User Research

UX Research: A Comparative Analysis of Types of User Interviews

Manoj Rana
March 16, 2024
min read
UX Research: A Comparative Analysis of Types of User Interviews
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Diving into a user’s mind and comprehending their feelings and opinions can be a tough job. Among the several user research methods, qualitative user research methods are the most comprehensive and help you get to the core of the issues, if any.

One of the most elaborate and insightful ways to capture user opinions about a product or service is a user interview. Classified as the best qualitative UX method, it is a combination of communication and psychology.

While it is necessary to get reliable data from the users, it is also crucial to ensure that the users are comfortable with the interview. The more comfortable the user, the more openly and freely they will respond. Consequently, the more freely they talk, the more you will get to know about their problems in an unbiased manner.

“To find ideas, find problems, to find problems, talk to people.” – Julie Zhou.

Let’s dive into this exhaustive piece and find out about the types of user interviews.

What are User Interviews?

User interviews are a qualitative way to know about a product or service from a customer. An interviewer probes the customer with a series of connected questions to know the pain points, suggestions, experiences, and opinions.

As an interview is a face-to-face interaction, the researcher can pick up visual cues, facial expressions, and body language of the customer to know better. Furthermore, various quick leading questions and followup questions can be probed to get a deeper insight into the customer thoughts.

In user experience research, interviews are also known as market research interviews or qualitative interviews.

User interviews are of several types, and you can conduct user interviews in several ways.

Types of User Interviews

The main types of user intervals can be classified based on the degree of their structure.

Degree of Structure Interviews

  1. Structured interviews

Based on the degree of structure, the first type of interview is the structured interview. Unlike the other two types, these have closed-ended questions that are either in the form of yes/no or multiple-choice answers.

Structured interviews have a set of questions that are the same for all the participants. Besides, these questions are curated to control the type of input received from the users.

They are the best for the time when the product is ready to launch or has already launched.

Pros of Structured Interviews

  • They are faster and cheaper to conduct
  • You can obtain a lot of valuable and quantitative data
  • You can conduct these interviews with a large number of people

The Drawback

The actionable insights gained during this interview can be less.

  1. Semi-structured interviews

These interviews are a combo of structured and unstructured interviews. In the interview, the interviewer often begins with closed-end questions that spark the user’s interest and finally lead to the elaborative part of the interview.

With the list of questions, the interviewer aims to push the users into revealing more details and insights while using the product.

These are primarily conducted when the business has produced a prototype for customers to interact with.

Pros of semi-structured interviews

  • Semi-structured interviews provide both qualitative and quantitative data.
  • The researcher can dive a bit deep into the thinking of the user.
  • You can relate the quantitative and qualitative data better.

The Drawback

The availability of reliable data can be less in semi-structured interviews.

  1. Unstructured interviews

There are no fixed questions, only open-ended questions in unstructured interviews. Therefore, the user leads the interview while expressing their thoughts on the product or service available in the market. As this interview is different for different types of users, the researcher gets to collect a vast amount of qualitative data.

These interviews are the best at the beginning of the product development process for ideation, customer discovery, MVP development, etc. 

Pros of Unstructured interviews

  • These interviews help businesses understand the customer's persona.
  • They also uncover the customers' pain points with the current product and services.

The Drawback

  • You don't have any control over the type of information collected.
  • You need to plan the following questions carefully so that they are not misleading from the topic.

The above-described interview types can be categorized into several other types!

  1. Generative interviews

If you plan to improve user experience via UX design or any other aspect of the product, you need to conduct generative interviews.

In such an interview, you interact with the user to understand their behavior, pain points, strengths, and motivation. You can conduct interviews like this in the beginning phase of the product development process and understand how users interact with technology in their daily lives.

  1. Contextual interviews

Contextual interviews are different from the generative ones. In this, users are interviewed in a more natural and interactive environment (user’s natural environment, related to the context). Somewhat similar to a usability test, the researcher asks questions to the users while they complete tasks.

For example, the user may be using a product or a website while the interviewer can ask them questions related to their actions and observe their moves to capture valuable insights like preferences and environmental factors.

  1. Continuous interviews

Continuous interviews are conducted on a timely basis to keep tabs on the users. These interviews are ideal for those people who may not have regular contact with the users. They are often conducted to keep teams in contact with the users in between research projects.

Some of these can be in-person interviews, while some can be remote interviews.

You can read about the best customer success managers' interview questions here!

When to Choose User Interviews?

I believe that user interviews are a never-ending process. They can and should be conducted throughout the entire product development process. Here are the scenarios where user interviews need to be conducted.

  1. Initial discovery phase

The initial discovery phase of a product or service is one where businesses aim to understand the market and viability of the product. Interviews are a great way to comprehend the same. Ideally, qualitative interviews are conducted in the initial discovery phase of a product.

  1. After product launch

When your product is launched on the market, it will be used by the customers. This is where you can conduct interviews (quantitative) to find out about the aspects that the customers like, as well as their suggestions, opinions, and expectations from the upcoming product version.

  1. Follow up on the Usability Test

A usability test is a type of behavioral research where you monitor user’s actions instead of opinions. Once your basic version of the product is ready, you can conduct contextual interviews with the users to gain valuable insights about user actions, preferences, thinking styles, etc.

