Conducting Interviews



An interview is a common tool used in journalism, social science, in the workplace, but is also used in Needfinding. An interview typically involves a verbal exchange over a series of questions as one seeks to gain a deeper understanding of a story, person, place, or event.


Internet Freedom & Dharamsala Landscape Analysis Interview Guide

This interview guide was created for interviews conducted during our initial landscape phase of our research in the first needfinding engagement we conducted. It also informed our decision to focus on the Tibetan Exile Community in Dharamsala, India.

Dharamsala Pre-Fieldwork Interview Guide

This interview guide was created for interviews conducted during the phase of our research that immediately preceded our fieldwork in Dharamsala, India.


Interviews are used to gain understanding in human-centered design. What delineates the human-centered design interview is that it facilitates a deeper understanding of the person, his/her life, and perspectives without attachment to an already developed set of assumptions or hypotheses. A successful interview requires sufficient preparation to develop a relevant and customized interview guide based on what you know about the stakeholder, communication of the purpose, process, and use of interview to the interviewee, access to appropriate tools such as a handheld recorder or conference line with recording capability, and clarity around the roles of the interview team. Additionally, keeping detailed notes, pulling key takeaways and sharing across the research team is important in order to honor the time, stories and contributions of those interviewed.


Interviews are one of most effective and common ways to gain a deep understanding through the perspective of an individual or group, and multiple interviews with different participants uncover overarching themes and insights.


There are several important elements involved in the interview process laid out and explained below. Keep in mind this is an ideal scenario and the availability of time and resources will impact your process.

1). Pre-Interview

Scheduling and Tracking: Set up a tracking document that lists the contact and scheduling information, who is responsible for the interview and any existing relationships or necessary background. Keep this document in a central place to enable multiple team members to access and participate in the scheduling and interview process.

Examples From The Field:

How to Create an Interview Guide

Translation and Cultural Sensitivity: Test the interview guide on trusted stakeholders to ensure it is translated accurately (if translated), that questions are worded appropriately, and it is culturally appropriate for your target audience.

Examples From The Field:

How SecondMuse Found Interviewees

2). During the Interview

Format: Typically an interview lasts 60 to 90 minutes and in person is ideal, but audio-only will work if in person is not possible. We recommend two interviewers attend each interview; one to lead and the other to take notes. Recording is helpful in terms of keeping other teammates in the loop and/or going back to clarify points where the notes are unclear. When taking notes, it is best to take notes in the actual words and sentences used. Shorthand can change the meaning of a statement significantly; pay attention to more than just the words, but also the tone and flow of how words and concepts are related.

Privacy: Before you begin an interview, seek to understand the privacy needs of the participants. This includes whether or not they are comfortable being recorded, with interviewers taking notes, and what information is OK to make note of – such as names and affiliations.

Helpful Tips: build trust by being your authentic self and leave space for your interviewee to do the same. Listen closely to what they are excited about, the things that are meaningful to them and make space to connect over it. It may seem silly, but ALWAYS ask people to define concepts in their own words don’t assume even the most basic concept is universally understood. A few examples are terms such as ‘usable,’ ‘privacy’ and ‘secure.’ These terms mean different things to different people, make sure you understand their meaning when they are using terms that you use and are important for your work.

Examples From The Field:

SecondMuse's Interview Strategy

3). After the Interview

Synthesize Take-Aways: After you complete your interview, review your notes and summarize the key learnings with your interview partner. It is best to do this as soon after the interview as possible while your memories of it are fresh. This practice will help immensely when analysing the results of your work later.

Examples From The Field:

SecondMuse's Interview Debrief Strategy


Dharamsala Fieldwork Interview Guide

This interview guide was created for interviews conducted in the field in Dharamsala, India. It was ultimately adapted for dozens of different interviews and activities.

TorDev (Iceland) Interview Guide

This interview guide was created for interviews conducted in the field at the TorDev Conference in 2014. It focused on better understanding the needs and perspectives of developers.