An introduction to express and in-depth interviews for financial products

Photo by Christophe Hautier on Unsplash


The express interview is conducted in the Observing and Listening mode when we need to get to know or clarify the situation of the user.

  • The express interview is useful when we need to test something here and now.
  • It can be effective when you go through several iterations in the process of creating a prototype and testing modifications on the go.
  • The express interview can be useful at the stage of the initial photo and video information collection. By strengthening such evidence through conducting interviews, you may test the accuracy and correctness of your observations without interpreting them solely through your personal lens. Thus, you may avoid false judgments at the initial analytical stage.


Signing a consumer loan agreement is a good example that demonstrates how important it is to empathise with customers and arrange all service processes with an empathetic mindset. We will skip the background information (on how a customer sought out the creditor, collected documents for credit, and filled them in) and proceed to the stage of signing an agreement. At the end of the transaction, the customer is given a large pile of legal and marketing documents: the deal itself, supplementary materials, tariffs, description of the general terms, marketing pamphlets, and so on. At this point, the customer has reasonable questions: “What am I supposed to do with these? How can they be useful?” Then, while in line, a client advisor offers the customer the opportunity to read these documents quickly. While the customer reads the documents, the client advisor reads from a prescribed script. Obviously, the client-advisor wants to sell the product faster to meet his or her targets; the client advisor makes haste to have the agreement signed since he or she is already thinking about servicing the next client in the queue. As for the customer, he or she, at best, reads through the document or just signs it without getting into details of it. As a result, each of them thinks that their tasks are carried out, and the client leaves with a pile of papers. At home, the client will probably throw away half of the documents. Since the language used in these materials is difficult to understand, only a small fraction of users will grasp its meaning. Some people simply cannot understand it, while others do not make an effort to try.

Problems start emerging later when the customer has to make the first payment but fails to do it on time and is astonished to find out that he or she is late making a payment and is penalised. Some customers are surprised to realise how much money they need to pay in interest and therefore want the bank to take their money back. Due to such situations, customers are rarely content with the services of credit organisations; banks become convinced that clients are financially illiterate and irresponsible and consequently invent cumbersome insurance schemes. This is just one example and can be analysed from different perspectives. If we look at the situation from an empathetic point of view, we need to pay attention to the conditions in which the client signs an agreement that makes him or her uncomfortable. You can probably recall your own past experiences, the automation of a client advisor’s behaviour (everything in accordance with the script), your haste at signing an agreement and glancing over important legal details.

These areas of “tension” in human interaction are perfect scenarios for applying the design thinking approach. On a personal note, I recently saw an attractive solution to this problem while on holiday abroad. To become more customer-friendly, the NTUC Income Company has rewritten all its policies into a simple language the customer can understand. Its billboard states: “Legal jargon is often confusing. We have rewritten all our policies into everyday language. This makes the insurance process simple and honest”. One of the distinctive features of the campaign, which empathises with the customers, is talking to them in plain language.



  1. Write out goals and tasks clearly.
  2. Prepare 5–10 questions that can be corrected and/or modified in the process of communication with clients. Some questions may emerge in the course of conversations and cannot be planned in advance.
  3. Think out a rationale that explains to customers why you want to interview them. It is important to designate the goal of the interview to center around communicating with people in their natural settings. For instance, you can interview people when they are performing daily duties or on their commute. When doing your research at a bank branch, you may address customers in the following way: “Hello! I am a Bank employee. We want to improve our service. I have a couple of questions for you concerning your impressions on your visit to our bank”.


  1. It is important to be neutral during interviews, supporting your interlocutors with phrases like “yes”, “of course”, “let’s..together”, and so on.
  2. It is essential not to put pressure on users: if they are willing to talk for most of the session, let them do it.
  3. Listen to your conversation partners attentively while supporting them with related questions to avoid losing the thread of the interview.
  4. Keep an eye on the interview topic: users can divert from it.
  5. You can write down phrases, thoughts, and quotations on sticky notes.


  1. Merge the results of your observation and notes with the ones prepared by your colleagues.
  2. You will need the collected data during the Analysing and Synthesising stage.

Talking to a user using a generalist of main questions is one of the simplest ways to do the express interview. It can be carried out spontaneously or planned.

  1. Is it comfortable for you to get to the nearest bank branch? Why?
  2. How often do you use online banking?
  3. What questions do you most often ask bank operators?
  4. Do you constantly receive answers to these questions?

The express interview questions can be either general or specific.

Their nature depends on the goals and the objectives of the current stage. The most important thing here is to learn to ask open-ended questions that prompt users to answer in detail. Closed-ended questions tend to lead to narrow “yes or no” answers.

A closed-ended question will not lead us to the user’s story and, therefore, to high-quality information.


An audio recorder, notebook, pen

Try IT!

  1. Identify a user within your current research.
  2. Make up a list of questions for express interviewing.
  3. Define the place for conducting the express interview.
  4. Prepare an audio recorder for recording the session.
  5. Conduct the express interview.
  6. Listen attentively to the person interviewed.
  7. Immediately after the interview, document your thoughts, emotions, and observations.
  8. Listen to the recording and take notes.
  9. Analyse the before-during-after stages: what conclusions can you draw, and what observations can you make after conducting the interviews?

What was the most challenging thing to do?


How do you use Bank’s online service?

I enter the bank branch, receive a token in the queue management machine, wait in the electronic queue, and then go to the service counter. A bank clerk helped me access the Bank’s online service with detailed explanations.

Why do you not arrange access yourself via the bank website?

The user explains why he or she does not use the website and instead comes to the bank branch and waits in a queue to access the simple Bank-online service.

You accurately picture a user’s journey while using a product or service.


