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The complete guide to user interviews

Building a better product or service requires one critical insight: a deep understanding of the people you’re building it for. What could be a more effective tactic to achieve this goal than talking to them directly? In this guide, we’ll discuss how to plan, run, and analyze user interviews to get actionable insights.

Last updated

4 Oct 2023

Reading time

7 min


User interviews reveal in-depth insights that no other research method can, helping you gather qualitative data about your audience’s needs, pain points, and experiences. Typically lasting around 30 to 60 minutes, these sessions give you space to ask an individual user about virtually any topic related to your product—then explore their answers in depth.

These types of interviews provide invaluable insights for product teams, UX designers, marketers, and researchers. But they can also be useful to customer support, sales, and even business leadership.

Learn more about your users

Use Recordings and Heatmaps to see what your users are doing, then understand their experiences with Surveys and Interviews.

Types of user interviews

There are three main categories of interviews.

Unstructured vs. semi-structured vs. structured

  • Structured interviews follow the same format each time, asking participants the same questions with little (if any) space to go in unexpected directions

  • Unstructured interviews are free-flowing conversations around a specific topic. While they still answer a specific user research question, they don’t follow a script.

  • Semi-structured interviews are somewhere in between—they may have a basic format, but the interviewer has the freedom to go ‘off-script’ depending on what the interviewee says

Generative vs. contextual vs. continuous

  • Generative interviews help researchers ‘generate’ new insights and ideas. They typically involve exploring a user’s thoughts and experiences in open conversation.

  • Contextual interviews are conducted in a specific place or scenario—like the participant’s workplace. The interviewer asks questions and observes the participant completing tasks in that specific context.

  • Continuous interviews involve interviewing the same participant multiple times to see how their perspectives evolve

Remote vs. in-person

  • In-person interviews place the interviewer and interviewee in the same (physical) room. Some researchers choose this method because it allows them to observe the interviewee better, and because there are fewer distractions.

  • Remote interviews are now common thanks to internet-based interview tools. They cost less to conduct than in-person interviews, and can incorporate transcription tools that speed up analysis.

🎤 Conduct better remote interviews with Hotjar

Hotjar Engage helps busy product teams automate interview processes, making user research a breeze. Use Engage to host, record, and transcribe interviews, and share notes with colleagues for effective collaboration.

Bring in your team as observers. And if they can’t make it, don’t worry—you’ll get an automated transcription as soon as the interview ends, so you can share time-stamped notes that highlight insightful parts of the conversation.

Automate your research process with Hotjar

User interviews vs. user testing: what’s the difference?

Both user interviews and user testing are invaluable for teams who need feedback on their work. However, there are a few key differences between them.

User interviews

User testing

What it is

Interviews with individual users (or non-users from a target audience)

Research sessions where participants interact with a product and researchers observe their actions and gather feedback

When to do it

At any stage of the product development process (market research, concept testing, pre- and post-launch evaluation)

After developing a prototype, or after a product launch or beta launch

Insights it provides

User experiences and perspectives on any topic

User experiences and actions when using a specific product

5 reasons to start interviewing your users

User interviews help you make better decisions at every stage of the product life cycle, from researching users to marketing your finished product.

1. Understand your market

In the early stages of developing a product, you need to understand where the opportunities are in the market. By interviewing potential users from that very market, you learn valuable insights like:

  • Your target audience’s needs and pain points

  • How they view other solutions on the market

  • What their decision-making process looks like

Direct insights like these help you identify gaps in the market and develop ideas for how your product could better serve target audiences.

2. Develop user personas

User personas are fictional characters that represent a typical user from your target audience. 

They give you a framework for understanding those users so you can craft products, services, and marketing campaigns for them. Plus, they’re handy when you want to draw up a customer journey map for an audience segment.

Creating user personas is simple: interview a handful of users about their needs, asking a small number of set questions. Finally, create a profile of a person who represents an ‘average’ of the common answers you got. 

👉 Read our guide to user personas to learn more

3. Get feedback on ideas and concepts

When you’ve got an idea for a new product or feature, user feedback can help you decide whether to invest in it. 

Conduct user interviews with people from your target audience to see if the product has potential and to learn what you could improve. Finally, use your findings to report back to your team and get buy-in from stakeholders.

