User Testing Interviews - An Interviewer’s Perspective

user testing
What can an interviewer do to get the most out of user testing?

Facilitate your user tests

We’re passionate about creating apps that people want to use. So alongside our clients, we put users at the heart of every decision we make.

Popularised with the recent rise of Design Sprints, we’ve been using User Testing Interviews regularly as an effective tool to ensure we stick to keeping users at the centre of our decision making.

Every user test needs an interviewer to facilitate, in this short article I explore some of the things I’ve learnt from fulfilling that role.

The setup

The setup has to serve both the interview itself and the team watching/reviewing the interview.

For many of our interviews, that team includes our client as well as the scrum team.

As always, we want to make sure that everyone feels relaxed and comfortable so they can get the most from the session.

For us, this means two rooms at opposite ends of the office, linked together with CAT5 that allows for the streaming of audio and video between the rooms. The team are far enough away from the interview so the user tester doesn’t feel intimidated or in anyway influenced but they can see in detail everything that happens and is communicated.

The watching team uses post-its on our large whiteboard wall to record all the observations they make during the interview. These are collated and recorded at the end of the day.

Set the scene

Where possible it is helpful to set the interview room up to reflect the situation the product may be used in. We’ve found the easiest scene is a living or dining room, but you can use your imagination to tailor the environment to the product in question.

Meet and greet

When an interviewee arrives, it is vital that they feel comfortable in the space. We always a make sure our office is super, tidy, clear of clutter, the right temperature and that the bin doesn’t smell.

We greet the interviewee as we would anyone visiting our office; we take their coat, offer them a drink and whilst making the introduction start some small talk. Every moment of the limited time you have with that person is crucial to help them relax and engage with you, and with the product you are testing.

When it is time to offer them a seat, start to introduce the concept. Where possible, sit side by side to avoid any unintended ‘us and you’ signals.


I intentionally opt for a relaxed and open style of conversation during interviews. I always say ‘We’re not here to test you, we’re here to test the app’. I’m not trying to grill the person, after all, they’re doing us a favour.

The best outcomes arise from a user tester who is given the space to interact with the product in the most natural way, so I don’t want them to feel under pressure.

I’ve found it is best to adopt a ‘we’ mentality in all you do; make sure they feel like you are working together to explore the product when you start.

The interview

Once you've set the scene and settled your team and, most importantly, the interviewee, it's time to begin.


It is good to give the interviewee a slightly more formal introduction to what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and how. This format has worked for me:

  • Ask; ‘Have you done this type of thing before?’
  • Point out that although we’re in the room by ourselves, there is a team reviewing and taking notes in another room.
  • Clarify that we’re testing the app, not them and that nothing is too silly to ask or say.
  • Remind them that I’ve not been involved in the design or development, so they can be as honest in their feedback as they wish
  • Ask them to; ‘Think aloud, talk me through what you are doing and thinking at all stages’

We’ve found it is important to get some background information about the person, so we can understand their approach to the product and their responses to what they are seeing.

I tailor the exact questions to the interview, but questions such as these normally feature; “Tell me a bit about yourself?”, “What do you do for a living?”, “Tell me about your living situation (no need for personal details)?”.

These not only give us some context but also help relax the interviewee, as you start to move into the more formal part of the process.


I’m not looking for the user's opinion, I want to see their natural reaction to the product.

For example, I don’t expect them to say ‘I think that button should be larger’, but I watch if they can find the button - and how long it takes them.

Incidentally, it helps if you haven’t been involved in the product design or development so you can naturally explore this together and truly go into the testing without an agenda. It is important to complete the interview with the attitude of ‘we’ rather than ‘you’.

Start exploring

I’d perhaps start by saying something like; ‘Ok we’re ready to start exploring, we’re just going to jump in and start using the product’. I’d also likely say; ‘I’d like you to do the driving’, making sure the interviewee understands they are the person who would be interacting with the product.

Take notes / don't take notes

During interviews, I have a single A4 prompt sheet with my standard introductory and product specific questions. I don’t take notes on the tester’s responses during the interview. The reviewing team are doing that from their hiding spot.

I do, however, make small notes on the prompt sheet of other things I can ask or improve on in subsequent interviews for that product.

Adjust as you go

We carry out 5 sessions per day. At that frequency, you learn loads in the first couple of interviews about how to get the best from the interviewees regarding the specific product.

It is important to note these and adjust as you go.

Here are some things to remember to help you get good feedback:

  • Try to leave questions open ended, don’t offer them questions that can be answered just 'Yes' or 'No'.
  • Trailing off your voice during a sentence can help give space for the interviewee to fill in the gap. For example; “So you choose that option over the other one because…”
  • Don’t be afraid to dig deeper into a decision or comment. For example; “I notice that you clicked on that button, what were you expecting to happen when you clicked it?”
  • You can always return to something you missed in a previous area of the product, part way through or at the end of the process.
  • During the interview you’ll notice patterns starting to emerge, try not to lean into those to intentionally pull them out again. Equally, try not to set out to prove your own agenda or thinking about a product or feature.

Finish well

When you complete your interview (assuming that the product you are testing is credible), there is a good chance that the interviewee will become an advocate for the product and for your company.

They’ve had a chance to use the product/service in depth and you’ve had a chance to introduce them to your brand and culture.

When you finish the interview there is a great opportunity to capitalise on this. As well as giving them the payment for the session (we thank them with a £25 Amazon voucher), why not offer them a discount to use the service they’ve just tested or capture their details to let them know once it is launched?

Build closer

We’ve found User Interviews to be a helpful mechanism for getting in depth feedback about a product, but it has other benefits including building closer relationships with clients, ensuring the team always put the user at the centre of decision making and increased brand awareness.

I hope you find these points useful, feel free to ask questions via twitter:

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