User interviews in product discovery: 10 key tips

12 min read
July 31, 2023

What is the ultimate goal of product discovery?

Meeting your users’ needs.

And user interviews are a great way to identify their pain points, problems, and motivations.

This is why it’s vital you get these interviews right, so you can extract the most value from your users’ feedback.

In this article, we’ll share 10 key tips to help you plan and conduct user interviews.

Let’s dive in!

Define your goals for the user interview

Before you begin writing the questions you’ll be asking your users, you need to define your goals for the user interview.

A clear set of goals will help you provide structure for your interviews and keep them focused.

This’ll let you extract the most value from your user interviews.

Vague goals like “learn more about our users” can skew the validity of the data and make it difficult to write questions for the interview.

Your interview goals will also depend on which phase of discovery you’re in when conducting the interview.

Let’s talk about some example goals:

  • Identifying patterns in your target audience to inform your user persona 
  • Specifying features and functionalities that meet your users’ needs
  • Detecting friction points and areas for improvement in your design

A helpful framework you can use for goal-setting is the SMART goals framework.

SMART goals

This will help you set focused and targeted goals for your user interviews.

Keep in mind that user interviews are a qualitative research method meant to gather insights about your users.

This means that the goals you set might not be measurable.

Even so, the SMART framework is useful as a guide even if your goals don’t satisfy every benchmark.

Once you’ve defined your goals, you can begin preparing for the interview itself.

Recruit the right participants

The key step for a successful user interview is recruiting the right participants.

They have to be representative of your target audience and the end users of your product.

getting this step wrong means that the data won’t reflect your users’ actual thoughts about your product.

You’re most likely to make a mistake when selecting your participants during the initial discovery stages.

This is why it’s crucial that you correctly identify your target audience during your market research.

You’ll be drawing your participants from that group.

Target market vs target audience

Recruiting participants is a straightforward process if you’re creating a product for the general public, e.g. if you’re building a car-buying app.

If you’re targeting a more specific audience, you’ll need to put in extra work to ensure you recruit the right people.

Let’s say you’re making a collaborative design tool for product designers.

It’s a good idea to write a multiple-choice screener survey that removes participants who don’t meet your criteria i.e., are not product designers.

Posting on your social media and going through your network are good ways to find participants.

If your target audience is particularly niche, interest groups or forums dedicated to that niche are a good place to look for recruits.

Regardless of the method you use to find participants, it’s important that they represent your target audience. 

This way, you’ll gain actionable insights from your user interviews.

Create an interview guide

To successfully conduct a user interview during product discovery, you need to prepare questions you’ll ask the users.

As they’re a qualitative research method, user interviews are semi-structured by design.

This means that you should ask open-ended questions that allow room to further explore your users’ thoughts.

Interview guides are a great way of facilitating that during the interview.

They consist of the main questions you’ll be asking the participants, ordered thematically.

You should also structure them to enable the conversation to logically flow from question to question.

Pictured below is an example of how you can structure your interview guide:

Interview guide example

source: Pressbooks

It’s a good idea to also jot down follow-up questions you’re likely to ask most of your participants.

As its name suggests, an interview guide is just that – a guide.

This means you don’t have to blindly follow it to the letter.

Let the conversation develop naturally and don’t interrupt the flow of conversation.

No two user interviews are the same.

You shouldn’t hesitate to ask questions out of order if the conversation goes in a certain direction.

You’ll get the best results from your interviews if you keep that in mind.

Ask open-ended questions

The point of user interviews in product discovery is to get information about your users’ feelings, motivations, and how they’ll use your product.

The answers you’re looking for in a user interview aren’t quantifiable.

That’s why it’s important you avoid close-ended questions and ask open-ended questions instead.

It’s impossible to understand your users if you ask them only yes or no questions.

Open-ended vs close-ended questions

source: Delighted

Open-ended questions don’t have a predetermined set of answers and they’ll differ from user to user.

They allow room for discussion and follow-up questions, encouraging your users to answer at length.

The questions “did you enjoy using our product?” and “what did you enjoy about using our product?” are similar but the answers you get are wildly different.

With the former, the answers are either binary or multiple choice and it’s a good question to ask in a survey to get quantitative data.

The latter encourages your users to expand on their positive experiences with your product.

Open-ended questions encourage in-depth answers and help you understand your users’ perspective.

This is invaluable for gaining insights about their pain points, needs and motivations.

Avoid leading questions

The point of user interviews is to get answers that accurately reflect your users’ experiences with your product.

That’s why you should avoid asking leading questions.

Leading questions encourage someone to answer in a particular way.

So, if you ask your users “did you enjoy using our fantastic product?” you’re implying that the answer should be “yes” with the way you’ve framed your question.

Leading questions

source: HubSpot

Leading questions are most commonly found in surveys but they can crop up in user interviews, too.

To avoid them, make sure you keep your questions neutral and avoid platitudes about your product.

Leading questions prevent your users from giving you honest feedback.

It’s awkward to answer a question honestly if someone’s experience is opposite to the framing of the question.

Someone who had a negative experience with your product is less likely to answer truthfully if you ask them “what did you enjoy about using our fantastic product?”.

