In-depth Interviews


To gain a deep understanding of people, their context, beliefs, values and motivations. This will help you see in context, what leads them to their decisions, as well as how and why they usually do tasks.

When To Run This

  • In the ‘Explore’ state — when you want to conduct informal or formal research sessions.
  • In the ‘Make’ state — when you want to test your Prototypes.


Timing depends on your needs

1 - 4 hrs

to prepare discussion guide

30 mins - 1 hr


2 - 6 hrs

analyse the findings


  • Research brief
  • Discussion guide


  • Notepad 
  • Pen
  • Consent forms


  • Recording device
  • Note-taker 
  • A quiet, comfortable space
  • Glasses and a jug of water



  • Determine your objectives. Identify what you want to find out from conducting the Interview and write them down. Be specific - what questions are you trying to answer?

  • Decide who you’re interviewing. Look at pre-existing personas or target markets you want to consider, and any other other parties you might want to interview such as stakeholders and customer care representatives. Make a note of any interviewee criteria to help find the right people.

  • Determine how many interviewees you want. There should be at least 4 people per user group. Generally, it’s better to talk to a smaller number of people more often. For example, instead of doing 20 in-depth interviews, you might get more valuable data from doing 8 discovery research interviews (using only topics of interest to discover the user needs), then 8 co-design sessions (to help design the solution), and 8 concept testing sessions with users.

  • Recruit people to interview. You can informally recruit if your topic is broad enough that anyone can relate. If you have a niche topic that needs specific types of people, you could give your interviewee criteria (step 2) to a recruitment agency to help find them.

  • Choose the interview location. Ideally, it should be in context of the topic because it encourages the interviewees to give richer responses (e.g. librarians in a library).

  • Decide how you’ll record the session.

    • Use a recording device. 
    • Ask someone to act as a note-taker. 
    • If there’s only you (the interviewer) available, you can write notes with pen and paper. (Not recommended: you’ll miss nuances and opportunities to dig deeper.)
  • Decide on incentives. For most one-on-ones with agency-recruited interviewees there will be a cash incentive of around $100 per hour (it's often included in the recruitment fees and handled by the agency). For a lean approach, ask internally within the DAN network or intercept people on the street for a quick chat.

  • Write a discussion guide to keep you on track during the interview.

    • Questions - start with broad questions about a person’s life, values, habits before asking more specific questions relating to your challenge. It sometimes helps to set a scenario before you ask the questions (e.g. “think about the last time you went to a library…”)
    • Estimated timing - to keep you on track
    • Wrap up and next steps
  • Prepare props and prototypes to help stimulate responses during an interview (if needed). The type of prop depends on which state the project is in. In the “Explore” state, you could use props such as cards to help direct the thinking. In the “Make” state, you could have cardboard prototypes or digital wireframes.

Action It:Action It:

  • Interviewee agreement. The person being interviewed must sign a consent form to grant you permission to conduct the observation and to record activities. Let them know that they are free to stop at any time if the interview becomes uncomfortable, and ask if you can record the session.

  • Start the interview by introducing yourself. Describe the purpose and topic of the conversation, without going into details that could lead or influence your interviewee, and explain how the information will be used. For the best results, start by putting them at ease – let them know it’s not a test, that there are no right or wrong answers and to feel free to think out loud.

  • Ask warm up questions (5-15min) to help the interviewee feel comfortable with you and get used to answering questions. You can start by asking about their hobbies, interests, and then move onto asking easy questions that are related to the interview topic, so that the participant is primed when you get to the deeper questions. Show interest (nod, smile) to help build a connection, but stay neutral to avoid influencing their responses.

  • For the body of the interview (20-40min), move towards more “why” questions for a deep dive into their thoughts on your topic. Give them room to explore, encourage them and show interest, but be careful not to lead them to the answers you are looking for. If a question has been covered earlier in the interview, feel free to skip it.

  • Gently wrap-up the interview (5-10min) when you have all the information you need. Give your interviewee a chance to share anything else or comment on the interview. You could ask if anything resonated with them or if they’ve thought of something that they’d like to add. This is often when unexpected revelations come, so remember to write them down afterwards.

  • End the interview by thanking them for their time and letting them know if there are any administrative tasks such as incentives or next steps.

Next Steps:Next Steps:



  • Ask open-ended questions to encourage the interviewee to look deeper into what they are saying, rather than “yes or no” questions.
  • If the interviewee goes on a tangent, do not shut them down. Gently bring them back on track.
  • What the interviewee says is only one part of the data – observe their body language and the context in which you’re talking. 
  • Be aware of people’s tendencies to please others. If responses are always positive, flip the questions and ask the opposite.
  • Show that you are listening by making and keeping eye contact, smiling, and nodding slowly. Nodding fast can make a person feel as though you’re rushing them and not genuinely interested in what they have to say.
  • If you’re using a product or prop, seek honest feedback. Tell them “we didn’t build/design this.” If you are addressing intangible things such as a service, you could say “we didn’t help set up this service”.
  • Know what information you’re probing for and probe further. The 5 Whys is a great tool to use for this.
  • Avoid leading or priming questions.
  • Use a recording device or have a note-taker present, so that you can focus on the conversation and not making notes.
  • Adapt your questions and style as you go through the interview questions. You don’t need to follow them exactly, they’re a guide to keep you on track. If you feel that you’ve covered the questions elsewhere, just skip over it.
  • Frame questions in the past rather than speculate the future (e.g. “Tell me about the last time you made a booking?”). Past recollection is usually more accurate than future speculation.
  • Introduce a new topic gently by starting your questions with:
    • “Tell me about…?”
    • “Do you remember an occasion when…?”
    • “What happened when…?”
  • Use prompts and probes to encourage interviewees to share more information and touch on areas that they did not initially address.
    • “You mentioned X, could you please tell me more about how that impacted you?” 
    • “Could you say something more about X?“
    • “Can you give me more details of what happened?”
    • “Do you have any examples of that?”


It's Going Well When:

  • You’re listening more and talking less (active listening)
  • You’re staying neutral
  • The interviewee becomes animated and engaged

Watch Out For:

  • The interviewee only giving one word answers - ask open-ended questions.
  • The interviewee holding back or feeling uncomfortable - ask them if they are ok, relax them, skip the question or ask it in another way.
  • Your bias and leading the interviewee to a conclusion - Keep your body language neutral, focus on them, listen.
  • You talking too much - listen.