User interviews vs. testing for UX research and usability testing

August 19, 2024
8 minutes read
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Often, people use the terms "user research" and "usability testing" interchangeably. However, they are quite different. They are both forms of qualitative research. Qualitative usability testing methods are importnat for improving the user experience acroass user groups. So, in this post, we are aiming to shed light on the differences between these terms, why they are important, and how they can affect your business.

But first, we must answer the question, "Why is it important for your business to conduct user research and user testing?"

These terms don't exist for the sake of it. When done correctly, conducting usability testing can make your business successful. If ignored, it can have a detrimental effect on your bottom line and even prevent people from wanting to work with your business.

By the end of this article, you will understand how these two cannot exist independently; rather, they are codependent and deeply rely on one another. Together they tell you how people interact with your product. When you have a product of design you will inevitably need input from users to give you insights that help increase their productivity and improve their experience.

Our goal isn't to lecture you on the differences between the two. We will outline the differences so you understand how reliant these are on each other. By the end of this you will understand the ins and outs of research and design testing in moderated and unmoderated usability studies.

Key takeaways

  • Why you need user feedback
  • Create a research plan by undertanding research goals and how to achieve them
  • UX research methods
  • Different types of user testing

Why do user research and user testing matter and how do they affect the user experience?

Let's get straight to the point. Nielsen Normal Group stated, "UX without user research is not UX."

UX design is the process of creating products that produce relevant and meaningful experiences. So, naturally, the UX process involves carefully designing products that consumers will enjoy using. If you create a simple product, but users do not enjoy their experience, you are not designing UX. You are simply working on a user journey.

UX processes should be driven and guided by users, not designers. You aim to improve the experience, not just the look of your product. So, user research drives UX. Let's define this further to give you deeper insight.

What is user research and does it help you define your persona?

User research is an overarching concept that involves several types of methodology, all with the common goal of identifying your target audience and understanding their needs and behaviors on a deep level.

The research methods that fall within this category are:

  • Interviews
  • Surveys
  • Participatory design
  • Focus groups
  • Usability testing

As you've likely noted, the majority of these methods require connections with your target user. You will need to understand their needs and empathize with their situations. Conducting user research correctly will guide you in creating a product that people will find useful and intuitive. Your product will become a usable and useful resource in their toolbox.

Conversely, user testing is one of multiple research methods you can use when working on UX for your product or service.

Thus, the question likely lingering in your mind now is, "What's the difference between user interviews and usability testing?" and "How do user interviews affect them?"

To answer this, we must cover what interviews are and how they work.

What are user interviews, and how do you use them to conduct user research?

There's a constant struggle for designers to create products that users love and find simple to use. So, how do companies achieve this? They use  interviews to guide their design process.

Ideally, when interviewing users, you should have two UX researchers and one user. The first researcher should ask the user relevant, poised, and guided questions to move the interviewee through a task. You must plan questions in order to receive the data needed to improve your product. The other researcher should take notes.

Having two researchers is important because if you've ever tried to listen, guide, and take notes, you understand it can be a struggle. So, having two researchers can make the process simpler and ensure no relevant or important details are missed.

So, how do interviews affect testing? As mentioned above, you cannot complete testing without interviewing users about your protoype or live service. But the line between the two is often blurred.

Usability testing vs user interviews: What's the scoop on these types of user research?

We must ask ourselves, is there really a difference between these two terms?

After all, any seasoned business owner knows that users guide every aspect of their business. Without customers who enjoy your products or services, you will not have a business.

Interviews are an important aspect of testing. You can conduct interviews in multiple manners, and your method will affect how you conduct user interviews.

Generally, there are two user research methods for interviews:

  • Remotely
  • In-person

These are furtherdefined as moderated or unmoderated testing.

If you are completing these remotely, how you approach interviewing will be distinct from in-person methods.

Let's outline these. It will give you clarity on how these affect testing.

Remote user interview process

The remote process is an unmoderated testing approach so it will require tools that you likely already have in your arsenal.

Most commonly, people think of interviewing as meetings with people face-to-face. But, in the 21st century, we are more connected than ever. Our interconnectedness allows us to quickly gain information and understand perspectives and even points of view with ease.

So naturally, more business owners are turning to remote methods to improve the customer experience by gaining insights from usuers.  

You can conduct this using software such as Zoom, Google Meet, or Microsoft Teams. When using such tools, you can directly ask your users their opinions of your product or service. If you opt for this method of interviewing users, it will be similar to in-person interviews.

