Orientation: Day 2 – Reflections

Trying is much easier with permission to get things wrong. Jon Kolko and Ruby Ku have both impressed upon us the necessity and value of taking action when you do not know everything. Today’s field activity seemed an exercise in pushing ourselves into uncomfortable spaces while still performing and trying to understand the complexities of doing user interviews.

Jon began the day with a short lecture on the rise of design thinking in the corporate world and design strategy. He emphasized the need for empathy with user and ways to build it. While it is easy to define empathy, an understanding of the thoughts, feelings, or overall experience of others, it is a difficult thing to achieve purposefully. A positive connection to another human being does not necessarily mean one understands the other, and empathy can blossom from unexpected interactions.

Our group of four were tasked to hit the streets of Austin and interview people to figure out how they plan their route on public transportation. We were supposed to write down three possible locations to search for users and five open-ended questions. We spent a lot of time discussing where we should go to find concentrations of our target users, how we would get there, the kinds of people we might find there, whether they would be representative enough. Perhaps a pool of just bus users at one location would suffice to unearth insights into rout planning, so perhaps we worried a bit too much about getting all over the city. In actuality, we drove to a few locations to find enough people to interview, so we did get a geographic spread.

When we had discussed the questions to ask, we were not even sure if we should all have different questions or if uniformity of approach mattered. We wrote down mostly different questions, but they were similar in that they were geared towards teasing out information about the kinds of transport used, tools for route planning, and feelings around the experience of planning. As we spoke to more and more people, our approaches sort of melded and we usually just asked one or three questions from our cache and tried to follow relevant ideas the conversation.

Interviewing is hard! There are so many things of which to be aware and to guide. I walked up to people who seemed receptive (and a couple who didn’t). I requested an interview. I asked them questions. I asked them to explain. I repeated myself. I asked two to three questions at a time. I wasn’t aware of my body language. I felt a bit inauthentic when speaking with some people, most notably two young, tall MBA dudes who seemed uneasy and impatient with me. I tried to keep in mind that, since I am approaching a stranger on the street, the onus is on me to give them adequate information for both what I am doing and what I want from them, as well as to read them and try to put them at ease – but what puts people at ease?

I am grateful to my group-mates for their camaraderie and mutual support. We kept providing feedback to each other after each interview, and tried to refine the approach. If we did this tomorrow, I’d probably be just as clumsy. I think the point was to just start practicing and trying to notice all the things one should notice. When we returned to AC4D, Jon asked us all how we had tried to build empathy. I felt silly when we had to admit we had not gotten on a bus. :-/