The Stakeholder Interview

March 25, 2024 in Product design

One of my worst kept secrets is that I don’t design very much despite being a designer. My preferred process is to start by writing and only when I am satisfied with what I’ve discovered there do I jump to designing. However, when the occasion calls for it, I put another step in even before writing. I usually use writing to find out what I know, but more importantly, what I don’t know. Sometimes that doesn’t give me all the answers I need unfortunately. That’s when I add the other great way to discover what I don’t know… I talk to directly to stakeholders and/or users! These conversations are not about me talking though - it’s the opposite - it’s listening.

In order to design the right thing - in the right way - you need input to understand the problem that you're solving.

It's not users vs. business, it's users and business

The way I run interviews is through the lens of the two distinct parties - users and the business. While I'm always looking to create things that will benefit the end-user, it's important to remember that the business has goals that need to be fulfilled. It's only when you, as a designer, consider both party’s goals and expectations that you can succeed.

Facilitating a conversation

Most of the people I do these interviews with have never done anything like this before and are unsure of what to expect. In order to ease any anxiety, I communicate the entire process, the reason for the interview, and agenda for our time together. I inform them that the interview will be recorded so I can better focus on the conversation instead of taking notes. This open, transparent communication style helps them feel relaxed and confident in what they have to share. I, of course, want the project to be successful, so I need to tap into the unfiltered core of their experience and knowledge. This helps me have a cohesive vision of what it is that we're supposed to create from both sides of the coin - the user and the business.

Starting small

I usually begin with a simple question that is easily relatable. For instance, I'll ask what their role is and how they became involved in this project. This allows them to begin talking more freely and it shifts the "talking part" from me to them.

As I move to asking questions about the business itself, I want to talk more about what the short-term and long-term goals of the project. I need to know what they would define a successful outcome. I also need to understand what would happen if the project wasn’t completed. One of my favorite answers to the last question came from a South American who simply stated, "Well you know, life goes on..." It sure does. :)

I move on to trying to understand the motivation behind the project. For instance, what do you currently have too little of (sales, profits, customers, etc.) or too much of (complaints, product returns, service calls, etc.)? This gives me an idea of what outcomes could be and allows me to start thinking of additional solutions.

Next I'll ask about how they would describe their users (or customers). I encourage them to think like their user and ask about what steps they would go through before making a purchasing decision. What would their user believe the most important message or feeling they should remember from the product? This helps to focus them on the pain that we're trying to solve instead of just on a deliverable.

At the end I like to ask them for one thing that they believe no one else from their team has mentioned. You can find some really great insights in these responses!

Here are some of my questions that I use:


  • How did your organization or team get to where you are today?
  • What are the short-term and long-term business goals?
  • What would a successful outcome of this project look like to you?
  • How is your organization experiencing the problems?
  • As a business, what do you currently have too little of or too much of?
  • What should this project accomplish for the business?
  • What happens if this project is not done?


  • Who are the users?
  • How would you describe your customers?
  • How do they currently think or feel about your industry as a whole?
  • What steps do they go through before making a buying decision?
  • What are some surprising insights you’ve gained from working with these customers?
  • What problems do customers currently have that this offering solves?


  • What are a few product concerns?
  • What’s missing in the current process that this tool will provide?
  • What is the single most important message your audience should remember from this deliverable?
  • What is the single most important message your audience should feel from this deliverable?
  • What action should this deliverable entice the user to take?
  • If users had a “magic wand” and could wish for anything to make the process better, what would they wish for?


  • What do I need to know that you don’t think other members of your team have said?
  • Is there anyone else, in particular, you think we would benefit from interviewing? Who?

The real insights are not in these answers

While the above questions and their answers are valuable, that's not where the real insights lie. The real insights are hidden in the follow-up questions and answers. The key to a good interview is to listen carefully and actively follow-up with questions that go deeper. With any question you ask, it's important to keep them as open-ended. This helps to make sure the discussion stays as open as possible. The method I like to follow is TEDW - Tell me about.. Explain.. Describe.. Walk me through. These offer the other person the option to not just answer, but paint the whole picture.

As for facilitating, the key is to stay positive and engaged. When you're on that third hour of Zoom calls this becomes especially difficult. It's so easy to get distracted or just quickly check your email. Unfortunately, the other person will only stay engaged as long as you do and the can sense when you check out. They’ll then lose focus just like you and it’s hard to get back on track.

I always strive to stay curious through this whole process. It's not uncommon for people to start brainstorming solutions in the moment. Even if they start pitching something that you know probably won't work, or would probably cost trillions of dollars to build, it's important to stay open to what their saying. "Wow! Explain to me how you think that could work!" and let them go for it! Having an interviewee that's thinking freely and creatively is exactly where you want to be!

This post was originally published on May 25, 2020. Edited on March 25, 2024.

Navigating design

I love sharing my experiences working in design and what’ve I’ve learned along the way. Join Navigating design, a comminuty of thousands of designers, developers, and product professionals!

No flywheels, no lead magnets. Unsubscribe whenever you want. Here's what subscribers say.

Great! Just “one more thing”...

You need to confirm your email to confirm your subscription.