The art of doing street interviews [Inside 31Volts]

At the start of any service design project you might want to do some exploratory research to get different perspectives on your design challenge. There are all kinds of ways you to do this, and street interviews are a quick and easy mean that will get you out of the studio and into the real world.

Preparing for a street interview

When you decide to use a street interview in your next project, you should remember that you need to prepare. Street interviews aren’t rocket science, but you don’t want to go out on the street with the first question that pops in your mind. You’ll want to have a clear goal in mind of what you’ll want to get out of these interviews. You don’t want to be standing on the street, wondering: ‘what should I ask?’, ‘what do I want to know?’ or ‘what do I need for my project?’.
Once you’ve set a goal for your street interviews, you’ll want to prototype some different questions. Once you’ve come up with the questions you’d like to ask, just go out onto the street and ask away. What probably notice is that some of your questions could be improved. Since you’re prototyping, tweak your questions based on these first results.

Beware of over thinking

Preparing for street interviews should be a relatively short exercise, so be sure you don’t over think. It’s too long when, within one day, you didn’t do any street interviews but just stayed in your office, thinking about the questions you could ask or redefining what your goal is. It’s important to actually go outside because the questions you’ve come up with might be perceived in a different way than you intended. Or maybe people don’t know how to answer your questions. That’s why you should go out with a couple of basic questions to experience how people react.

Don’t be scared

When you’re outside, doing a street interview for the first time it might be a bit scary to just approach everyone. It’s important that you don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed, just imagine that the people are some type of goldmine. For your project you’ll want to have different perspectives and the people on the street have them. It’s okay if someone says that he doesn’t want to answer your question or that he’s busy. Cope with this and focus on the people that are willing to share their story with you. That’s why you’re approaching people based on their behaviour. It might sound obvious but when someone’s talking on the phone, walking very quickly or when two people are busy talking to each other, those might not be the people you’ll want to approach. Try to look for people that are walking in a calm, relaxed way, people who are smiling or have an open posture. These people are probably be more willing to talk to you and when they do, they’ll share their story with you more easily.

going out street interviews

How many?Asking questions

As you probably know, within good interviews, open questions are a must. But with street interviews it’s actually quite difficult to just start with open questions. It’s hard for a person to answer an open question on the spot, with little reference or introduction. That will probably lead to a fairly shallow and not so interesting answer. That’s why you’ll want to start with a simple question. A question that taps into the person’s experience. That way they can recall that experience to draw their answer from. Questions like ‘when was the last time…’. From that simple question you can descend to a more abstract level, where the answers are you’re really looking for, answers that are about experiences, motivations and underlying reasoning. Questions that will get you there are asking about ‘how’, ‘why’ and ‘when’, that will give you the kind of depth you’re looking for.

Example: Take the topic of train travelling. If you’d just ask someone the top of mind open question: ‘what’s your opinion on train travelling?’, you’d get a fairly small answer like ‘it takes long..’.
When you would start by ‘when was the last time you took the train?’ and descend to questions like ‘where did you travel to?’ and on an abstract level ‘what was your experience during that train trip?’, a person is more likely to share their story and feelings with you.

Video record the interviews

For doing street interviews, our last advice would be: record the interviews on video. It doesn’t matter too much if it’s a fancy video camera or just the one that’s on your phone. It’s good to be able to see the way a person reacts to a question, afterwards. Maybe they’ll have to think for a moment or they’re having a hard time answering the question. This could lead to insights like ‘the topic isn’t important to the people’ or ‘people aren’t that conscious of the topic’. If you just write answers on a stack of post-its, that important moment of silence would have been lost.

Inside 31Volts (subscribe on youtube) is all about service design tools & methods, and their characteristic traits: the things you wish you would have known before you started your service design project.

Marc Fonteijn

Marc Fonteijn

Als medeoprichter van 31Volts houdt Marc zich bezig met het verleggen van grenzen binnen service innovatie. Marc helpt organisaties om waarde te creëren voor hun klanten door middel van design.

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