Adapting Interview Technique

Interviews are a core method used in design research, and the ability to adapt moderation style and technique for different scenarios is an important skill. At Stby, we thrive off reflecting on learnings so we can develop skills further, so we can deliver the best design research possible.

General learnings

Before we get into specific variations of interviews, here are some things that we’ve picked up over the years that keep in mind for every interview we go into. Some of these may seem obvious, but it’s always useful for a refreshing reminder of good practices that are easy to forget.

  • Mirroring the participant’s body language where possible and appropriate, will make them feel at ease, and provide honest answers.
  • Spend time creating rapport and building a connection with the participant to help create an environment that is comfortable and encourage them to open up to you.
  • A casual tone will ease the participant, but maintaining professionalism will help productivity.
  • Use similar language to the participant, avoid using business jargon to consumers, and likewise use industry-specific terminology when speaking to professionals or experts where you are comfortable.
  • A discussion guide is there to help guide your conversation, but make sure you have a flexible approach to this and allow relevant topics to arise naturally. A fluid structure will feel less like an interview and more like a conversation, something the participant will most likely be more familiar with. 
  • Writing down short notes during the conversation may relieve you from trying to remember follow-up questions that arise. This will allow you to clear your memory, and keep focused on listening and responding to the participant.
  • Practise your technique (asking open-ended questions, efficient probing) in your personal life. What can you find out about your family and friends, or even your Uber driver?
  • Awkward silences during a casual conversation can be uncomfortable, but during an interview, this can work to your advantage. Letting the participant fill in these gaps can help bring out some interesting internal monologues, as they’re really thinking on their feet.
  • Maintaining unbiased feedback will avoid affecting the participants’ responses, and encourage honest answers. Keeping a neutral tone such as “thanks for sharing”, “that’s really interesting”, or “that’s really useful to hear” will acknowledge their response without implying whether you agree or not.


The type of participant being interviewed can influence your approach. We frequently involve consumers in research studies, and for the majority of them being interviewed is a new experience. It may even be the first time they’ve actively thought about the topic of interest, so it may take some time for them to ease into the conversation and provide open and honest responses. It’s also wise to avoid using jargon to consumers; unless they demonstrate an awareness of this because it could create a disconnection between you both. Your role as the interview moderator is to facilitate the conversation, keeping time and staying focused on the relevant topics, but it’s important to give participants time to think out loud and deviate slightly. Allowing them to follow a train of thought and giving them space to explore their own ideas will encourage them to think more deeply about your questions. This can be where hidden gems are found, such as unmet needs, pain points, or valuable storytelling anecdotes.

Experts are also a profile that we frequently interview. In general, these participants tend to be more familiar with and confident about discussing the topic at hand and being more succinct with their responses. If the participants in the sample vary between industry and experience, preparing specific questions adjacent to your discussion guide will help focus the conversation and allow you to access their knowledge. Another thing to consider, use industry-specific terminology where you are comfortable.

letting the participant follow a train of thought will give them space to explore their own thinking


The place where the interview is taking place can influence your approach. Visiting people in their homes or workplace is a common interview scenario. This environment gives you a deep insight into their lives, as you’re surrounded by clues. Do they like to cycle? How many children do they have? What breed is their dog? If you’re mindful of the abundance of artefacts at your disposal, you can use these observations to help build a mental model of who this person really is, before you even sit down for the interview. This can help prepare you for the conversation, build a strong rapport with the participant, and allow you to frame questions in a more personal manner. Be aware, you are in someone else’s personal space, so don’t be too nosey!

We all love in-person interviews, but sometimes it’s just not practical. Especially since the pandemic, video calls have become an alternative solution to this. Remote interviews require a slightly different approach to face-to-face interviews, as doing this over a screen tends to have a less personal feel, which can make it harder to build a connection with someone. Spending a little bit more time building rapport with the participant will help ease into the discussion to make them feel more comfortable. Breaking the ice with an anecdote from your day is an easy way of doing this.

observe the environment you’re in, pick up clues that will help you create a mental map of who the person is


At Stby, we love using film as a medium to record the interview process. It’s incredibly effective at capturing in-the-moment responses to help build empathy for the participant, bring findings to life, and help our clients’ storytelling through short films. Being a filmmaker/interview moderator does add complexities to the interview process, and brings additional elements to consider when deciding on an approach.

Typically, it’s preferred that dialogue from the interview moderator is kept to a minimum so most of the screen time is given to the interviewee. Using facial expressions and body language as affirmations instead of verbal acknowledgements can help reduce the amount of cross-over dialogue between moderator and participant, and therefore make the video editing process much easier. This will also produce more accurate transcriptions and clearer audio recordings. Likewise, asking clear and concise questions will prevent repetition and further editing (this is good practice for all interviews but this is exaggerated in this scenario).

using physical affirmations will reduce dialogue cross-over, resulting in an easier editing process

By Ed Louch