Design Tools: Interviewing

I have contributed to the creation of an independent study that allows me to dissect the tools of design. Each week, a speaker is invited to share their expertise and guide an exercise. Last week, our speaker was unable to attend so those of us who are part of the study were left to our own devices. Fortunately, a faculty member introduced us to a video that breaks down important considerations for effective interviewing. Sure designers need a camera, notebook, and awesome note-taking skills; but what about the OTHER stuff.

The IIT Institute of Design sheds light on some of the “soft skills” needed to be a proper interviewer. I believe every great designer is an expert listener. Being an expert listener takes more than just being physically present. It means creating a setting and building a rapport with your interviewee. This exchange should naturally yield the information you are seeking without making someone feel like they are in an interrogation room.

This video sheds light on bad behaviors, two of which I am frequently guilty of. The first bad habit is using the phrase “that’s interesting” as a segway to move from one topic to the next. In my experience, this becomes repetitious and does not sound like you are genuinely interested. The second is the “head-bob.” I have felt that me nodding my head shows that I am listening and understand what is being said. However, I can completely understand why it may be uncomfortable to sit across from someone whose head is bobbing for 45 minutes. I would highly recommend watching this if you have any form of human information extraction planned in the near future. Even if you consider yourself an expert interviewer, the review couldn’t hurt.

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I recently interviewed someone for thesis work with these considerations in mind and it allowed for a more meaningful exchange. The result; an interview that felt more like a conversation and less like an interrogation. My interviewee was comfortable enough to walk around the room, point out relevant information, and even use a dry erase board to support his points. This is a bit of a departure from what sometimes seems to leave people bound to their chairs during what can feel like a never-ending game of “20 questions.” As I continue to hone my interviewing skills, I hope people can feel more like they are having a conversation and less like they are under a microscope. This will inherently allow me to gather more valuable data and make people feel more comfortable.

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