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  • Daniel Ling

Empathize Phase- How to Structure Your Interview to Amazing Insights?

Updated: Feb 17, 2023


Empathising with a user’s problem, in the Design Thinking methodology, starts off with plenty of questions and conversations. The first conversation that takes place between users and you, as the designer, will often be the interview. Interviews help designers gain a better understanding of the users, and therefore the problem one is aiming to solve.

It may seem daunting to conduct an interview with users, especially if you are designing for a problem or industry that is completely alien to you. However, following the next few tips will help structure your interview better to extract as many key insights as possible.




1. Preparation

Conduct your interview in pairs, so that 1 can observer/transcribe while the other asks questions. Introduce your team and your project (without guiding the user too much) before you begin, as this will help set the context and break the ice. If there are more than 1 observers- just have manage your group not to disrupt the interview.


2. Structure

Structure your questions to be open-ended so that the user feels like he/she is engaged in conversation instead of being interrogated. Avoid questions that will expect a “yes” or “no” answer, instead, begin your questions with “How”, “What” or “Why” to probe further into your users’ answers.


Remember to dig for feelings and backstory from your user rather than asking for facts. The key is to tap into the emotions and experience rather than the logic know-how of the customer- in this way you can get more inspired to understand the user's needs, pain points and delighters.


3. Question Types

Your questions should delve into the BACKGROUND, CURRENT and FUTURE behaviour of your users.

Questions related to BACKGROUND should help develop the user profile, so do ask about their habits and behaviours.

Questions related to CURRENT situation will help focus the problem, so raise questions on what is happening now and how users are engaging in the service or with the product, if any.

Lastly, questions around FUTURE will often provide insights into user aspirations; you may even ask the user to describe their ideal situation as opposed to what they are currently experiencing.

An in-depth interview should take up to 1 hour and should be followed by a quick sharing between the interviewer and his observers.


4. Active Listening


During the interview, actively listen to what the user is saying, and avoid interrupting or talking too much. Allow the user to speak their mind and tell their story. Pay attention to non-verbal cues and take note of any particularly emotional or passionate responses.


It’s also helpful to rephrase or summarize the user’s responses to ensure you’ve understood them correctly. This not only shows the user that you’re listening, but also helps you clarify any misunderstandings or misinterpretations.


5. Follow-up Questions


Don’t be afraid to ask follow-up questions if you need clarification or if the user has touched on something particularly interesting or relevant. Follow-up questions can help you dig deeper into the user’s experience and uncover insights that may not have come up otherwise.


However, be mindful of time and avoid taking the interview off track. It’s important to strike a balance between asking enough questions to gain a thorough understanding and not overwhelming the user with too many questions.


Overall, conducting interviews is a crucial step in the Design Thinking process as it helps designers empathize with their users and gain insights into their needs, behaviors, and emotions. By following these tips, you can structure your interview in a way that is effective and efficient in gathering key insights to inform your design process.

Last Words

I will be adding more articles on Design Thinking throughout the year. Articles of Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test will be added periodically to give my readers a broader insights to Design Thinking.

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About the Author

Daniel Ling has more than 10 years of Design Thinking experience and has moulded himself to be a “designer in a business suit”- strong in the Design Thinking process and yet relevant to the financial and business industry- across OCBC, DBS, NTUC Income and Lazada. He trained close to 500 professionals in the area of Design Thinking, Innovation and Strategy. He authored the Complete Design Thinking Guide for Successful Professionals and the book is sold worldwide via Amazon, iTunes, Ingram, Lulu and Kinokuniya.

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