Skip to main content

Interviewing participants with diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and abilities is extremely important to ensure that your designs are accessible and equitable. 

A representative sample is a small group of participants who represent both the target user group and user groups that are often marginalized. Interviewing a representative sample will help you improve the overall user experience of your product because inclusive design benefits everyone. Ultimately, the research you conduct should help you create great experiences for all users!  

How to Recruit Interview Participants

  1. Determine interview goals: what do you want to learn from the interviews? Are there certain user problems or pain points that you need to empathize with? 
    • I want to understand the processes and emotions that people experience around the problem my product is trying to solve.
    • I want to identify common user behaviors and experiences with tasks that my product is trying to address.
    • I want to understand user needs and frustrations as they relate to the product I’m designing. 
  2. Write interview questions: With the goals of the interview in mind, you can write the questions that you’ll ask real people during interviews. The more aligned the interview questions are with your goals, the more useful the data you obtain will be. 
    • Ask open-ended questions. the questions you ask during interviews should not lead or pressure participants towards a desired response; instead, asking open-ended questions lets participants share their true thoughts and perspectives.
    • Keep questions short and simple. It should be easy for interview participants to understand what you’re asking.
    • Ask follow-up questions. During the empathize phase of the design process, interviews should be conversational, so encouraging participants to elaborate is a best practice. After a participant answers an interview question, try asking them “Why?” or use the phrase, “Tell me more about that” to keep the conversation flowing.
  3. Use a screener to select a representative sample of study participants: The participants you select for a research study should be based on your research goals and the target users of the product you’re designing. Send a screener survey. A screener survey is a detailed list of questions that help researchers determine if potential participants meet the requirements of the research study. 
    • Screening participants often requires collecting demographics, which are the characteristics of a group or individual. (Be conscious and mindful of the questions you ask in screener surveys and how you ask them. Frame questions in a way that is respectful and inclusive, and make questions optional if they ask about demographic data. You might want to preface demographic questions with a short explanation of why the question is being asked.) Demographics that you might ask about in a screener survey include: 
      • Age
      • Geographic location 
      • Job title or industry 
      • Gender

How and where you find research study participants depends on the company you work for, the type of product you’re designing, time constraints for the research, the project’s budget, and the accessibility of target users. Based on these project details, you can choose from a variety of ways to find research participants. 

  1. Personal network. Think about family, friends, or colleagues who fit the demographics of the target users you’re designing for.
  2. Existing user base. 
  3. Online. You can use your own social media to find research participants. Or, there are websites created specifically to connect with research participants, like UserTesting and User Interviews. You can also find online groups that have users with the demographic characteristics that you want to interview. 
  4. Hallway testing. A less formal way to recruit for your study is to ask people in person. which means asking people that pass by in the “hallway” to try the product you’re designing. Try to position yourself in a location where you’re most likely to encounter your product’s target audience. It can be effective if you’re recruiting a small number of participants, if you have limited time, or if you want to conduct research for free. However, finding participants in this way is risky because the people you collect feedback from might not have all the characteristics of your product’s potential users.
  5. Third-party recruiting agencies. Some organizations have a budget to hire third-party research recruiting agencies. They save you time and can often reach diverse users.

Reach out to participants: Once you’ve identified potential research participants, send an email that introduces the project and yourself as the researcher. If you have the budget to provide an incentive to motivate or encourage people to participate in a research study, like a gift card, include that in the email, too. After you confirm people to interview, it’s a good idea to send email reminders the week before the interview and the night before the interview. This will help ensure that the people you’ve found actually show up for their interview!

Hello [Participant Name],

I am currently working on a project for a [project subject] where I need to conduct interviews about [explain the project].

Your participation in the research study would be very valuable to help us [summary of project goals]. Details of the study are shared below. 

  • Location: [Address and link to map]
  • Study dates: [Date range]
  • Time: [Time range]
  • Session length: [Estimated length of time for each interview]

With your permission, we will record each interview to help us decide how to improve our product. Recordings will only be shared with project team members for the scope of this project. A consent form is attached to this email that you need to sign and send back. 

If you have any questions, please contact me through email at [your email address]. 

If you are interested in being interviewed, please let me know when you are available between [date range of study] and the hours of [time range of study].


[Your Name]