4. Improve existing products

After launching a product, you’ll be able to gather data on how users respond to it—like conversion, sales, and product usage figures. However, this kind of data won’t tell you why users act the way they do.

User interviews let you probe users about their likes, dislikes, experiences, and behaviors, so you can identify their frustrations or unmet needs.

5. Create and optimize marketing campaigns

Your users probably see hundreds of marketing messages each day, and they’ll ignore most of them. To create successful campaigns, you need to make sure your marketing materials resonate deeply with your target audiences.

Interviews help you understand user pain points, needs, and perspectives. This way, your marketing messages join the conversation in users’ heads. 

👉 Ready to experience these benefits for yourself? Check out our tips for mastering user interviews.

Combine user interviews with other research methods for a complete picture of your audience

User interviews yield even more valuable insights when combined with other UX research methods. Consider these powerful combinations for an in-depth understanding of your audience.

Usability testing + user interviews

Many product and UX teams regularly conduct usability testing to get feedback on existing products. This research method involves asking participants to complete tasks with a product, then observing their behavior. 

To get further clarity, conduct an interview with the participant immediately after each usability test. This gives you a clearer picture of how real people experience your product, what they struggle with, and what they would change.

Surveys + user interviews

Surveys are a tried-and-tested tactic to help you learn from your customers—but they only let you scratch the surface of a topic. When you discover something significant from your survey responses, follow up with interviews to learn more.

🔥 If you’re using Hotjar

Hotjar Surveys and Interviews are a match made in user research heaven. Conduct interviews to discover what new features your users need, and narrow the list of suggestions down to a top three. Then, decide which feature to build first by sending a survey to your users and getting feedback at scale.

Hotjar Surveys lets you gather qualitative data in the form of open-ended question responses, plus quantitative data from scale-based questions

User behavior data + recordings + user interviews

When conducting UX audits or launching conversion rate optimization (CRO) initiatives, you’ll look at several types of data. For example, you might analyze web analytics data to see which pages users leave from, then view session recordings to find out what users do before they leave.

#Hotjar Recordings lets you watch a reconstruction of each user’s journey in real time
Hotjar Recordings lets you watch a reconstruction of each user’s journey in real time

This kind of data exploration can reveal some interesting behavior trends—but the reasons behind user behavior aren’t always clear. User interviews are an illuminating final step in the process, where users reveal exactly how they perceive problems on your website or product, in their own words. 

Who should you recruit for user interviews?

According to Sara Hefny, a Senior Product Researcher at Hotjar, getting the right audience is key. “Make sure you have a clear idea of who is best equipped to respond to the questions you need answered,” she says. 

Depending on your user research goals, you’ll need to recruit existing users, or members of your target audience who aren’t currently users. 

Here are some common goals and the users you should recruit to achieve them:

Sara also advises creating a screening question to filter out people who don’t fit the criteria you need for your target audience.

Not sure where to start? Recruit participants directly from Hotjar Engage, tapping into our pool of 175,000 users from a wide range of demographics, and automatically screening them.

Try it out! Our free Basic plan gives you one free interview from the Hotjar participant pool, and up to five per month from your own network.

How to do user interviews in 6 steps

Follow these steps to plan, run, and learn from your interviews. We’ll discuss these in greater detail in a later chapter of this guide, so keep a lookout. 👀

🤖 Want to take your user interview game to the next level? Use AI to improve user interviews. Artificial intelligence can help you:

  • Enhance understanding and connection during interviews

  • Improve interview inclusivity and accessibility

  • Streamline administrative interviewing tasks

Find the hidden insights in your user interviews 

When it comes to building great products for your customers, research is key—and the devil is in the details. Often, the most valuable insights will come from passing thoughts your interview participants share, or trends you’ll only notice when analyzing multiple interviews.

For this reason, developing great interview skills is invaluable for teams. By asking the right questions and listening for those important small details, you’ll uncover what your users need most. And when you equip your team with the right tools, you can ensure you don’t miss any of those business-boosting user insights.

Learn more about your users

Use Recordings and Heatmaps to learn what your users are doing, then understand their experiences with Surveys and user interviews.

User interviews FAQs