Leading questions compromise the integrity of your data and render it useless.

This makes it impossible to get actionable insights and improve your product to better meet your users’ needs.

Understand your users’ context

To ask your users the right questions, you need to understand their context.

This means understanding the context in which they’re using your product.

Understanding your users’ context is key to getting the most value out of your user interviews.

It also gets you closer to the main goal of product discovery, which is creating a product that meets your users’ needs.

Understanding the contexts of use is also a cornerstone of user-centered design.

Pictured below are the various contexts of use:

Contexts of use

source: Interaction Design Foundation

The context in which your users use your product is influenced by everything from their culture to the capabilities of the device they’re using.

But, what does that have to do with your user interview questions?

Let’s go back to our collaborative design tool example from earlier.

If it’s meant to be used in a professional capacity by product designers, its context of use will be different than if it was geared towards beginners.

If you understand how your product is used, you’ll be able to craft better interview questions.

In our example, you can ask “how does our product fit into your workflow?”

This will gain you insights into potential improvements you can make on that front.

Understanding your users’ context also helps you narrow down the pool of potential participants, e.g. excluding iOS users if you’re making an Android app.

Use active listening techniques

A user interview is a conversation, not an interrogation.

Building rapport with your interviewees is crucial for a successful user interview in product discovery.

Active listening plays a huge role in making that happen.

It helps you connect with your interviewee and facilitates open, honest dialogue.

If you actively listen, your users will be more comfortable opening up and you’ll get better results from your user interviews.

Active listening skills

source: The Balance

Active listening is a combination of verbal and non-verbal cues you can use to show your interviewees that you’re engaged with what they’re saying.

Here are some key active listening techniques you should employ:

  • Face the speaker and keep eye contact
  • Pay attention to non-verbal cues
  • Don’t interrupt
  • Listen without judgment
  • Show that you’re listening with interjections and nodding
  • Don’t impose your opinion
  • Stay focused
  • Ask relevant follow-up and probing questions
  • Paraphrase and summarize

By using these techniques, you’ll show your interviewees that you have a genuine interest in their feedback.

This’ll significantly improve the quality of your user interviews.

Interview one user at a time

What you’re looking for in a user interview are in-depth answers about your product.

The key to getting those answers is dedicating enough attention to your interviewee.

This is why you should interview one user at a time, otherwise you run the risk of diluting their answers.

Difference between surveys, interviews and focus groups

source: Frontline Institute

This can also result in turning your user interview into an ad-hoc focus group.

Although they’re both qualitative user research methods, they serve different purposes.

User interviews provide you with deeper, more nuanced insights from a single perspective.

Focus groups give you less detailed but more numerous insights from several perspectives.

Another risk of interviewing more than one user at a time is that one person might dominate the conversation.

This can skew the validity of your data.

Some people are shy in group settings and struggle to express themselves in group interviews.

A one-on-one conversation prevents that from happening.

Record and transcribe your user interviews

We’ve mentioned how one of the ways to extract the most value out of a user interview in product discovery is active listening.

This is difficult if you’re taking notes at the same time.

That’s why it’s a good idea to record and transcribe your user interviews.

Of course, you can task a team member to take notes and jot down their initial impressions of your users’ thoughts.

But if you’re the interviewer, your focus should be on the conversation you’re having with your interviewee.

product discovery

Learn more about our discovery process →

App development starts with product discovery…

It’s important to always inform your interviewees that you’re recording and you should gain their consent first.

Recording and transcribing user interviews will allow you to revisit and reference them later.

It also makes it much easier to share the results of your user interviews with the rest of your discovery team.

Another benefit is that you’ll be able to gather insights faster if you have a transcript of the interview as opposed to relying on notes or your memory.

Recording and transcribing user interviews also promotes transparency and makes it easier to analyze your data.

Follow up with your users after implementing their feedback

Acting on feedback is more important than the feedback itself.

Once you’ve analyzed it, it’s time to implement it and improve your product.

Don’t stop there, though.

Make sure you follow up with your users after you’ve acted on the feedback.

What you should do is create a feedback loop.

Customer feedback loop

This is a great way to continuously improve your product.

What you can do when following up with your interviewees is ask them to take part in usability testing.

They’ll then see that you’ve acted on the feedback they gave you during their user interviews.

This will make it easier to convert them into actual users once you launch your product.

It’s also a good way to establish a relationship with your users.

You can also use the feedback loop you’ve built to implement continuous product discovery.

This way, you’ll ensure that you always stay on top of your users’ evolving needs.


User interviews are one of the best ways to get insightful feedback from your users.

The data you gather during user interviews is invaluable for getting an understanding of how your users feel about your product.

So, what are the key tips for holding successful user interviews in product discovery?

They are:

  • Defining your goals for the user interview
  • Recruiting the right participants
  • Creating an interview guide
  • Asking open-ended questions
  • Avoiding leading questions
  • Understanding your users’ context
  • Using active listening techniques
  • Interviewing one user at a time
  • Recording and transcribing your user interviews
  • Following up with your users after implementing their feedback

If you’re interested in learning more about product discovery, check out our product discovery process or read our other articles on the topic.

Written by

Karlo Mihanovic

Tech Advisor

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