Interview

Getting a wide range of perspectives never hurts, but talking to people in your target demographic is key. Interviewing your techie friends won’t tell you whether suburban schoolteachers are comfortable using Facebook Connect, or that retirees have trouble reading the small text on mobile devices.

So who’s your target demographic? You’d better not be thinking, “everybody!” Think about Facebook. Even though Facebook has more than twice as many users as there are people in the United States, the social network giant didn’t start off targeting everybody. They started with a small subset of college students. Even if anybody could use your product, ask yourself, “who’s most likely to?” Tech-savvy 20-somethings? Middle-class retirees? Smartphone-loving engineers? Hopefully, you know a thing or two about your product landscape and its users, but if not, do your research! Who are your most active users? Most vocal? Who uses your competitors’ products? What’s the age group you’re trying to reach?

Those were the questions we asked ourselves when developing any of our products. Take for instance, our annotation tool, Notable. We figured that the tool would be handy for smaller, product design teams, such as designers, product managers and consultants. On the other hand, we figure that with our app Influence would appeal more to the business and marketing side of creating products. So those users would be more familiar with enterprise software and desktop publishing. Now it would be plain silly to start asking baristas at Starbucks what they think about our products since they aren’t our target users. In other words, ask yourself who would actually use your product. Once you figure that out, that’s who you should interview.

Where to Find Interviewees

One of the places we like to go to find interviewees is Craigslist while we’re still working on one of our products or a client project. We typically put up an add saying we need some folks to try out a product and pay them to answer a few questions. Another source of interviews is your customer base. Once you establish a good base, reach out to them and create a dialogue. You’ll find that users often appreciate having their opinions heard and will give you honest feedback.

How To Interview

So you’ve got your interviewees all lined up, so now what? How do I interview them? What kind of questions should I ask? Don’t fret. Here’s how we go about interviewing, which we want to share with you.

We’ve found conversations between 15 and 30 minutes tend to hit the right balance between getting enough detail and avoiding fatigue. What questions you ask will depend on your product or web service, of course, but we’ve found there are a few basics that can help give a sense of where the user’s coming from:

  1. How old are you?
  2. What other websites do you use regularly?
  3. Do you use Facebook?
  4. Do you have a smartphone? What kind?
  5. What apps do you use during work? After work? At home?
  6. How did you find out about (the product)?
  7. What was the last thing you did with (the product)? Was that a pretty typical way for you to use it?
  8. What do you like most about it?
  9. What do you like least?
  10. Anything else you’d like to see added?

Write out your questions beforehand to make sure you hit the important points, but above all, be flexible! Some of the most interesting information often comes from conversational tangents. Don’t be afraid to go with the flow of the conversation — if the user gets excited about a new feature idea, run with it. Dig in to find out why it’s important to them and what made them think of it.

Don’t get us wrong, we aren’t saying you should implement every idea you hear. This process is about understanding a user’s motivations and giving context to the decisions you make as you continue to evolve your product.

When to Interview …

… as early as possible! Even before you’ve released your product, talk to people and find out how they use related products. It’s easy to make assumptions about why people use a certain app, but that’s all guesswork unless you ask them.

Once you’ve made a product functional (even if it’s not in public release!) you’re ready to start getting your work in front of users and getting their reactions. By interviewing soon and often, you’ll be engaging in user testing, which can help you see problems before you waste a bunch of time and money on implementing a product that nobody wants to use.

Neverending Battle for Truth, Justice, and Feedback

With the feedback from the interviews, you have to figure out which answers best work for your project. You can’t integrate every piece of feedback. You might find that one person wants a particular feature, but that feature doesn’t make sense for a majority of your users. That’s why it’s imperative to get to the “why” of a user motivations so you can move forward in the design process.

Once your product is live, however, interviewing doesn’t come to an end. You’ll want to start reaching out to regular users of your app, especially people having trouble or those who might be on the verge of canceling. We’ve found that by fixing a problem for a frustrated user, we often end up with an exceptionally loyal customer. Winning over those people and you’ll have a fan for life who will be willing to try out your future products as well.

Now get the audience you need and deserve to ensure you’re reaching the right ones. Validate your audience and open hailing frequencies with this Helio template: 

Validate Audience Test

Are you reaching your target audience? Begin to answer that crucial question with this specialized customer survey.

Use this template for:

  • Consumer Profiling
  • Provide insight into campaign performance
  • Ensure your product’s unique selling point aligns with your target audience’s needs
Use Template