Deep interviews: who to seek and what to do

Mariia Paramonva
5 min readJul 9, 2023

Deep interviews are an important part of the research process. This method allows for a deeper understanding of users, their needs, motivations, and behaviors. It helps to better grasp what truly matters to them and the challenges they face when using a product or service. This information enables the creation of more effective and user-friendly interfaces that better cater to user needs.

When should you not conduct deep interviews? When you need quantitative data, surveys are more suitable. When you need to analyze interface solutions, usability testing is a better option.

Sometimes clients are reluctant to conduct deep interviews, citing the following reasons:

  1. It increases development time.
  2. It incurs additional expenses.
  3. They already know everything about their users.

While the first two points may be true, the answer to the third point is “NO.” Furthermore, this negation carries more weight than the previous two points combined.

The client is not the same as their user. If the client has not conducted preliminary research, including deep interviews, all their assumptions about their audience and their needs are nothing more than unfounded fantasies.

What needs to be prepared for the interviews?

  • Interview goals
  • A list of hypotheses (questions)
  • Identify the target audience and find respondents
  • Interview plan

List of hypotheses

The preparation begins with what is known as “desk” research. By studying information from open sources, social media reviews, app stores, forums, we gain an understanding of the common problems people face.

We categorize the gathered information into three groups: certain, presumed, and unknown (white areas). It is within the realm of assumptions that future hypotheses lie. A hypothesis can be answered with a clear “yes” or “no.” For the third group, where we have no knowledge, we obtain information in response.

I borrowed this scheme from the seminar of Daria Khlopova and Evgeny Turovskaya

Whom to communicate with?

If the product already exists, communicate with your users or users of a similar product.

If the product doesn’t exist yet, talk to users of a similar product or individuals who have already tackled the problem that our product aims to solve.

Where to search?

The most obvious choice is among friends and acquaintances, as there is a high probability of reaching the desired participants through personal connections. You can also make a post on your social media accounts or arrange for a post in a relevant chat or group.

Ideally, the client would provide the participants, especially if you are working on an internal product. However, it’s not advisable to rely solely on this fortunate outcome.

There may be cases when you cannot reach the desired category of participants🤷‍♀️. This often includes respondents such as:

  • People from another country.
  • Individuals with maladaptive behavior.
  • Individuals who have experienced the loss of loved ones.
  • Undocumented migrants.
  • Legal professionals.

What should you do in such cases? Rely on indirect data obtained from people who work with or know the individuals we need.

What should you do then? Conduct interviews with respondents who are connected to our target audience and work with indirect data. Yes, this information will not be firsthand, but sometimes that’s all we can do.

Interview

So, you’ve found your respondents. What do you do next? Prepare an interview plan and consider the location for the meeting. If conducting face-to-face interviews, it’s better to choose a less formal setting, such as a cafe or park. Avoid noisy places. If conducting online interviews, agree in advance on the platform to use, such as Zoom, Skype, etc.

Arrange in advance that you will be recording the interview (either audio or screen recording). Explain that the recording will not be shared anywhere and is solely for your own reference to ensure accurate note-taking and attentive listening.

Ideally, you should have a partner who can observe and take notes, even if you are recording the interview. An observer may notice things that the interviewer might miss, providing additional insights.

Introduction

  • Introduce yourself and explain what you work on.
  • Thank the respondent for their participation.
  • Explain that you do NOT collect personal information, and everything shared will be processed anonymously. There will be no phone calls, text messages, or spam.
  • Provide an estimated duration for the interview.
  • Explain that if any question feels inappropriate, they can choose not to answer it.
  • Ask the respondent to share a bit about themselves to establish background information.
  • Proceed to the questions.

Questions

  • Our questions are rephrased hypotheses. For example, if the hypothesis is “If a customer wants to buy new perfume, they are more likely to make the purchase in a physical store,” the question would be “Tell me about the last time you bought a new fragrance for yourself.”
  • It’s important for the questions to be open-ended, without the possibility of a simple yes/no answer.
  • Avoid leading questions.
  • Do not use prediction questions (e.g., “If this product cost X amount, would you buy it? If you were given a discount coupon, would you use it?”). Answers to such questions are mere speculation.
  • Instead, help the respondent tell a story. For example, ask them about the last time they used a food delivery service. Ask about the circumstances and emotions they experienced.

You may encounter respondents who position themselves as experts and provide their opinions on how the product should look and what features it should or should not have. It is important to handle such remarks with caution because in reality, the respondent may not actually use or intend to use what they suggest. It is also necessary to redirect the respondent back to your questions (do this tactfully to avoid offending the person). For example, say, “Thank you for sharing your thoughts on topic X. Now, let’s get back to question Y.”

  • Utilize the “5 Whys” method, where you don’t stop at the first answer but ask follow-up questions to clarify further.
  • Try to stay within the designated timing.

Closing

  • Thank the respondent for their time and express that you found the conversation interesting and enjoyable.
  • Provide feedback on what you have learned from their experience.
  • Ask if they would be interested in participating in product testing.
  • If yes, provide an indication of when it may occur and ask for their preferred method of communication.

After the Interview

Remember that during (or while reviewing) the interview, you took notes? Now it’s time to structure that information.

Group your notes based on their meaning and logic, give names to the emerging groups, and identify connections.

Afterward, draw conclusions. For example, determine whether your hypothesis was confirmed or not, and what you ultimately learned.

Deep interviews help you empathize with your users and energize you to move forward.

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