Better ways to ask 5 common user interview questions
How to ask questions that uncover deep insights about users’ behaviors without injecting personal biases.
Most product teams I work with have done user interviewing in the past. They understand the importance of hearing from users. Where they have trouble with is how to run user interview sessions that uncover deep insights about users’ behaviors without injecting personal biases.
As a user researcher, I advise product managers, designers, and other roles supporting user experience on what questions to ask during user interviews. These are often the same questions they’ve been asking but with small tweaks to collect unbiased answers.
Following are the common user interview questions you can reframe to collect better insights.
People don’t always realize the problems they have. Just last week, I watched a user interacted with software. Despite having to go through several clicks and errors to complete the task, she said that the software was easy to use and user-friendly.
People don’t always recognize their problems because they’re used to the current state. Even if they are aware of the problem, they might not feel confident to share with you if they feel the problem is trivial or it might be their mistakes.
Better question: Ask for observation and indirect questions
- Can you show me how you do this task?
- Think of the last time you do X. How much time did it take you? What was the outcome? How satisfied were you with the outcome?
- If you have an assistant who can do part of this task for you, what will you delegate and what will you keep doing?
Recently, my coworker asked me if I’m selective with the online content I consume. I burst out a yes immediately, citing all the reasons why it is important to do so. Five minutes later, I found myself opening Youtube and clicking on the first recommended video.
This gap between what people say about themselves and what they actually do is why you can’t trust self-evaluation data. Our brains are wired to perceive ourselves favorably.
Better question: Ask about concrete behaviors
- Tell me about the last time you __. (e.g. Think of a content piece you read or watch today. How did that content come to your attention? Why did you decide to view it?)
- How do you [actions that align with that value]?
- How many times did you ___ last week?
There’s a tale about Sony’s focus group for a yellow Walkman. When being asked for their opinions, almost everyone loved the idea of a yellow Walkman and said they would buy it. When the session ended, participants were offered a yellow Walkman or the traditional black.
Everyone took the black Walkman.
It’s free and easy for everyone to say what they want, but their opinions are likely to change when being forced to make choices and commitment. Actually changing behavior, spending money, or learning something new has a cost.
Better question: Ask about existing behavior
- What have you tried? What are you currently doing to make this problem/ task easier?
- When was the last time you __?
- Ask for a small commitment such as early sign-up.
- Bonus tip: Don’t prompt users to talk about a specific action and see if they still bring it up naturally.
It would make the job of product design much easier if we can ask users what they want. Unfortunately, users’ suggestions are limited by their perception of what is possible. They are not designers and technologists to think outside the box and imagine features that don’t exist yet.
Better question: Dig into the why
- What are you trying to get done? Why is it important?
- How do you currently do this?
- When and how would you use the feature you suggest?
Leading questions have an embedded assumption or opinion. Most of us don’t intentionally ask leading questions in user interviews, but it’s easy to slip into those questions.
Better question: Keep your question short and open-ended
- How do you feel about __?