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  1. Service manual
  2. User research
  3. Using in-depth interviews

In-depth interviews help you learn more about different types of users, their circumstances, how they use a service and what they need from it to get the right outcome for them.

Meeting the Digital Service Standard

You must carry out user research as part of meeting:

You’ll have to explain how you researched with different user groups in your service assessments.

When to use in-depth interviews

In-depth interviews are helpful when you want to:

  • learn more about your users and relevant aspects of their lives and work
  • get a deeper understanding of any problems that users tell you about

You can combine in-depth interviews with moderated usability testing by talking to participants before asking them try out a prototype or service.

Steps to follow

Plan your in-depth interviews carefully so you get results that can help improve your service.

Plan the sessions

You normally do in-depth interviews with one user at a time. You can also speak to people in pairs or small groups if they use a service together (for example, family members who help each other or members of a team who work together on tasks).

Interviews can take between 30 minutes and 2 hours, depending on the complexity of the subject and number of questions you have. Longer interviews will give you more detail but make it harder to recruit participants.

When planning your sessions, you’ll need to:

Design the interview

To create a structure that works well:

  • review the research questions you’re trying to answer
  • think about any processes or technology you want to see
  • write a list of the topics you want to cover
  • order the topics to create a logical flow

For each topic:

  • write starter questions to introduce the topic
  • add possible follow-up questions you might ask to learn more
  • test your questions and structure by interviewing a colleague - revise any questions that aren’t clear and re-order your topics if the interview doesn’t flow well

Once you’re happy, create a ‘discussion guide’. This should include:

  • your introduction script - this tells the participant who you are, explains the research and reminds them about things like recording
  • the interview topics, including starter and follow-up questions instructions for any activities
  • a planning checklist to make sure you’ll have everything you need on the day

You can use your discussion guide to:

  • stay on track during interviews
  • make sure participants are asked the same questions and have a consistent experience
  • review interview sessions with your team
  • maintain a record of what you do in this round of research

Do the interview

Once you’ve started the session and the participant is settled:

  • get the participant’s informed consent
  • run through your introduction script
  • start with a few general questions to help the participant relax - for example, ask them about their journey or to tell you about their job
  • take time to adjust to their conversation pace and style

Think about your discussion guide and get participants talking with open, neutral questions like:

  • how do you…?
  • what are the different ways you…?
  • what do you think about…?

Encourage them to give more detail with simple follow-up questions like:

  • you said… when/why/who was that?
  • can you tell me more about…?
  • in what way…?

During the interview:

  • focus on stories and real examples - avoid generalities and talking about how things ‘should’ happen
  • make sure you really listen - show the participant you’re interested in what they’re saying
  • make sure you understand what the participant has said - ask follow-up questions if you’re not sure
  • don’t change the flow of the interview abruptly - if a participant goes off topic, wait for a natural break and gently bring them back to what you want to talk about
  • try to stay quiet - the more you talk, the less your participant will talk
  • don’t stick to your discussion guide rigidly - let the conversation develop naturally and be prepared to dig into any new and interesting issues that come up

Once you’ve finished:

  • thank the participant
  • make sure any personal data you’ve collected (on paper or in recordings) is stored safely so you can transport it securely
  • pack away your equipment - use your planning checklist

Examples and case studies

Learn more about in-depth interviewing by finding out:

You may also find these guides useful:

Published by:
User research community
Last update:

Guidance first published