This post is part of our series of articles: User research on a budget

User interviews are the best way to understand the motivations of your users, their needs and habits. They will help you to build rich personas, relevant user journeys and consolidate your product strategy.

This guide will give you some tips to organise interviews, even with a very limited budget!


Why doing interviews?

User interviews - personas - user journey - scenario

User interviews are a qualitative and exploratory type of research. It’s a good way to collect personal experiences, opinions, attitudes and perceptions. You can find how your users might use your site or learn more about their lives, goals, needs, pain points and motivations.

It’s one of the best method of research to build personas and user journeys. But also to identify new opportunities and main painful areas in the experience.

It won’t give you:

  • Any usability or optimisation answer
    Should the CTA be red or blue?
    Does this journey works better with an extra step in it?
    Drop down VS radio buttons?
  • Any statistical data


Budget – £15 to £200

With a very limited budget:
it will only cost you a cup of coffee / tea per person, so roughly £15.

Medium version:
a £30 incentive per person
+ around £50 for the logistic around recruiting people
+ some cookies for the day



Day 1: write down your goals, the topics you want to cover, prepare your script and find people

Day 2: interview

Day 3: analyse, summarise and prepare a kick-ass presentation to share your insights

(Recruitment may take time, so it might worth planning your Day 1 in advance)



You only need 5 users for your interviews, it’s enough to start identifying patterns. You can find our tips to recruit the best participants with no budget here.

You should also consider extreme users. Their needs and attitudes are usually amplified and more notable.
If this is your first round of research, I would recommend to interview 5 users and 2 extreme users.



  • Face to face
    Try to avoid your office or pick a room that doesn’t look too formal.
    You can also interview your participants directly where they are usually doing their activity (gym, airport, etc) or in a cafe.
  • Skype
    It’s usually a really convenient backup plan. You and your participants can save some time and money as you don’t have to go anywhere. You will still see your interlocutor’s face and you can easily record a video of the interview with a screen capture software.
  • Over the phone
    This method should be your very last solution. You will miss the face to face contact and you won’t be able to catch the face expression and the body language of the participants.



user interview - user research - setting

  • Prepare your participants and make them feel comfortable
    Be friendly and polite. Let the person know why you are doing the interview. Let them know there are no wrong answers. Also let them know that any feedback will be kept anonymous.
  • Prepare a list of topics
    I recommend you to prepare a list of the topics you want to cover. It will help you to stay on track with your main goal and to have enough content on the same topics to find common patterns.
  • BUT, don’t write a detailed script! Keep it conversational
    Your list of topics will be a guide for you but an interview has to be a natural conversation. It will be your job to improvise on the fly and to know when to jump from one topic to another during the discussion.
  • Use a a double funnel structure
    Introduce the session. Then start with really easy questions. Then you can enlarge and ask more and more opened questions.
    When you have enough, ask again some simple questions to start closing the session (when they feel comfortable, some users won’t stop talking!). Then wrap up, ask them to sign the forms and thank them.
  • Ask open-ended questions
    Those type of questions will encourage the participant to tell his story.
    Use ‘Who, what, where, when, why and how’ questions. And avoid any questions that can be answered by yes or no.
  • Avoid leading questions
    Do you like this new design? VS What do you think about this design?
    Do you think this version of the site is nicer than this one? VS Which version do you prefer? And why?
    What’s wrong with our website? VS Tell me more about your experience with our website?
    How often do you use Twitter? VS Do you use any social network?
  • Paraphrase
    Clarify or encourage to go further by paraphrasing what the participant says.
  • Silence is good!!
    Try to talk as little as possible! Having moments of silence is a good thing. Try not to break those moments yourself and let your participant talk when he is ready. In the meantime, you can analyse your participant’s body language.
  • ‘Non-verbal’ is as much important
    What the user is saying is important but you should also look for personal expression and body language. They might tell you more about the topic that the actual words!
  • Don’t take notes, record your session
    With the participant’s permission, record interviews on a voice recorder, your phone, a video camera or a laptop. It will help you not to take notes during the sessions. And then to stay focus on the interview and have a natural conversation.
    At the same time, you can use some extracts of those recordings to present your findings to the stakeholders.


Sorting the findings

user interviews - sorting the findings - mindmap

At the end of your interviews, sort and group all your insights. Using a mind map is a great method.
Group your findings by pain points, motivations, activities, etc. And identify the most important ones.


Final tips

  • Your participants will have a hard time to project themselves in the future or say what they would ideally want.
    It’s easier to talk about a previous experience, or habits.
  • After each session, write down the 3-5 most important findings. The next morning, write down what you remember. Usually, it will give you a good idea of the first big themes. Then go back to your notes.
  • Interviews can be tiring (for the participants and for you). Keep it under 1 hour. And plan at least 30 minutes between 2 interviews to have enough time to reset the room, have a cup of tea and rest a little bit. If you are too tired you may do more mistakes, ask more leading questions and be more impatient.
  • If you need to ask your participants to sign a consent form, be sure that they are ready and available. At the beginning of the session, mention that you will ask them to sign a form at the end. But ask them to actually sign it only at the end. Starting an interview with all that legal wording usually makes them feel very uncomfortable.


And you? Do you have any other tips?

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