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Methods – Interview

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What it is:

The interview process is one of the most common and powerful ways to understand people. It can be considered the foundation for many of the methods designers use. The predominant form of interviewing is face-to-face and one-to-one. The interview can be organised around a set of structured questions, follow a more open format through semi structured questions or be unstructured with no prior questions. For many designers, the interview may take an empathic turn where the exchange of questions and answers is not seen as scientifically neutral or objective – instead it is a process of collaboration. An empathic interview takes an ethical stance in favour of the individual or group being interviewed so that the designer becomes an advocate and partner with interviewee.






Low | Medium | High

Low | Medium | High

Low | Medium | High

Low | Medium | High


Deeper insight into people’s needs and perspectives

Best suited to:



Early to mid stages of the design process.

Looking for answers to specific questions and gaining a detailed insight in a specific task, activity or journey (structured interviews)

Looking for aspirations, emotional reactions and other hidden/non-spoken information (semi- and unstructured interviews)



Type of interaction:


Goes well with:

Focus Group, Observation & Shadowing, Day in the Life, Video Ethnography, Questionnaires

What designers say

‘Interviewing often yields deeper understanding of design issues but you have to be aware of how you structure your questions so that they do not lead the person’s answer – designing the interview has to be done with care…’ Gregor Timlin


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Generation game: making wi-fi devices more inclusive

Designer Maja Kecman interviewed family members separately and then together in a group to see how their answers changed in response to proposals to improve inter-generational communication.

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Indulgent bathing

Designer Tomek Rygalik interviewed 11 people representing a mix of age, gender, ethnicity, personal circumstance and family structure to inform a new approach age-friendly bathroom design in a project with Ideal Standard.

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Background and further reading

Anthropologists and sociologists have long used informal interviews to obtain knowledge from their informants. However, as the psychologist Steinar Kvale (1996) explained, ‘What is new in recent decades is that qualitative interviews are increasingly employed as research method in their own right, with an expanding methodological literature on how to carry out interview research systematically…’

The most common form of interview is one–to-one interview. As Gordon (1999) stated: ‘Individual interviews are an important complement to focus groups… Individual interviews are particularly suitable for discussing sensitive issues…They are to be preferred in cases where the “memory amalgam” that emerges from group discussions would provide information that is less “real” than individual accounts…’

Kvale S. (1996) InterViews: An Introduction to Qualitative Research Interviewing, Sage Publications, US and UK

Gordon W. (1999) Methods Lab|User Research Methods, Royal College of Art, p21

Fontana, A., & Frey, J.H. (2008) The Interview: From Neutral Stance to Political Involvement in Collecting and Interpreting Qualitative Materials Eds. N.K. Denzin & Y.S. Lincoln. Sage, California.

A key text for design researchers, especially those at PhD level, to understand how interviews are used in qualitative research.

Christopher Ireland (2003) ‘Qualitative methods: From Boring to Brilliant’ in Design Research Methods and Perspectives. Ed Brenda Laurel, The MIT Press.

An overview of using interviews in the design process, including details of extending the method beyond one-to-one interviews. Also includes case studies.