When conducting user interviews as part of the design process of a page, before any mockups have been built, what are the key questions that should be asked? What is the best way to wheedle out what the user actually wants and needs?

There’s a lot out there written on what to do in interviews for usability testing but there doesn’t seem to be too much said about user centred design based interviews.

  • 2
    Some would say be wary of interviews. What people say they want/need isn't necessarily what they actually want/need.
    – DA01
    Nov 19, 2014 at 20:32
  • 2
    Agree with @DA01, you might also want to do user shadowing to confirm what they say is actually what they do.
    – nightning
    Nov 20, 2014 at 20:54

2 Answers 2


I try to ask as much about what the user does instead of what the user might want. For instance, if I'm trying to improve a user's workflow, I'll ask:

  • clarify what the user is trying to accomplish
  • what is the current workflow?
  • what is the hardest/most annoying/time-consuming part of the workflow?
  • what are the users current hacks to get around the response(s) to the above question?
  • why aren't those ideal?

Then our whole team (devs/pm/researchers) will create a list of requirements prioritizing must-haves/nice-to-haves/not-considering-yet. The first round will remove time-considerations (so, if something is a lower priority but will not take very much time, it'll stay in the nice-to-have pile).

This list will be the basis for any further questions to the user(s) and the start of the iteration process.


This is my checklist I have in a doc and occasionally review (normally after something goes wrong).

I find over time you internalise these questions and they just 'pop up' at the right time but in the beginning I kept them with me most of the time.

When something goes wrong I do a review and normally come up with a question.

Some of these will obviously be specific to my situation/organisation but have kept everything as it may trigger something helpful for you :)

Understanding the requirement

  • What’s the problem?
  • What solution are you suggesting?
  • What’s the ultimate purpose? What are we trying to achieve?

Prioritising the request - How does this add value to the company? - How important is this to you? - Is this urgent? - Is there time sensitivity? Is there a deadline?

Ensuring success - When will this be complete? - Define ‘done’ - Write the UAT with the stakeholder if possible..

Requirements - What are the must-haves? - What are the like-to-haves? - So, if it does ABC you’ll be happy? - Are there any specific technical requirements? - What are the edge-cases? - How many different ways will people use this?

  • Are there any points of confusion?
  • Anything I don’t understand?
  • Can you explain what this means? Can you explain what you mean by that?

Final checks..

implement the story in your mind

  • How will we do this?
  • What decisions does it require?
  • What obstacles could we come up against?
  • get necessary info from the stakeholder

Note, this is the 'full list' for big projects. I rarely ask all these questions but once you get used to them you get a feel for what should be asked.

I think more important than the list is your process of reviewing what went wrong, finding the right question for you and having a system to remind you to ask it at the appropriate time.

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