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What to ask in a user interview?

A quick look at what to ask and how to set up a script for a user interview.

I got a question on my post User interviewing — How and why:

"Any good resources and examples you’d recommend about the specific questions you should ask your users when it comes to company websites and e-commerce?" Simen Schikulski

So, here is a quick answer on how to think when creating the questions for a user interview and how to follow up on the answers you get.

Drawing interview setting and job questionnaire

Interviewing a user is all good, but what questions should you ask?

"I haven’t found any resources because I haven’t looked for it".

I had some journalist training from earlier, and found that useful, since it’s all about exploring the world of the person being interviewed instead of confirming what you think you know.

This is mostly about mapping the user’s world. The questions tend to be quite different depending on whether they are for business tools or consumer tools, but the principles are the same and there is also a lot of overlap.


Start with the really open questions

  • What does a normal day look like?
  • What tasks do you need to get done?
  • What’s difficult?
  • What’s important to you in your position as [title / role]?
  • When do you feel that you succeed?
  • When do you feel that you fail?
  • By what metrics are you measured (needs to be rephrased for non-business)?

When the person being interviewed touches on things that you find interesting, start digging, but keep a neutral language. Also try to follow up on answers that do not immediately look like they will help you reach your solution, but still seem like they are important to the one being interviewed.


Dig into answers and areas you want to know more about

  • Tell me more about [x]!
  • What specifically is it that is difficult with [y]?
  • When that happens, what do you do?
  • Mention a concrete example!
  • Can you show me how that looks / how you do that?

Afterwards you can start asking more specific questions about topics you want more information about; that connects to the problem you think you want to solve. But try to connect it to the answers you’ve already gotten. This will make it easier to get good answers, as it will still be about their world.


What answers are you looking for?

The answers you are looking for are user stories that covers your interest in the user, and these need to be concrete to be helpful. The best answers give you clear user stories: As [role X] I need to achieve [task y] because of [business goal z]. You’ll never get a full story in a one sentence answer, so you need to dig some more.

  • In what role do you need to do [task y]?
    → Connects to role and if it is an actual business goal.
  • What goal / business goal do you meet by completing this task?
    → Uncovers goals / business goals.
Drawing ear and speech bubble
The standard form for a user story: As [role x] I need to achieve [task y] because of [business goal z].


At the end you can ask things like:

  • If we could solve one thing / remove one problem, what should that one thing be?

Most probably, there is always more than one thing that comes up. But you get to see if you missed something, and get some sort of prioritization on how important fixing different issues actually are.

Hope this helps, and may I suggest you read the “User interviewing — How and why?” too! If you have suggestions on stuff that I haven’t covered, shout out!