Conducting user interviews at these stages can help you uncover several critical parameters, such as

  • User scenarios
  • User personas
  • Thinking styles
  • User journeys map
  • Behaviour and expectations

Interviews Vs. Usability Tests

User research is sometimes confused with usability tests. Though in contextual interviews, there are minor user interactions with the product, interviews, and usability tests are quite different.

Here, I have added some primary differences between these two!

Why are User Interviews Necessary?

User experience is the primary element of today's business market. If you know your customers well, you can cater to them well and increase your business numbers. Here are some of the primary benefits of user interviews.

  • Identifying Pain Points

Identifying the pain points of the users is a critical thing. As per statistics, around 34% of startups fail due to the lack of a market-fit product. To ensure that your product idea excels in the market, you have to interview users and understand their pain points.

With proper feedback and suggestions related to the current market products, you can create a product that is liked and needed by everyone.

  • Validating Assumptions

There can be many things that you, as a researcher, would believe are true. In a generative interview with open-ended questions, you have to dive deeper into user opinions and thoughts. So, be ready to get your assumptions challenged by the user.

Not just in a generative interview but in every other interview type, you have a chance to validate your assumptions. As your product audience is your ultimate asset, you have to believe what they say.

  • Gaining Empathy

Besides interviews, there are several ways to capture user feedback and opinions, such as focus groups, surveys, etc. However, none of them allows you to be friendly and develop empathy with the users.

Devoting your full focus and attention to the user comes under empathy. In a user interview, try not to correct, interrupt, or challenge the user. Listening carefully and showing interest in the conversation helps you gather empathy from the user. Once they are comfortable, they can share their opinions, beliefs, and thoughts without bias.

  • Building User-Centered Solutions

User interviews allow businesses to uncover opportunities for product innovation. For instance, if a chat app does not have relevant stickers and emojis like the other apps, it is likely to be rejected by the users. User interviews help you uncover such aspects, based on which businesses can develop user-centric products.

How to Plan and Conduct User Interviews?

The process for a successful interview includes several steps.

  1. Set your research goals.

When you are building a product, you need answers to several questions, such as

  • What features to include?
  • What features to improve?
  • What are your expectations from the interview?
  • What decision do you need to make?
  • What kind of data is required?

As a business, you would have a lot of stakeholders, host stakeholder interviews, and understand their needs and expectations to refine your goals. 

  1. Write an interview guide.

Making an interview guide is an essential part. In the interview guide, you can add all the relevant UX questions based on your research goals. Furthermore, you can also add followup questions under the main questions.

But having a guide does not mean that you cannot ask questions outside of it. Make sure that whatever question you ask, the user feels comfortable answering it. You can also skip the questions if required.

  1. Tweak your guide

Now, I am not saying that you could be wrong, but it's a matter of perspective. There can be some questions in your guide that may not get you the right user answers or insights. After conducting 1 or 2 interviews, you can quickly check the obtained data to get an idea about the input received so far.

Based on that, you can add or remove questions. Check if any question causes confusion or misunderstanding. Doing such tweaks as you interview more users can help you get the finest insights.

  1. Keep it easy

No matter what the interview count is, always start easy, as the participant can be nervous at first. To get the confidence and make them comfortable, begin with generic questions. Help them understand the why factor behind the questions and how their response will be used.

Once they are comfortable with the initial queries, you can charge in with the relevant interview questions.

  1. Build rapport

This is the part where empathy comes into play. While interviewing the user, you need to build your repo in front of them. For this, you need to make them feel relaxed and show yourself as a trustworthy companion.

Don't interrupt or challenge the user’s opinions. Respond with simple answers like ok, I agree, etc. Besides, you can engage in eye contact, nodding, and smiling back when the user smiles. All these aspects encourage the user to share more intricate details.

Limitations of User Research Interviews

No matter how well prepared you are to take the interview, there are some major limitations to conducting user interviews.

  • Missing details

As a participant, one may consider the researcher to be an experienced person, i.e., the interviewer would know better than the participant. Therefore, while they are sharing their answers to the questions, they may miss out on small yet important details with the understanding that you may already know them.

  • Social bias

Many of the participants may view you as a judge. Therefore, they may present their answers in a certain way that is acceptable to you, leading to biased responses.

  • Faulty collection

Not all of us have the same kind of memory. So, it is possible that your users may not exactly remember their experience with the product or website. Therefore, they may reveal partial or incorrect data, which will affect your research.


When planned well by the researcher, user interviews can lay the strongest foundation for your potential product for the market. It is necessary to analyze your goals first. Moreover, you can use several other research methods parallel to user interviews.

While using interviews can provide you with qualitative data, resources like user surveys can offer quantitative data based on the questions. If you are looking for such resources, you can check them out at Qwary. Get in touch now and leverage the benefits!


  1. What are the 3 types of interviews?

The three primary types of interviews are

  • Structured
  • Unstructured
  • Semi-structured
  1. How many user interviews are needed?

A minimum of 5 to 6 user interviews are needed to gather valuable information about user needs and requirements.

  1. Can you use other research methods with user interviews?

Yes, you can couple user interviews with focus groups, surveys, observational studies, etc.