The other option for interviewing users remotely is with recorded questions and responses. When doing this, your ability to ask follow-up questions is nonexistent. So, you must plan your participants questions and make assumptions about what people will say and when you should follow up with an additional question. Simply asking, "Is there anything else you would like to add?" would lead to less-than-optimal responses. Use leading questions for this.

Ensuring you have thorough responses when interviewing your users is important. You will invest time and money into the process of interviewing users. By receiving answers that are not thorough, you're wasting your time and money.

Without thorough user interviews, you cannot complete testing. Can you see the catch 22?

In-person interviewing

Face-to-face interviews are our preferred method, and they should be yours. Although more costly, the data you'll receive regarding your product will be more complete. If you ask a question, you can then follow up with others to ensure you get all the information you need to improve your product or service.

The downfall here is the cost and time investment. You may need to offer incentives to users or even pay people to use your product and provide feedback.

Are you starting to see how interviews and testing do not exist independently but rather are intertwined?

Let's recap so far and make this interdependence apparently clear. Our intention is for you to understand how these depend on each other so you can then complete usability testing in a way that brings you actionable data and insights.

Usability testing vs. User interviews is the wrong approach

When you think of pitting interviews against testing, you create an imaginary line that separates these. Now that we have outlined what usability testing is and how interviews, whether remote or face-to-face, affect it, we confidently express this approach is not good.

You should never view testing and interviews independently. When you are completing usability testing, you should include interviews in your process. You should ideally use open-ended questions in your interview if you want to learn as much as possible about your product.

Businesses can employ a myriad of processes when completing usability testing. Regardless of the process, interviews always take place.

So here's how we would approach usability testing if you were to work with us. We are outlining this not to toot our own horn but rather to demonstrate that  interviews and usability work together to help you achieve tangible results from your business.

Usability testing is impactful with user interviews

Here's a great example of usability testing that includes interviews. When you include all these elements, you can be sure that your usability testing efforts will be fruitful.

  1. Define a goal and target audience
  2. Establish evaluation criteria
  3. Create a testing script (these are the questions you will ask people)
  4. Run a pilot test (to check your process before beginning)
  5. Find your testers
  6. Invite the testers to try your product or service
  7. Ask them the questions from your script (basically, this is the interview part)
  8. Iterate and repeat

By following all the steps in this sample usability testing process, you will include interviews and gain actionable data.

Essentially, there is no good usability testing without interviews from external sources.

Let's be clear on external sources because some businesses will opt for heuristic evaluation. But, even with heuristic evaluation, which is simply a usability test conducted by professionals rather than users, the feedback you receive is from an external source. It will still require you to ask questions and receive feedback, and in its simplest form is a interview.


We've covered the differences, better described as interdependence, of usability testing and  interviews. User interviews produce value for usability testing in the UX research process. Usability testing helps you find gaps, errors, or difficulties users experience when using your product. You cannot fully comprehend these issues unless you interview users.

Sure, you could look at user recordings and send out questionnaires, but the information you receive will be shallow and lack substance when compared to interviewing. Any serious business owner will conduct interviews when completing usability testing.

The question now is how to go about it.

If you are looking to complete usability testing for your product, we can help. We have experience designing SaaS platforms and working directly with business owners. We take an iterative approach and simplify your job by integrating our services directly into your business processes.

If you'd like a helping hand, click the yellow button at the top of your screen and schedule a consultation with us.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is user testing the same as user interviews?

User testing and user interviews are two different methods for gaining valuable customer insights. User interviews involve a moderated conversation with the user, while user testing is an unmoderated process where no one else is present during the study except the user. Therefore, user testing and user interviews are not the same.

What is the difference between usability testing and user testing?

User testing seeks to verify that users need and want a product, while usability testing ensures that they can effectively use the product to accomplish tasks. Usability testing is one of the types of user testing.

What are the three types of user interviews?

The three types of user interviews are structured, semi-structured, and unstructured. Each type of interview can be used at different stages of a UX design process in order to gain a better understanding of users and their needs.

What is the difference between a user survey and a user interview?

User Surveys involve gathering information from a group of people using broad questions, whereas User Interviews are more in-depth conversations between the interviewer and one individual.

How can I balance qualitative and quantitative research methods in my UX research strategy?

To balance qualitative and quantitative research methods, incorporate both usability testing and user interviews into your UX research strategy to gain a comprehensive view of user behavior and preferences to make informed design decisions.

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