Use this template to ask the user interview questions that drive product and marketing decisions.
Who this is for: Founders, product managers, and UX researchers conducting user research to guide the development of new or improved products.
Why this exists: Too frequently I see founders and product managers start with a solution and then ask for feedback on it (UX researchers tend to get this right). This doesn’t work. As one user interviewee told me recently, “When I first conducted user interviews all I learned was that everyone loves your product if you ask stupid questions”.
Download the template I start with when creating questions for a new set of user interviews.
How I Use The Template For User Interviews
Here’s how I break up a 30-minute user interview:
1. Background and rapport-building [5 minutes]
A successful qualitative user interview should be sincere, vivid, and emotional. To achieve all three of these you need to build a solid foundation with your interviewee. When I’m on the other end of user interviews, I can always tell how experienced the interviewer is by how much they ask about me at the beginning. Experts spend more time getting to know me. We do this to build rapport and understand more about the segment we’re interviewing. For example, in my research, I’ve found that the role of a product manager varies so much between a large and small firms that they’re two completely different segments. Another thing I try to do is earn confidence from the interviewee by proving that I’m well prepared. For example, if I see that the user recently switched roles, or we have a shared connection or interest, I’ll sneak that into this portion.
Don’t ask: Nothing. Don’t skip this part. You’re about walk the tightrope between interrogation and interview; if you don’t build rapport early on, you’ll plummet into interrogation territory.
Do ask: Can you tell me a little about your role as a Product Manager at Acme Group?
2. Detailed story-collecting questions [20 minutes]
A successful user interview is one where you, as the interviewer, walk away with a collection of vivid stories. As humans, we don’t recognize issues until we talk about specific scenarios and we tend to be terrible at predicting how we will respond to future scenarios. The key to parseing these out is the follow-up questions you ask. One rule of thumb I use is the rule of five whys; try following up a user’s response with “why” until you’ve reached the core of a problem.
Don’t ask: What problems do you encounter when you do x?
Do ask: Tell me about the last time you did x.
3. Product questions [3 minutes]
Once I’ve collected some stories, if I have time, I’ll spend a few minutes describing the hypothesized product and asking questions about it. One of the best things you can do here is to parse out the expectations from the customer; that’s where the gold is. For example, I’ll give a somewhat vague description of the product, and the customer will say, “so does the thing do y”? Which is the perfect time to ask, “would you like it to do y? Why?” Another great question is, “what did you expect?” For example, a user sent me the following email the other day, “I signed up but I’m not quite sure if I was doing it correctly?” My response: “May I ask a question? What did you expect to see that you didn’t?” Turns out, the user expected to see a note that they would get notified when they got a match. During this portion, I’ll usually ask questions on a one to ten scale because it forces the customer to examine why they gave a certain rating to something and parses out their hesitations to use the product.
Don’t ask: The product does x, would you use it?
Do ask: On a scale of 1 (not likely at all) to 10 (very likely) how likely would you be to use the product? Why? On a scale of 1 (not likely at all) to 10 (very likely), how likely would you be to use the product if it did x? Why?
4. Flywheel-building questions [2 minutes]
By now you’ve built rapport, have some user stories, and the user has a sense of what you’re working on. My favorite questions to ask here are: is there anything I haven’t asked that you think I should be asking? And: do you have any other concerns that we haven’t already talked about? On average, two out of eight respondents will have a question here; when they do it is usually gold because it uncovers something huge that I’ve neglected. Finally, I ask if there’s anyone else that I should be interviewing. This question helps open our blinders to new segments and sometimes leads to a referral for the next user interview.
Don’t ask: Anything else?
Do ask: Is there anything I haven’t asked that I should be asking? Do you have any concerns that haven’t been brought up yet? Is there anyone else that you think I should be interviewing for this research?
For more information on this topic, I discuss how to conduct a user interview in the blog post, How To Conduct Qualitative User Interviews For Customer Discovery.