Design Research Planning For Interviews— Done Correctly

Ross Dillon
4 min readApr 6, 2020

Design Research

Design Research is the act of investigating a product’s potential or investigating existing users and the context of use.

Typically design research is qualitative in nature — but can occasionally be quantitative.

Adapted from

Individual Interviews

Individual interviews are critical to most design research since they enable a deep and rich view into the behaviors, attitudes, and lives of people.

Interviews are valuable because you are…

  • Making direct contact with users and developing empathy. (Which is very important in the discipline of UX Design and Research).
  • Understanding needs, constraints, and opportunities. (This is what you’re researching).

Bonus: Sometimes it is also cost effective.

Research Planning

Hunt Statement — What do you want to know?

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You should be narrowing down what you’re researching and why. So get specific with it.

Hunt statements should go something like this:

I am going to research THAT so that I can do THIS.

That is usually an activity, and this is usually your goal.

An example:

I am going to research cardio tracking apps so that I can design a fun and user friendly app for runners.


Screeners are a useful tool for finding the right people to interview or observe.

Screeners are a set of questions (Before everything else) that makes sure the person you’re talking to fits in your parameters for research.

You’re not here to ask their life story, you just want to know if you’re speaking with a person who you want to study/interview, in accordance with your hunt statement. If you’re researching people who use fitness apps you might want a screen question to be: Do you use any apps for fitness?

If they say yes, perfect.

If they say no, explain what you were researching and then apologizes they do not fit the criteria, and move on. Don’t waste your time trying to interview or observe someone who has nothing to do with your research.

Research Preparation

You should be asking yourself — How and where will I conduct my research?

You’ll need…

  • An appropriate environment, based off what you’re researching.
  • A moderator script (aka an interview script/protocol/discussion guide).

Writing your script:

Remember: Don’t ask judgy questions, avoid leading answers, and never ever ask binary questions unless you absolutely need to.

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A binary question: Do you like your iPhone?

Yes or No answer

A better question: Why do you like your iPhone?

Not binary, but still… sort of a leading question because ‘like,’ your assuming they like their iPhone.

An even better question: Can you tell me about how you feel when interacting with your iPhone when you get a notification?

This is a really great question for several reasons. One, because it specifically asks about interactions in a certain circumstance so you have a focus and can learn more. Two, you’re asking them to tell you about it — so it’s not just a yes or no answer.

Write open ended questions and get them talking!

Getting them to tell a story can be very helpful in learning about their thought and behavior process. Storytelling can flow more freely and get them to share more details or opinions.

Why’ or ‘Tell me about,’ is almost always a good question.

Once you have your questions, cluster them into themes, and then arrange these themes in a natural flow.

Refine. Refine. Refine. Can your question actually be a bunch of smaller questions? This can help you learn even more about specific steps and topics. Think back to when I phrased a general question about an iPhone, then refined the question and focused on interactions when they recieve notifications.

The script should be structured as such:

  • Introduction
  • Warm-up and build rapport
  • General issues
  • Deep focus
  • Wrap-up

What to Look For

You should either be recording or writing down everything (with permission).

Phenomenon — Things that happen only once. Don’t throw this data away, you could learn something new or interesting which might spark an idea or innovation.

Patterns — Things we observe several times. Recurring actions or thoughts, usually very useful information.

Differences — What people say vs what people do.

Anything surprising

The Interview

As the interviewer there is a lot to remember. You are the moderator and you want to influence as little as possible.

Be professional, neutral, and non-judgmental.

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Remember: This isn’t your coworker so don’t use abbreviations or industry talk. An example of that would be asking an interviewee, “Do you have preferences for sites that use SSO?” That is a terrible question.

Good Luck on your design research interviews!


Dan Saffer. 2009. Designing for Interaction: Creating Innovative Applications and Devices (2nd. ed.). New Riders Publishing, USA.