Tuesday, December 15, 2020

My 4 takeaways from “Getting people to talk: An ethnography and interviewing primer”

Getting people to talk: An ethnography and interviewing primer” is a 30-min-long video created by two students, Gabriel Biller and Kristy Scovel, of IIT Institute of Design, Chicago, USA. For a student of design thinking, it gives a good perspective on what empathic interviewing means. Here are my key takeaways from the video. The timestamps give a reference in the video.

1.      Different types of interviews: The primer differentiates between different types of interviews – ethnographic interview, hypothesis-driven interview, extreme user interview, and expert interview. The key attribute of an ethnographic interview is – (5:51) – “Whatever knowledge I am going to gain from people, I am going to try to understand and represent it from other people’s perspective.” Sometimes you carry a framework or a hypothesis with you while interviewing. In which case, “The way I represent that (knowledge) is not from their perspective.” (6:50). I would call this hypothesis-driven interview and it would be relevant in validating your ideas.

In an ethnographic interview, the focus is not so much on what people are saying but who they are (8:45), their attitudes, behaviors, environments, artifacts that exist around (9:16).

An extreme user interview is a lot more about observing the extreme users doing stuff (10:25). You try to become an invisible observer, like a fly on the wall. An expert interview, on the other hand, is more verbal, sometimes happens even through emails. Here what the expert knows is more important than who they are (12:10).

2.      How do we actually do it? “It is not about asking the questions on your list, it is about the rapport that you establish.” (18:25) For example, check if they are comfortable with audio/video recording (13:50). The recording could be intimidating (15:00). Choose an appropriate location – ask them which location is comfortable (15:22). It helps if one is talking about jeans surrounded by jeans (16:00). In an environment with lots of artifacts related to the person being interviewed, you can ask questions related to the artifacts – “Tell me about your grandkid” (16:25). In such an environment, they are showing you stuff 80% of the time (16:35).

It is important that you are genuinely interested in what they are saying (18:31). It is about listening to 12 different levels so that they are going to answer you at least 8 of those 12. (18:38).

3.      What makes a good interview (24:30): In a good interview, good stories come out. They become open and carefree (25:10). They say, “Never told anyone that before”. Sometimes they are literally whistling and singing. Sometimes they get emotional – at a deep level, cry, narrate horrible stories (28:00). They get a feeling, “They can sing for you and not going to be judged.” (28:25).

“If you convey to that person that the moment that you are standing there, sitting there, interacting with them is the most important moment in the world, that makes everything happen.” (28:50)

4.      Common mistakes (19:00):  Showing a big surprise e.g. “You are 24?” (10:10) can be distracting. Nodding too much and saying phrases like “Aha, Yeah, Thanks a lot, That was great” could be distracting (23:10). Asking leading questions or compound questions are common mistakes (23:30).

I have watched this video at least half a dozen times and I have learned something new each time I watched. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in design thinking and learning empathic interviewing.

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