User interviews (based on proto-persona) & Hypothesis

Yaroslav Zhmikhov
Yaroslav Zhmikhov
December 15, 2021 5 min read 3839 views
December 15, 2021 5 min read 3839 views


User interviews (based on proto-persona) & Hypothesis

The interview (one of the main UX research methods) is based on open-ended questions, and answers the question ‘Why’ and is also a qualitative research method.


The best method that will allow you to test your hypotheses with the help of feedback from users, and thus find out real problems, get insights from the target audience to create a product specifically for their needs.

A problem is a difficult theoretical and practical task, where the ways to solve it are unknown or known, but not completely.

A respondent is a participant in an interview, survey or test who answers questions and acts as a source of information.

An interview is when, with the help of feedback from the market, we test our ideas, find out what difficulties people have, what they want and create a product according to their needs.

In other words, this is the most important UX research, where a specialist asks open-ended questions to respondents on several topics to get answers that will help him create a product specifically for their needs.

A hypothesis is your assumption that you will test.

The hypothesis is included in the scientific method of research: Observation > Questions > Hypothesis > Experiment > Analysis > Outcome: the hypothesis was confirmed or refuted.

At the beginning of this article, I want to immediately clarify a few very important points that I have to explain very, very often, namely:

  • You, your team, and stakeholders ≠ your users.
  • Are your stakeholders claiming to know what user problems and needs are and refusing user research?

Please try to understand my train of thought. When you are given the task of designing an interface or proposing a solution to a problem, we cannot do it without user research, and you do not need to rely on all our experience, since everything that we have heard, seen, discussed, guessed is only our subjective opinion, and it can ≠ the real picture of the world.

How can a person who has never had children claim to know how to be a mother or a father? In my opinion, this is not correct, although I can agree that this person may have certain experience, for example, he participated in raising a child, worked as a nanny, heard and saw what problems parents face, but this is still your subjective opinion, which may not be true.

Once I was able to put a question to Mr. Alan Cooper on a live broadcast of the Projector Institute. If you have 10 minutes, then be sure to watch this piece of the interview, it is very informative.

Talk with Alan Cooper | Projector

An example of a user interview results for an online e-learning platform

An example of a user interview results for an online e-learning platform

The purpose of the user interview

This is one of the qualitative methods, where the interviewer must reveal the respondent and record his answers to get the maximum number of hidden insights.

Value for the team

This is one of the most effective techniques to help you understand your users to create a solution that is just right for them. The team will get a lot of data that they can process and use for the next user-based UX methods.

Value for business

Many UX methods depend on a deep understanding of the problems, pains, fears, and needs of users, so this crucial step in the research should not be skipped. In the future, the team will be able to generate an analysis of business and user goals, where you can see if they match, and then understand what:

  • If so, that’s very good, and your product will solve user problems, and they will in turn pay you money for using your excellent product.
  • If not, then there is a good chance that when we launch the product, it will not fulfill the problems that users come in with, and thus will not make money.


  • Preparation: up to 8 hours
  • Main activity: from 1 to 2 hours per 1 respondent, and it is also necessary to set aside time for creating a proto-persona (if this is the beginning of a project and there is no empirical person yet), searching for respondents with the help of recruiters or by hand, preparing for an interview and compiling a report for stakeholders and teams.

Creating process:

The interview is part of a very well-known Customer development methodology, that is, first, the greatest attention is paid to the problems and needs of customers, and only then to the product.

According to this methodology, there are 3 types of interviews:

  • Problem interview. Allows you to validate the hypothesis and find out non-obvious problems of users and reveal insights.

This is the option we will consider.

  • Solution interview. It allows you to quickly test the solution and understand whether your product solves the tasks assigned to it by users or not, and also find out whether customers are ready to purchase your product or service.
  • Expert interview. This is not just an interview, because we will not be talking to users, but experts in a certain field. Therefore, this type of interview will help you collect information from professionals in a certain field that you cannot get from users. These people understand the needs and behavior of your potential users very well.

Step 1. Decide on the segment with which you will communicate

First, you need to decide who you want to talk to. You must understand that each segment of your users will have different hypotheses, different interviews, and different results.

Each customer segment should have common problems or needs.

Recommendation: You can read more about customer segments in the Business model canvas (BMC) and Value proposition canvas (VPC) articles.

Our next step is a workshop with the team and stakeholders. Create a proto-persona to at least roughly understand who you want to communicate with.

Proto-persona (non-empirical persona) is a collective image of the target audience, based only on the team’s assumptions and not confirmed by the results of the study, and serves as a preliminary representation of the target audience before research.

A proto-persona is built, just like an ordinary persona, but it is based solely on the assumptions of the team and stakeholders. You can learn how to build them correctly in the article User personas.

Step 2. Formulate ideas and assumptions about your customers and turn them into hypotheses

To generate hypotheses and more, you can use the Value proposition canvas (VPC), where you can use a tool to collect your first vision about your customer segment and structure ideas that you turn into hypotheses.

Above, I wrote about the scientific method of research, in which you first need to ask a question that interests you, and only then formulate a hypothesis. Without hypotheses, there is no point in conducting an interview, since you will not know the answer to the questions:

  • What do you want to check?
  • What questions do you want to ask?

