Research Options Defined: Phone Interviews

February 23, 2016

As applications and platforms continue to get more complicated, it is increasingly important to understand what end users think, feel and do when they use your application or website.

Most of our work at Crux Collaborative revolves around creating or optimizing complex processes that are behind a login. We approach these projects using a different methodology than we would a public, content-based site and we never take a one-size fits all approach when it comes to user research.

It’s important to choose the research methodology based on the type of information you are looking to collect.

This is the second in a series of articles that focuses on the pros and cons of various research methods and how to use them to effectively meet your objectives

In this article we’ll be covering phone interviews.

What is it?

We chat with people via phone and ask them questions. Phone interviews follow a structured discussion guide and the questions are based on our client’s desired research objectives and specific user or stakeholder roles.


How it’s done?

Phone interviews can focus on gathering information from client-side stakeholders or can be used to collect information from the end-users of an application or tool.

When we are trying to better understand what the business wants to accomplish we talk to key stakeholders and when we are trying to better understand what target users want to think, feel and do, we talk to them. On the client side, we like to talk to subject matter experts and decision makers to get a better idea of the overall vision for a site or application as well as a good, high-level understanding of the desired features and functionality. Often in this process, competing organizational needs and priorities emerge. When this happens, it allows us to work with the client team to resolve them up-front rather than being surprised by them later on.

The idea is to get a high-level understanding from interview participants that include items that we may focus on later and go into more detail using other research methods.  Interviews typically last between 30 minutes and one hour.


When to use it?

Phone interviews are great when you need to learn more about a specific industry or market. They are especially helpful when redesigning or creating a specialized tool for a limited user group, or for an application that will serve many roles with the same functionality. They help to identify certain patterns and use cases that can show us where there may be inconsistencies and/or breakdowns in a design system. Phone interviews help our team get a better understanding about the use of industry specific terms and what is appropriate for users who may be new to a system vs. those who have used the system for a long time.



  • They help our team understand the mindset of an end user, enabling us to better understand their challenges, desires and goals
  • They provides context and understanding of an industry where our client’s have deep expertise and we have relatively little knowledge
  • They uncover common trends and requests for features and functionality
  • This is a fast research methodology, and when the audience is known, relatively easy to recruit for and schedule
  • They provide the ability to vet some high-level ideas and features to see if they resonate with the audiences


  • If you don’t talk to the right people you could get skewed results and irrelevant information
  • They are good for capturing high-level and broad information, but can prove challenging if you’re trying to understand the specifics of an interface
  • Phone calls are easy to blow off, therefore there are more last minute cancellations and now shows of interview participants than with other research methods
  • Recruiting participants if the incentive is not appropriate especially for high hourly billing roles such as doctors and lawyers


Why we’re good at it

We’ve spent thousands of hours interviewing target users for a wide range of niche markets as well as clients who work within regulated industries such as benefits management, health care, and financial services. Interviews are the primary way we get to know both the target users and the business stakeholders. It helps us to better understand, define and prioritize what content, functionality and/or changes to an existing process will provide the most value.

Through our work conducting one-one-one user research we know what questions to ask and what topics to explore further. We don’t have a canned script we use, and we don’t believe interviews are about checking off a list of questions and answers – rather, they about collaborating, understanding perspectives and identifying opportunities based on defined goals and objectives.

Because we’ve done so many phone interviews with both client teams and end-users over the years, we are good at knowing when to stick with the script and when to improvise. As a result, we’re able to identify when the planned questions are not yielding the desired result and probe further into the areas that hold the information we are actually seeking.


If you need help determining whether conducting interviews would benefit your current project, talk to us. We’d love to hear about what you need to better understand and what the best research approach to understanding it will be.

By John Golden

John’s career in interactive media design began in 1995 and has spanned over two decades with a focus on developing simple, streamlined approaches for complex problems.

View John's Bio


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