Your go-to user interview method

publishedover 1 year ago
3 min read

Dear Reader,

You know you should be doing more user interviews, but what would happen if you were to schedule one every week?

Imagine the kind of insights and opportunities you might be able to discover.

But what would you talk to them about?

Would you have to make up a new script every week?

Here at the Fountain Institute, we have scheduled one interview with users every week of this year…

Not!! We are not perfect. We don’t end up scheduling an interview weekly, but we talk to our users quite often.

The go-to interview method we use iis the Discovery Interview.

A Discovery Interview is open-ended by nature and isn’t connected to a specific project or solution. The aim is to uncover hidden customer needs, pain points, and desires.

You can discover more opportunities by focusing on the customer and their problems (rather than your ideas and solutions).

Problem-focused interviews like the Discovery Interview focus on past customer behavior. They don’t ask customers to predict the future and never question what they like.

Instead, they prompt customers to tell stories about their lives that influence the current product work.

Let’s take a look at the essential elements that make up this method.


Ask about past behaviors - The essential part of this interview is asking the user to tell you about a past experience instead of asking them to guess what they might like in the future.

No script - this type of interview can be prepared shortly before the discussion. I usually write out a few questions to help me get the conversation started.

More listening than talking - This might not be specific to just discovery interviews, but I think it’s an important reminder because it can feel awkward for you and them; you can let them know it’s ok that they speak most of the time.

Move from general to specific- interviewees will need encouragement to go deeper and give more details about their experiences. You won’t be able to prepare follow-up questions, but you can use a Set-the-Stage framework (more information further down) to help you come up with these questions at the moment.

Discovery Interview in Action

Now let’s take a look at what a Discovery Interview would be like in real life.

1. Prompt the customer to tell a story
Start the interview with an open-ended prompt that asks the user to describe a fresh event or experience. Ideally, the event you’re asking about should have happened in the recent past, not ten years ago.


Tell me about the last time you looked for an apartment?

“Could you tell me about the last time you used our product?”

“Can you walk me through your most recent experience with our login process?”

2. Active Listening
You want customers to talk for 90% of the interview. Being a good listener is an essential interviewing skill but is usually overlooked.

“Active listening is the practice of preparing to listen, observing what verbal and non-verbal messages are being sent, and then providing appropriate feedback for the sake of showing attentiveness to the message being presented.” (Wiki)

You want to create a comfortable environment for your interviewee to open up and share more of their experiences.

3. Excavate the Story
Sometimes customers don’t readily offer interesting stories, prompt them with follow-up questions. Think of the customer as a storyteller and encourage them to give you more details:

I love this interview method because I have to stay focused and engaged during the discussion.

I need to know what parts of the story to dive into deeper.

It’s often surprising where the conversation leads. This is great because I have less expectation of where I want it to go and can uncover new, unexpected opportunities.

Now it’s time to practice!

What’s great about this method is you can practice it with friends or co-workers.

You don’t need to be in an “user interview” to get experience trying this method.

No really, I challenge you to go out there today and try it out!

To learn what to do once you've gathered all this UX data, check out this free 7-day mini-course on UX Research.

It's 7 lessons for designers that want to get better at research.

or Read a sample first

Until next week!

Hannah Baker
Educator & Co-Founder
The Fountain Institute

P.S. There are still a few spots left for our August 18th free interactive online workshop to master user interviews. RSVP here

The Fountain Institute

The Fountain Institute is an independent online school that teaches advanced UX & product skills.

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