# Empathy Interview

# Phase: 🔎 Problem seeking
Focus: Empathize


Time commitment: Varying according to breadth of information needed, but time-intensive due to needs of interviewing
Difficulty: Moderate
Materials needed: Goals for outcome, interview guide, users to interview, location (physical or virtual), interviewer, notetaker, notetaking tools
Who should participate: User experience designers, project/product owners, users, commmunity specialists
Best for: In-depth (but sometimes messy) insights on the human experience of the problem at hand

# About this tool

Empathy interviews are a form of user research with a difference: Rather than consider how a user feels as a secondary item to how a user undergoes a task or tries to reach a goal, they put the user's human, emotional experience front and center. In doing so, they may surface details that a user might not reveal in an ordinary user interview due to them perhaps being considered secondary to the "business aim" of the discussion; however, by focusing on feelings, it's possible to uncover deep-seated beliefs and ideologies that may trump functional considerations.

Empathy interviews don't need to be standalone exercises, though they can certainly be beneficial as such; it's helpful even to include some empathy-based questions in a task-focused user interview. Some tactics for doing so include ...

  • Keep asking "why". Even if you end up sounding like a toddler, or you're already convinced you know the answer, you may uncover something at a deeper emotional level simply by emphasizing that you really want to know the reasons behind a decision.
  • Encourage story sharing. Even if a story feels like a long-winded way of getting to the point, reading between the lines of the events of a story — as well as how someone tells the story itself — can reveal multitudes about what they view as important in hindsight, what was most memorable, and what they feel others need to know about a particular experience.
  • Zoom in close on non-verbal clues, and don't fear silence. Both of these are important signals that can convey things your interviewee may otherwise be reluctant to disclose.
  • Don't immediately respond with your own stories or answers, but don't be afraid to if that keeps the conversation going. Remember that the interview isn't about you, but also consider that many people are reluctant to spool out stories unless you return with some of your own.

Remember, too, that even though we all try to put ourselves in the user's shoes, we're often so close to a problem that we've forgotten the frustration or confusion they may face when trying to use something that we've had time to learn and understand. It may sound silly, but one way to fight this is to intentionally fluster yourself: Download and explore a highly specialized app for something totally out of your area of expertise or interest. Read a magazine in a language you barely understand. Or ask your friend with a PhD in something that's (to you) totally esoteric to explain their dissertation!