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  • Writer's pictureantoniodellomo

Users' opinions: Interviews

Users' attitudes can have a strong influence throughout the design and development of products. Checking users' opinions at various stages of the design is essential and can save a lot of time by ensuring that unusable, unnecessary, or unattractive features are avoided. Interviews and surveys provide ways of gathering data on users' preferences, but they differ in the amount of preparation required, their style of presentation, and the flexibility of question-asking. The data collected from interviews tend to be qualitative.

You will need to plan interviews carefully so that the line of questioning that you follow is relevant to the issues being investigated. The first step in setting up an interview is deciding who it is that you’re going to interview. It may seem obvious but the most important thing is to get people who are representative of the target users of your system — who are the people who are going to be using your system. You’ll want to find several different people who are representative of major user groups and talk to them. How can you find these people? You can reach out through specific websites or even through friends and family. Your social network is a powerful tool for finding people to interview. What makes a good question when you’re interviewing? Let’s look at an example:

  • Ask people to compare the product to something else

  • Open-ended questions lead to more interesting answers.

  • Ask about their lives and their own goals. That’s what people are experts in.

What makes a bad question when you’re interviewing? Let’s look at an example:

  • Important to avoid yes/no questions.

  • Ask users how they would enhance the product. They are not experts in design.

  • Asking people what they would do or like or want in a hypothetical scenario.

  • Letting people evaluating on an absolute scale

  • Asking us how often we do things (Remember, we often lie to ourselves).

After asking the question, give somebody a chance to respond. A bit of silence is golden.

Structured and Unstructured Interviews

There are two main kinds of interviews: structured and unstructured:

  • Structured interviews have predetermined questions that are asked in a set way and there is no exploration of individual attitudes. This fixed structure is often found in public opinion surveys and it is important if you want to compare the responses of different subjects or make statements supported by statistics.

  • In contrast, unstructured interviews generally have some set topics but no set sequence, and the interviewer is free to follow the interviewees, replies and to find out about personal attitudes. This kind of interview is less formal and may be used early in design for requirements gathering and to gauge users' opinions about a particular idea. Another thing that you will need to consider is how to make the interviewee feel comfortable so that rapport is established between you.

Semi-structured Interviews

Intermediate types of interview styles that you may come across include semi-structured and prompted interviewing. In semi-structured interviews, the interviewer often has a set of questions that she can draw on to direct the interview if the interviewee either digresses or does not say very much. Prompted interviewing is used to draw out more information from the interviewee.


In general the more structured the interview the easier it is for the interviewer. This may be an important consideration if you are intending o interview domain specialists, particularly highly technical ones who know the domain better than you do. The trade-off that exists is the less structured the interview, the more scope for picking up relevant issues but the harder it is for the interview. Another issue to consider is that you need to avoid asking leading questions that beg a particular response. In HCI research, flexible interviews have been used predominantly to determine users' understanding of interfaces. Data analysis is more difficult with flexible or poorly structured interviews but in general, they provide much richer information. As in the case of verbal protocols you should get your interview transcribed or recorded so that you can examine it in detail because sometimes it is easy to miss subtle comments.


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