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qualitative interview

The qualitative interview’s goal and strength is to find the essence of acknowledged and unacknowledged needs and wishes in different situations and life stages. As such, it is a crucial starting point for innovation, particularly user-driven innovation.

The qualitative interview is best understood when compared against the quantitative method. The quantitative method investigates broadly. It maps the relationships being examined with the aim of gaining an overview of general relationships and patterns that are representative of a given area (most often via a questionnaire/survey). In contrast, the qualitative method tends to dig deeper and attain a richer understanding of the relationships that the interviewee expresses in dialogue. It does not look for generalised knowledge, but attempts to draw special and unique relationships from the informant.

The qualitative interview is characterised by attempts to understand the work from the informant’s point of view. In the qualitative interview, storytelling takes precedence. This means that the interviewer needs to look for and document nuanced descriptions. It requires the interviewer to probe the informant for as many details as possible. This is done by constantly seeking details about an experience and encouraging elaboration. It is important that the interviewer doesn’t use theoretical or technical language, but instead make space for every day descriptions and language. It is a virtue within the interview to stick to a descriptive level: to attempt to refrain from opinionated discussion or speech such as; ‘he said’ and ‘others say’.

The qualitative interview should be supplemented with insights from participant observations either conducted before or concurrently with interviews in order to support the development of relevant questions for the interview guide as well as a foundation for shared language and points of references.


The qualitative interview should be viewed as a user-driven innovation process tool. It is used during an introductory phase or in fieldwork, where there is an overall topic/problem area for the innovation process, but no available user knowledge. Below, you will find recommendations for situations before, during and after the interview.

Before the Interview

  • You should consider who your users/informants are and the language that should be used. The relevance and context is crucial for the method and therefore, the choice of informant/s is important
  • Only interview one person at a time and ensure that the informant is not distracted, by their telephone, etc.. Record the interview with a recording device to ensure that you get everything documented
  • Allow plenty of time for the interview. You shouldn’t expect any real substance to come out of the first 10 minutes of the interview.
  • Establish trust and create a comfortable atmosphere so the informant feels safe. Find a quiet space if possible – at home, or go for a walk – or be in the actual situation that relates to the interview.
  • Prepare an interview guide beforehand. Structure questions for leading up to, during, before and after the situation you would like to interview them about. Use open questions. Yes/no, questions are not open questions and should be reformulated. Remember that the ideal interview is interpreted to an extent, along the way.

During the Interview

  • Begin the interview by ‘Please describe…’ or ‘Please tell me something about…’. Remember that the informant is the expert and that you are the one being taught. The shorter the questions and the longer the answers, the better the interview.
  • You ought to begin with the overall subject area, as opposed to a specific product or situation (eg. mobile phone culture at home). You are fishing for information on how the informant behaves – her habits, what her daily life is like.
  • Ask W-questions. Who, what, how, why, where and when. Constantly use what your informant is saying as an opportunity for deeper questioning. Take breaks. Allow some time for informant afterthought as it can stimulate interesting reflections.
  • You can use various tools under the interview. For example, let the informant write or draw the most important points. This is particularly useful for finding out what the informant finds most important (often times, this is not the same as what you hear).
  • As interviewer, you need to thoroughly question the informant, despite feeling dumb or naive when doing so. Ask into their descriptions/experiences and be receptive of what they are saying/not saying.
  • Be clear, attentive, alert, receptive and remember what you hear.

After the Interview

  • Listen to the interview with your notes in front of you. Identify new ideas and situations.
  • You can use the Cluster analysis and Challenge Map to process your data further.
  • Insights from the qualitative interview can also be used to develop a User journey or a Service Blueprint in order to inspire and qualify innovative and user-oriented solutions.

Worth Considering

Consider if it would be worth your while having an interviewer and someone else to transcribe present during the interview.


Prepare an interview guide with specific, progressive themes for the interview. During the interview, you should use a notebook, pen, dictaphone or perhaps a smartphone and/or video-camera.


Kvale, Steinar; Brinkmann, Svend (red.): ”Interview. An Introduction to a Craft”, 2009, Hans Reitszels Forlag.

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