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Empathy Interview

What are the key stages of an Empathy Interview. Learn some tips and tricks from Aidan.
One person interviewing (chatting) to another

The Interview Guide

The empathy interview is one of the best tools we can use to collect information about our challenge. An interview can gather a range of data, and is more in depth than most other primary data collection methods.

Interviewing has the benefits of uncovering day to day knowledge which secondary information is unable to discover while providing perspectives of our end users. Interviews are able to be standardised while being flexible to uncover the desires and motivations of users. Interviewing is low cost, though it can take time to carry out (including transcribing).

A major challenge is the amount of data that can be generated and this data is not easily quantified. This means the data requires a lot of analysis (more on this in the define stage).

Remember: the purpose of interviews is to uncover peoples behaviours, and the reasons for these behaviours. And then in the next stage we make sense of this data with the secondary data to work out where we can make innovative interventions. A nice example of how an empathy interview plays out is shown by d.schools interview for empathy graph.

Interview for Empathy Graph

This graph shows that starting with some nice easy to answer questions helps build trust and rapport with interviewees before starting to delve deeper into emotions and feelings.

Interview conducting has four main stages:

Plan the interview In this stage we identify:

  • What are our goals, what do we really wish to learn?
  • Who we should interview (who are our stakeholders and are extreme users beneficial)?
  • Where should the interviews be conducted? (Ideally this should happen in the users environment).
  • What will we do with the information? (what tools could we use in the define stage)
  • How many people will be interviewed? (generally this is the amount where information will start to be repeated).
  • Who will do the interviewing and do they need to be trained?

Approaching the interview In this stage we set up the interview:

  • Contact and outline the interview to our users. We tend to call it a “chat” or “hear your thoughts” as interview can sound quite formal. We aim to put people at ease as soon as we can so that we can elicit appropriate information.
  • Allow enough time for the interview as well as reflection straight after. Usually we need at least 30 minutes, though you will find some interviews will go up to an hour (or longer). Ensure you focus on what you need to know.
  • The best quality interviews are face to face, but use of web conferencing or phone interviews are useful if needed.

Create the interview guide The interview guide is a set of questions that you plan to ask during the interview.

  • The guide should start at building rapport with straightforward questions to create ease and then move into stories where feelings, and motivations can be learnt.
  • The interview guide will help direct the conversation to ensure the desired content is covered.
  • The interview guide creates uniformity when you have multiple interviewers and multiple interviewees.

Carry out the interview When carrying out the interview there are some things to be aware of:

Interview Do’s

  • Ask “why” a lot
  • Ask open ended questions.
  • Take lots of notes.
  • Focus on the person when asking questions (e.g. how do they experience it? is it significant to them).
  • Be present when you ask questions – listen more than you speak.
  • Take lots of notes (its in twice on purpose – you never know what information you might need so take LOTS of notes).

Interview challenges:

  • The people you interview may not have the answers.
  • Beware of biases – yours and theirs.
  • Try and stay neutral – this is their story not yours.
  • Actively listening and observing how they respond to the questions.

There are a lot of different types of interviews (i.e. “man on the street” to “fly on the wall”) and all have similar benefits and challenges.

A common challenge is “end users may not have the answers”. What are some ways we could “draw out” information during an interview to help us understand a users needs and motivations?

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