Conducting Interviews for Empathy Maps

As a UX designer, you’ll always focus on the user and the experience they’ll have with the product you’re designing. One way to help put yourself in the shoes of the user is by creating an empathy map. Empathy maps are easily understood charts that explain everything designers have learned about a type of user. This reading is about conducting interviews to help you create empathy maps.

Prepare for the interview

Whether you’re conducting interviews in person or online, it’s important to be prepared before you speak with real users. It helps you to make most of your limited time together and learn as much as you can about unique perspectives. Here are a few things you can do to prepare for interviews:

Get written consent to record the interview. Prior written consent is required to record an interview, so be sure to send the participant a consent form ahead of time if you’re planning on recording. If the participant is a minor or unable to consent under applicable law, then written consent is required from the participant’s parent or guardian. The recording will help you create empathy maps. To learn more about recording interviews, you can visit the post on documenting user interviews.

Script interview questions. Develop a list of questions that you’ll ask all of the users you interview. It’s considered a best practice to keep interview questions fairly consistent across users, but this list of questions is just a guide. You can deviate from your questions to learn more about the user and their pain points, if necessary.

Collect supplies. Create a checklist of items you’ll need for the interview, such as a computer, a printed list of questions, or paper and a pencil. If you’ll use new equipment or technology during the interview, make sure you know how it works in advance.

Gather foundational research. It is always useful to conduct foundational research before interviewing the users. It gives you a common ground to understand the issues users might be experiencing. You can ask the following questions as you are conducting your foundational research.

  • What do you need to know about the users and their community to understand their experiences?
  • What are the processes, practices, and emotions that people experience around the problem you are trying to solve? How have these things changed over time, and why?
  • What are the problems that users still have not solved, as they relate to the product you’re designing? What would solving those problems do for users and others?
  • How will the product you are designing function within users’ lives?

These questions will help guide you to gather userful information while conducting interviews.

Research the users. Take time to learn what you can about the people you’ll interview. If the users you’re preparing to interview provide their personal information and their relevant experience with the product before the interview, be sure to take note of it. This information can be use to extend the conversation during the interview and build a rapport.

Practice. It’s always a good idea to practice delivering the questions you’ll ask users before you conduct a real interview. This gives you time to make changes to the questions you’re planning to ask and helps ensure that the interviews run smoothly. You can practice in front of the mirror or with the colleague to determine the length of the interview is appropriate or if you need to add or cut questions form your list.

Meet the participant

First impressions matter! As you meet users for the first time, at the start of an interview, you want the conversation to be set up for success. Here are a few things you can do when meeting interview participants:

Build a rapport. Building a good rapport is all about establishing a professional, but friendly, interaction. Making light conversation, like asking how the user’s day has been, can help establish a relationship before the interview begins. Simple questions and welcoming gestures can put the user at ease, which will help them share their true feelings once the interview begins.

Thank users for coming. Before the interview begins, show gratitude to the people you’re interviewing for taking the time to meet with you and share their perspectives. Thanking users is a part of establishing a good rapport and can help them feel like their opinions are valued.

Gather basic details. As you meet users, remember to ask about basic information that’s relevant to the interview, such as their name or demographic details.

Conduct the interview

Conducting interviews as a way to empathize with users is all about making the user feel comfortable and asking lots of questions. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind as you conduct interviews:

Follow interview etiquette. Speak in a clear and concise manner while asking questions, and remain professional no matter how users answer a question. Show that you are actively listening while users share their perspectives, such as nodding, making appropriate eye cotact, or writing notes.

Ask open-ended questions. Avoid asking questions that would lead to a simple “yes” or “no” answer. Instead, ask questions that start with “why.” For example, avoid asking “Do you like reading?” and instead ask “Why do you like or dislike reading?” This will allow for more detailed conversations and can reveal useful information to include in the product you’re designing. If the participant does provide a short “yes” or “no”, you can ask a follow-up question to get them share more.

Take notes

Taking notes during the live interview can be duanting because it happens so quickly. It is important write down as much as you can capture. A robust list of notes will be helpful when you create empathy maps, and when you come up with ideas to solve users’ pain points. Here are a few best practices to help you take notes during interviews:

Highlight compelling quotes. The most obvious part of an interview is to take notes on what the user says. Interesting quotes are strong indicators about how users really think and feel about the product. It also provides a valuable insight when you begin your designs.

Document observations about participants. It’s important to record not only what users say, but their mood, expressions, body language, and behaviors. All of these observations will be important to consider when creating empathy maps.

Consider recording interviews. Ask participants if they will allow you to record their interview. Recordings will be useful when you need to revisit some part of the conversation. It is best to ask them at the start of the interview.

End the interview

After you go through all the questions, give users a chance to share their final thoughts about any items discussed during the interview. You might get some opinions and insights that users didn’t share during the session.

Remember to thank participants once more for their time. You want participants to leave the interview feeling good about you, your future product, and the brand you might be representing.

Good luck!

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