Below are eighteen tips on how to conduct non-biased interviews for the Empathy stage of Design Thinking. Some may be common-sense to you. If you are new to this style of interview, look below for the three most challenging to you personally, and try to focus on them when focusing on your next Empathy Interview!

  1. Choose a diverse group of participants:

    Make sure to include people from different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives in your interviews. This will help ensure that your results are representative and not biased towards a particular group. Often, you will get the best insights from people who are the most different to you!

  2. Look for Outliers

    As mentioned in the previous point, we often get the best insights from people who are the most different from you. There can be a tendency to look for the ‘most typical user’ to interview, but often we can get really amazing insights from people who are atypical. This could mean different things in different contexts. For example, if we working on a challenge on marketing make-up brands, we might feel that we should interview party-loving females in their twenties who do not live with any disabilities. While that’s a good idea, we could also get amazing or surprising insights from a sixty-year old man, a retired lady, a person who is visually impaired, someone who is colour-blind.

  3. Create a welcoming environment:

    Make sure the space where the interviews/conversations are taking place is comfortable and conducive to conversation, perhaps it’s in a place they are familiar with (e.g. their office and not yours). This will help put the participants at ease and encourage them to open up.

  4. Be respectful:

    This should go without saying, but treat the participants with respect and empathy throughout the interview process. This will help build trust and create a comfortable environment for them to share their thoughts and experiences.

  5. Use open-ended questions:

    Avoid using leading or biased questions that may steer the conversation in a particular direction. Instead, use open-ended questions that allow the participants to share their own thoughts and experiences.

  6. Avoid assumptions:

    You’re human, so this is close to impossible, but try not to make assumptions about the participants or their experiences. Instead, let them tell their own stories and provide their own perspectives.

  7. Be aware of your own biases:

    Similiarly, recognise and acknowledge your own biases, and try to set them aside during the interviews. This will help you be more objective and open-minded.

  8. Use neutral language:

    Avoid using language that may be perceived as judgmental or biased. This isn’t just about the words you use but also helps form the questions you ask. For example, if you are interviewing someone about eating habits, instead of “Did your mother teach you how to cook”, you might say “Did a parent or adult teach you to cook when you were a child”. Or, if you were interviewing someone about their past experiences, instead of “When did you graduate” you might ask “what did you do after you left school?” This will help the participants feel more comfortable sharing their experiences and perspectives.

  9. Avoid leading the conversation

    This can be hard, particularly if you already know about the subject area and feel like ‘an expert’. Particularly if you are at the start of a Design Sprint, you may have some ideas already that you want to prototype (even though you haven’t moved to the Ideation stage yet, your brain often can’t help it!). Don’t steer the conversation in a particular direction or try to influence the participants’ responses. This will help ensure that the data you collect is genuine and unbiased.

  10. Use active listening:

    Pay close attention to what the participants are saying, and avoid interrupting or (really important) finishing their sentences for them. This will help you better understand their perspectives and experiences.

  11. Take detailed notes:

    Make sure to take detailed notes during the interviews, so that you can refer back to them later. This will help you remember the participants’ stories and perspectives, you never know what will strike you as golden insight later that you might miss in the moment!

  12. Be open to unexpected answers

    Don’t expect the participants to provide the answers you’re looking for. Be open to hearing their perspectives, even if they differ from your own.

  13. Ask follow-up questions

    If the participants provide answers that are unclear or incomplete, ask follow-up questions to clarify their thoughts and experiences. This will help you gather more detailed and accurate data.

  14. Be flexible

    Don’t stick rigidly to a set of predetermined questions. Be willing to adjust the questions or the order in which they’re asked based on the participants’ responses and the flow of the conversation.

  15. Avoid interrupting

    Let the participants finish their thoughts and sentences before jumping in with your own comments or questions. This will help you better understand their perspective and avoid interrupting their train of thought.

  16. Confirm understanding

    Depending on the situation, it might make sense for to, after the participants have answered a question, summarise their response back to them to confirm that you understand their perspective. This will help ensure that you have accurately captured their thoughts and experiences.

  17. Be respectful of time constraints

    Be aware of the participants’ time constraints and respect their schedules. Don’t overstay your welcome and try to keep the interviews to the agreed-upon length. This will show that you value their time and will help build trust for future research. In case you find the interview going over the agreed-upon time, and feel it is going so well that you can get more value – acknowledge that, and ask their permission to continue.

  18. Follow up:

    After the interviews, follow up with the participants to thank them for their time and to let them know how their feedback will be used. This not only shows that that you value their input but means you could get even more valuable feedback from them at the Testing stage.

Best of luck with your Empathy Interviews. Remember that Interviews are just one of many methods of Empathy used in Design Thinking. However if you do the interviews right, you will have an excellent foundation for your Design Thinking project. Are there any more tips that have been missed? You can share in the comments below!

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