Developing Empathy for Users

One of the critical first steps in design thinking is the exercise of collecting user stories in order to develop empathy for the needs of those users. This is a technique we use to get to the heart of the problem we’re trying to solve. When collecting stories, the role of the interviewer is to gather as many perspectives as you can in order to be able to make a judgment about where best to intervene with a solution.

When an interviewer takes the time to put herself in the user’s shoes, she understands the need at a more emotional level. That’s where the magic happens. From these stories, opportunities emerge that are found through understanding people’s lived experiences.

Collecting stories is more nuanced than traditional interviewing or qualitative data collection techniques where the interview is seeking to uncover facts. When you collect stories, you probe for detail in a quest to uncover thoughts and feelings. It’s an art form where one of the most important tools in the toolkit is the simple phrase, “tell me more.”

This can be difficult for practitioners who are accustomed to a question/response cadence. The conversations can often be meandering, which is why it’s key for the interviewer to jot down key words, phrases or simple pictures to help make sense of the conversation. Rather than taking copious verbatim notes, the interview is best served to listen actively and intently, translating the narrative once the conversation is over.

Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash


One thought on “Developing Empathy for Users

  1. I love the idea of “translating the narrative.” It my seem counter-intuitive at first – why would we translate, rather than simply “record” what we heard or saw? I think we saw the power of this during our onsite, when we (as a group) translated the narratives of each others’ stories as told to Teresa, into a list of opportunities. When we checked in with each story-teller, that translation made more clear some things that each story-teller may have had a challenge putting into words. By checking in with them, we tested our translation for accuracy.


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