The in-depth interview helps us collect users’ stories. It is one of the most labour-intensive and essential stages. This is because design techniques are tailored to work with tacit human knowledge, which people cannot realise and verbalise on their own.

Tacit knowledge is the kind of knowledge which cannot be easily transferred to other people. The term was coined by Michael Polanyi, the English physicist, chemist and philosopher and the author of the concept of tacit knowledge. In his work, he wrote about the process and not about the form of knowledge itself; however, he used the term to define the kind of knowledge which is not explicitly expressed or formalised, either partially or fully.

Tacit knowledge often involves skills and culture that are intrinsic to us but not necessarily realised by us.


  • Why are you conducting interviews?
  • What do you want to learn?
  • How are you going to use the data later?
  • What are the most important things you want to learn?
  • What should you pay attention to?

In-depth interviews may last from 1 to 2,5 hours. The deep exploration of the user’s circumstances and perspectives gives an overall notion of the user’s world, aspirations and problems. Therefore, it is essential to become involved and participate at this stage.


  • We listen to a person attentively.
  • We are empathic to their difficulties.
  • We find out the cause of emerging problems or joys.
  • At the same time, we must remain devoted to our conversation topic and be mindful of our goals and objectives.


  1. The first thing you should do is make a list of questions. The list of questions must not only be made up but should also be thoroughly studied and internalised. It would help if you familiarised yourself with them so that you do not have to read them from your notebook during the interview. An in-depth interview is best started by getting to know the user casually. Consider what questions can be included in this section so you can get to know the person briefly and establish trusting contact. This list contains anywhere from 20 to 50 questions. Despite this extensive list, you should be more concerned about the flow of the conversation and carrying it out naturally.
  2. It is crucial to record interviews using an audio recorder. All necessary materials must be prepared in advance. It would help if you told the interviewee that you intend to record the conversation. Ask him or her for permission to do the recording before proceeding. It would help if you assured your interviewee that all information shared during the recording will remain confidential. Some people do not mind being recorded, which is helpful. Your goal is not to let the recording interfere with the process or make the person uncomfortable.
  3. A handful of obstacles can arise at different stages of the interview. The first one can occur during introductions when a person can attempt to talk too much about himself or herself. The second obstacle can emerge after 15–20 minutes when you approach questions which are important for your research. Here, you should introduce questions that can make for an easy conversation: share a story from your own life. While doing this, you should be understanding of the respondent and give him or her some time to pause during the conversation. It is essential to ask specifically open-ended questions. The third obstacle appears when you exit a conversation. You cannot finish an interview just by rapidly asking your final questions. That is why you need to design questions that can cohesively summarise an interview. The most exciting stories can surface precisely at the end of an interview when you finalise a dialogue.
  4. You have done a lot of work, and the respondent has spent a great deal of time on emotions and energy; thus, you should pay attention to the final stages of the conversation. Start talking about something unrelated, or share a personal story related to your interview topic. Thank the respondent. This attentiveness is a mandatory part of finishing an interview if you want your work to be fruitful.


  1. Remember that a conversation can go beyond the one you planned in your initial notes. Do not impose specific limits on an exchange. Strive to adapt and absorb stories from the people you are talking to.
  2. The design thinking practice involves the Five “Whys” technique. By asking a respondent “Why?” you get a deeper understanding of a given issue.
  3. Do not forget that you should not only ask questions but also come to an agreement with the interviewees to show you some part of their daily tasks. Let respondents do their work as they usually do it. People need to take a handful of concrete steps.
  4. Go deeper: ask people to say what they think when doing some activities described in the course of an interview. Your main task is to make your conversation partners feel calm. They must not think like they are being interrogated. If you sense that a respondent gets nervous, switch the conversation to a neutral subject and do not press him or her further. You should not get upset if something goes wrong. If the emotional context of an interview is too tense, its results may appear to be poor and ineffective. Of course, it does not apply to observation (when the user is in a real-life situation) or the situation when a respondent tells you a heartfelt story from his or her life. Learn to discern these kinds of respondent reactions.
  5. Talk outside of the office (meet on neutral territory) for a fruitful s conversation. For instance, you may meet in a coffee shop.
  6. Use the affordances of the environment to ask deeper questions.


  • Acquaintance/Start. We get to know the respondent and ask him or her about his or her day and how he/she got to the scheduled meeting point.
  • Warm-up. We ask the respondent about his/her profession (if we do not know it) and what he/she enjoys.
  • Focusing. We start asking the initial, basic questions from the existing list of questions.
  • Run-up. At this stage, you may ask a respondent to fill in a card that is prepared for an interview.
  • Story/Culmination. We invite respondents to initiate storytelling using the most critical conversation questions from our list.
  • Stories. We proceed to the level of empathetic listening: listen attentively to respondents’ stories and ask questions not from our list but ones that come up naturally during the storytelling. The goal here is to understand why the respondent is struggling with a certain issue.
  • Emotions. The stories the respondent shares are the most important aspects of the interview to pay attention to: observe what physical activity accompanies the respondent’s speech (for instance, gestures, mime, movements of the head or eyes). Document these gestures.
  • Projection/Ideas. Suggest possible ways to approach a future course of events while interpreting your respondent’s perspectives and trying to combine your and the respondent’s efforts in order to find any solution here and now. In this stage, you’ll see what other factors (fear, for instance) can create obstacles to finding a solution.
  • Relaxation. You and the respondent may fill in the remaining cards together, draw and get to know each other a bit more.
  • Exit. You should thank the person for his or her patience and willingness to talk to you; you may also switch the conversation to another subject (such as your surroundings) and notice changes in the user’s emotional reactions and behaviour.

Different kinds of charts may be used during interviews. For instance, charts about service performance, duties or communication between a bank and client can be helpful. They can likewise help facilitate the conversation.

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