How Do You Set Up and Conduct User Interviews?

My question at UXSG Meetup #20

Internet Archive Book Images, Image from page 338 of “St. Nicholas [serial]” (1873) [link]

Having researched a fair bit on user interviews, I did not come across much information on recruiting participants. So I asked the good folks in the room, how do you recruit willing interviewees? What channels do you use to reach out to potential participants? How do you peak their interest? Where do you host your interviews?

We had a fruitful discussion within our group with plenty of great advice and perspectives. Here’s a recap.

Prep Work

The first thing you want to do is define your research goals. Is it to improve onboarding? Are you validating a feature idea?

Me? I’m working to overhaul the design of a carpooling app. I want to understand the different needs of my users, particularly those that might conflict with others. The user interviews will ultimately help me create a set of user personas that will guide the rest of the design process.

I prepared a list of questions to find out the traveling routines and needs of different people, their experiences on various modes of transportation and how they use technology to travel and communicate. These questions also form my recruiting criteria. I’m looking for riders and drivers with different behaviors, needs and levels of technical ability.

App analytics can help you find your user segments by distinguishing the different ways that people are using your app.


How do you get complete strangers to sit and talk to you for an hour? You could offer an incentive. A five-dollar Starbucks gift card is enough for some people but for busy working professionals, you might have to fork out hard cash to the tune of 50 to 100 dollars.

You could also appeal to their altruistic nature. Invite them to play a part in your world-changing product. In any case, it helps that people like to be heard. As one of us eloquently put it, “People like to bitch about stuff!”

Reach out through multiple channels such as personal referrals, classifieds and users from your existing database. Be sure that you have legal consent to contact them. If you prefer to do it guerrilla style, set up at a cafe and get people to do interviews on the spot.

Be sure to screen for quality interviewees. Use a short questionnaire to weed out people who might be biased or are too similar to ones you’ve already interviewed.


Start the interview by introducing yourself. Explain the purpose of the interview and the kind of questions your participant can expect. It’s useful to have your product with you if you’re trying to find out how they use it or feel about it.

Build up rapport and put them at ease. Small talk could be helpful but some people might prefer to cut to the chase. Use your judgement.

A number of us thought it’s important to get a signed consent form from your participant. I’m not sure about this. Seeing any kind of waiver typically puts people on guard and that could put a bottleneck on the interview. Regardless, you should treat the collected information with confidentiality and ensure that your participant understands that.

To find out which questions are relevant to your participant, start with open questions. Then recalibrate based on the answers given.

How long should an interview last? It varies from person to person but they might tire out around 45 minutes. You can tell from their answers and body gestures. If you find that the interview is not long enough to get you the answers you need, your research goals could be too broad and you might need to refine them.

Thanks to everyone who took part in the discussion. Thank you Ping Ting for helping me take notes. If you have more to share, please add your response so we could all benefit from it!

A few lingering questions from me:

  • Do you do video recordings of your interviews? Are most people fine with this? If not, what do you do to address their concerns?
  • Do you contact your research participants for future sessions? Or does doing so create bias in your findings?

Useful Resources

Here’s my shortlist of books and articles on user interviews: