What Makes You Happy? (Student Guide)
How might we conduct an engaging interview with a peer to find out what makes them happy?
Prepare: Learn about the key ideas in this project
This activity is grounded in the idea of designing for a specific user and can be a great introduction to human-centered design methodologies. This method is defined by the following five steps:
Empathize ~ Define ~ Ideate ~ Prototype ~ Test
Interviewing typically falls in the empathize stage of human-centered design and allows a person to better understand and empathize with the user. Think of the interviewing process as a way to engage a person in conversation, rather than solely collecting information about them. By the end of the interview, the interviewer wants to have captured not just what a person did and said, but how that person feels and what they think.
Here are a few guiding principles that will help you as the interviewer capture and understand how your interviewee feels and what they think:
When asking questions:
- Ask questions neutrally. “What do you think about this idea?” is a better question than “don’t you think this idea is great?” because the first question doesn’t imply that there is a right answer.
- Don’t ask binary questions. These are questions such as “do you like ice cream?” or “which is better: chocolate or strawberry ice cream?” The responses to these questions will not give you much insight nor lead you to uncover the interviewee’s stories.
- Avoid asking questions that generalize. Instead of asking “usually, what do you…?”, ask about a specific instance or occurrence, such as “tell me about the last time you…”
- Ask why. Even when you think you know the answer, ask people why they do or say things. The answers will sometimes surprise you. A conversation started from one question should go on as long as it needs to.
- Keep questions as concise as possible. Your user will get lost inside long questions.
- Only ask one question at a time, one person at a time. Resist the urge to ambush your interviewee.
- Encourage stories. Stories reveal how your interviewee thinks about the world. Ask questions that get them to tell stories.
When listening to your interviewee’s responses:
- Listen to nonverbal cues. Be aware of body language and emotions.
- Don’t be afraid of silence. Interviewers often feel the need to ask another question when there is a pause. If you allow for silence, a person can reflect on what they’ve just said and may reveal something deeper.
- Don’t suggest answers. Even if they pause before answering, don’t help them by suggesting an answer. This can unintentionally get people to say things that agree with your expectations.
- Look for inconsistencies. Sometimes what people say and what they do are different. These inconsistencies often hide interesting insights.
- Be prepared to capture responses. Ask your interviewee if you can record their responses. This will make it easier for you to stay engaged in the interview. Alternatively, you and a peer can conduct an interview together. One of you can ask questions and the other can take detailed notes.
Practice: Try as many activities to as you would like to build your skills
Experiment with structuring interview questions as you go through your day. As you have normal everyday conversations with friends, family and teachers, try to avoid binary questions by turning them into open ended questions. (For example, you might take a binary question like “do you want to play outside?” and make it an open-ended question such as “what do you want to do for fun?”) You can also try this exercise with non-neutral questions and questions
Practice interviewing by using the guiding principles above to conduct an interview with a peer or family member.
Listen to this interview from StoryCorps (or read the transcript linked on the page). What do you observe about the questions being asked by the interviewer? Which questions are eliciting stories from the interviewee?
Produce: Dig into the project and make it your own!
Pair up with a partner to take turns conducting an interview. In the interview, you are trying to discover what makes your interviewee happy.
You are encouraged to ask questions that lead to stories and specific insights about what makes your interviewee happy. For example, if the interviewee brings up their friends, dig for deeper insights by asking them to describe their friends, tell stories about their friends, recall how the friendship began, and so forth. If possible, record the interview on video or a voice recorder so you can focus on engaging your interviewee.
As you interview, jot down notes about what your interviewee is saying and doing. What insights are you picking up throughout the interview?
After you finish the interview, reflect and discuss the following with your partner:
- What are two major insights from your interview?
- What was the most challenging part?
- If you had it to do again, what would you do differently?
- What did you learn that surprised you the most?
This project is adapted from Interviewing Skills, Stanford d.School K12 Lab Wiki.
Produced by Digital Promise Global, with thanks to the Open Educational Resources listed throughout this guide. Distributed to Learning Studios schools as part of HP, Inc. and Microsoft’s Reinvent the Classroom.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. You may share this project or modified versions of it under this same license.