Hypotheses are formulated in different ways, but usually, they look like this:

We believe that [that the need to introduce new quality standards in the design of complex products] for [UX designers] will [make their decisions much better].

You can also write like this:

We believe that [that the need to introduce new quality standards in the design of complex products] will result in [the development of better design solutions], because [IT companies that have already done this earn 30% more money].

But this option is very simple, I also met it in my work:

Designers need new quality standards for designing complex products.

Step 3. Choose the right questions to validate each hypothesis

After you have received hypotheses, you need to formulate questions. Correctly folded questions will help you confirm, refute or learn insights.

We believe that [that the need to introduce new quality standards in the design of complex products] for [UX designers] will [make their decisions much better].

A few questions about the hypothesis:

  • When was the last time you implemented new standards?
  • Why did you implement them? What results did you get?

Step 4. Finding possible respondents

This can be done by a recruiter or team member using these methods:

  • The business has a list of users who are already using the product. You can create a Survey and send it out to users’ email addresses, where the last item will be the question: “Do you want to talk more? We are interested in your experience, leave your contact details, and we will contact you.

  • Social media. We are looking for groups, contacting the administrators and asking them to post a Survey or a full-fledged message asking them to respond to an interview with the developers.
  • LinkedIn. We are looking for the necessary people and offer to talk.
  • Professional services (paid). UserTesting, Userbrain, Lookback, UsabilityHub, Userlytics, Userzoom, Loop11 and more.

Recommendation: You can offer to share data with administrators or offer them $50–100 as payment.

Step 5. We conduct a test version of the interview

A very important step. Before the event, try to conduct test interviews with colleagues and find out if all the questions are clear and understandable, where there are problems, etc.

Step 6. We conduct an in-depth interview, but we record everything both on a voice recorder and manually

Step 7. Reward respondents for their time

It can be anything: from certificates to a free trial version of the product for 1 month.

Step 8. Transcribe the interview and analyze the data

To analyze the results, you can use the following methods:

  • Identification of patterns of behavior. We highlight the most recurring answers to our questions. This step can be done in the Empathy mapping.
  • Affinity diagramming. An amazing method that will help turn a large amount of data received after an interview, namely: grouping the results into groups and identifying insights.

A few tips for in-depth interviews:

  • Ask open-ended questions only. Answers are meant to be detailed rather than yes or no, as we need to dive into the segment experience and do our best to get the respondent to actively share insights with you.
  • Ask additional and clarifying questions. Be prepared for the fact that you need to be as attentive as possible and, if necessary, ask additional questions that may reveal insights. In other words, if you see that the respondent has begun to tell things that give him pleasure or some problems, then you should ask him clarifying questions. To do this, you can use the 5 Whys technique.

Recommendation: A lot of articles have been written about the 5 Whys technique, but please do not abuse this method in an interview.

  • In-depth interviews are long and very detailed. The average session is from 30 minutes to 1 hour, because if the interview is shorter, then you will not have time to establish an emotional connection with the respondent and thus miss important insights, and if the interview is more than 1 hour, then there is a possibility that the respondent will lose concentration, attention and will already be tired. Therefore, do not try to ask all the questions in the world, but only the important ones.
  • Don’t ask questions about the future. Ask questions only about past and present experiences.
  • Ask for real-life examples. What respondents talk about in interviews and what they do in reality are two different things.
  • Questions should begin with the word: where, why, how, when, etc.
  • Don’t interfere with the respondent’s story. You must take a neutral position. Do not prompt, do not try to direct him to the answer you want to hear, do not argue, and do not interrupt. Just listen and analyze what the respondent says.
  • Record your interviews. This is very important because you won’t be able to remember everything in your mind.

Recommendation: Please advise that you will be recording and that this is for analysis purposes only and that the recording will not be transmitted or published.

Example: User interviews & Hypothesis

OTAKOYI UX design program:

Stage 1. Business research:

  • Step 1. Preparatory & Secondary research (Desk research)
  • Step 2. Kick-off meeting & Stakeholder interviews
  • Step 3. Business model canvas (BMC)
  • Step 4. Competitive analysis
  • Step 5. SWOT analysis
  • Step 6. Business process model and notation 2.0+ (BPMN)

Stage 2. User research:

  • Step 7. User interviews (based on proto-persona) & Hypothesis
  • Step 8. Focus groups
  • Step 9. Surveys
  • Step 10. Empathy mapping (uncovering insights & identifying needs)
  • Step 11. User personas
  • Step 12. Point of view (POV) — Problem statement & How might we (HMW) questions

Stage 3. Strategy phase:

  • Step 13. Business & User Goals
  • Step 14. Value proposition canvas (VPC) — additional POVs and value descriptions
  • Step 15. Customer journey map (CJM)
  • Step 16. Service blueprint

Stage 4. Ideation phase:

  • Step 17. Ideation (Six thinking hats, Brainstorming & The Walt Disney creativity strategy)

Stage 5. Design:

  • Step 18. Prioritization
  • Step 19. User flows & Task flow
  • Step 20. Information architecture
  • Step 21. Wireframing

Stage 6. Test:

  • Step 22. UX testing methods

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