How to conduct user interviews

  1. Prepare for the interview
    • Collect supplies. Create a checklist of items you’ll need for the interview, such as a computer, a printed list of questions, or paper and a pencil. If you’re using new equipment or technology during the interview, make sure you know how it works in advance.
    • Research the users. Take time to learn what you can about the people you’ll interview. If the users you’re preparing to interview provide their personal information before the interview, be sure to take note of it. This information might include their name, demographic information, relevant experience with the product you’re designing, or details about how they learned about the interview. You can use this information to extend the conversation during the interview and build a rapport. When you work for an organization, you can also screen participants on sites like LinkedIn to confirm they are who they say they are. You wouldn’t want to accidentally interview someone who is working for the competition!
    • Script interview questions. Develop a list of questions that you’ll ask all of the users you interview. It’s considered a best practice to keep interview questions fairly consistent across users, but this list of questions is just a guide. You can deviate from the questions you prepared, if necessary, to learn more about the user and their pain points.
    • Practice. It’s always a good idea to practice delivering the questions you’ll ask users before you conduct a real interview. This gives you time to make changes to the questions you’re planning to ask and helps ensure that the interviews run smoothly. Practicing is also a good way to determine if the length of the interview is appropriate, or if you need to add or cut questions from your list. You can practice asking interview questions in front of a mirror or with a trusted colleague.
  2. Meet the participant
    • Build a rapport. Building a good rapport is all about establishing a professional, but friendly, interaction. Making light conversation, like asking how the user’s day has been, can help establish a relationship before the interview begins. Simple questions and welcoming gestures can put the user at ease, which will help them share their true feelings once the interview begins. 
    • Thank users for coming. Before the interview begins, show gratitude to the people you’re interviewing for taking the time to meet with you and share their perspectives. Thanking users is a part of establishing a good rapport and can help them feel like their opinions are valued. 
    • Gather basic details. As you meet users, remember to ask about basic information that’s relevant to the interview, such as their name or demographic details.
  3. Conduct the interview
    • Follow interview etiquette. Speak in a clear and concise manner while asking questions, and remain professional no matter how users answer a question. Show that you are actively listening while users share their perspectives, such as nodding, making appropriate eye contact, or writing notes.
    • Ask open-ended questions. Avoid asking questions that would lead to a simple “yes” or “no” answer. Instead, ask questions that start with “why.” For example, avoid asking “Do you like going to the library?” and instead ask “Why do you like or dislike going to the library?” This will allow for more detailed conversations and can reveal useful information to include in the product you’re designing. If the participant does provide a short “yes” or “no” answer, you should ask a follow-up question to get them to share more.
  4. Take notes
    • Highlight compelling quotes. The most obvious part of an interview is to take notes on what the user says. Interesting quotes are strong indicators about how users really think and feel. Including quotes in your empathy maps is a great way to feature a firsthand perspective from a real user, which can provide valuable insight when you begin your designs. 
    • Document observations about participants. It’s important to record not only what users say, but also their mood, expressions, body language, and behaviors. Pay special attention to outside factors, like a noise or distraction, that might skew interview responses. All of these observations will be important to consider when creating empathy maps.
    • Consider recording interviews. Ask participants if they will allow you to record their interview. If they consent, recorded interviews can be really helpful later, for revisiting parts of an interview that you might not remember or taking additional notes after the interview concludes. 
  5. End the interview
    • After you’ve asked all of the interview questions, give users a chance to share their final thoughts about any items discussed during the interview. Some participants might open up about their opinions and reveal insights that they didn’t share earlier. 
    • Also, remember to thank participants once more. You want participants to leave the interview feeling good about you, your future product, and the brand you might be representing.

Create interview transcripts

  • For each interview, create a new document or grab a blank piece of paper.
    • Write the participant’s name at the top of the page. 
    • Create a brief introduction about the participant, including demographic information, like the participant’s age and job title, and context about the participant that’s relevant to the product you’re going to design.  
  • Write in the interview questions in the order they were asked.
    • Place [UX Researcher] or the interviewer’s name in bold and in brackets before each question that was asked during the interview. 
    • Place the participant’s name in bold and in brackets before each open answer space.
  • Play the recording of the interview, and write the participant’s responses to each question word-for-word.

Interview transcripts, which are a typed or written version of a conversation that’s been recorded. Interview transcripts can come in handy when you need to quickly and easily scan interview content to look for key quotes or feedback from research participants. To create interview transcripts, you’ll need recordings of the interviews you conducted, a way to playback the recording, and either pencil and paper or a word document to type. Our transcripts will be especially useful when you start to synthesize interview data later!

Conduct user interviews for your portfolio project

  • Step 1: Recruit participants
    • You would normally interview a group of 8-12 participants during this empathize phase
    • Make sure you interview a representative sample that includes both the target user group and user groups that are often marginalized. 
    • Determine interview goals
    • Write interview questions
    • Identify and reach out to target participants
    • Aligning your participant selection process with the goals of your research helps make sure the responses you obtain from the interviews are useful to implement in your designs.
  • Step 2: Schedule interviews
    • Once you’ve confirmed your participants, schedule the date, time, and place for each interview. 
    • If you’re conducting interviews in person, provide clear arrival instructions to participants. If you’re conducting interviews remotely on screen or through the phone, make sure the participants are set up with any device and platform requirements they need. 
    • It’s also a good idea to send a reminder to your participants 24 hours before their scheduled interview. 
  • Step 3: Prepare for interviews
    • List of interview questions
    • Paper and pen or pencil, or digital tools, for note-taking 
    • A space free of distractions or interruptions
    • Recording equipment like a video recorder or your phone
    • Incentive gift (if applicable)
    • If you’re conducting interviews remotely, it’s also a good idea to double-check that your device and the meeting link are working. 
  • Step 4: Conduct interviews
    • It’s time for your interviews! After welcoming the participant and letting them settle in, confirm that you have their permission to record the interview. Then, start asking the participant the questions you wrote in Step 1.
    • Your goal during these interviews is to learn as much as possible about users’ opinions, thoughts, experiences, and feelings around the app you’ll be designing. Dig deep into your participants’ answers and encourage them to elaborate as much as possible. 
  • Step 5: Create interview transcripts
    • At this point, you should have at least four completed user interviews. To organize feedback into a more usable format, create a transcript for each interview. This will give you a typed or written version of the interview conversations to use when you create user personas later.

In the exemplar, interview goals specific to the app are defined. Interview questions are written based on those goals. Questions are phrased clearly, are open-ended to encourage detailed conversation, and include follow-up questions. 

Target participant characteristics are identified to help ensure a representative sample is interviewed. Finally, in the interview transcript, participants’ answers to each question are copied down word-for-word. This feedback will come in handy later in the design process.