It can be tricky to elicit emotion-rich conversations with users (sometimes total strangers!). It can also be tough to decide where to direct early empathy interviews. Empathy probes help reduce friction by giving users something to do and create space for them to speak their mind. It also gives you plenty of opportunity to observe users before choosing where to engage more deeply.
How to conduct an empathy probe
Create a probe
A probe is a prompt that users engage with while you interview them. We often create probes in the form of a set of cards: one question card and 7 answer cards, that the user sorts through. A probe sparks interaction and provokes storytelling on the part of the user.
Ask them to share their thoughts aloud. If your probe asks users to consider a particular experience, find out the exact experience they’re considering before they begin the sorting activity.
Follow up on interesting comments, movements, and pauses
Always start with what you noticed. “You mentioned that you ____. Could you tell me a little more about that?” “I noticed when you read that card, you said ____. What were you thinking?” Pay special attention to rich emotional material.
Seek stories relevant to the emotions you uncover
Spend the majority of your time here. Steer stories toward specificity. You need specifics to fuel your design work. “Is there a specific time you can remember feeling / doing that?”
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