Empathic conversations are a way to reach the deepest level of behavioural insight, structuring interactions with participants around real, empathetic connections that can uncover practices and motivations. The result presents the lives of real people in a structured manner that can inform and inspire design processes; the ‘messiness’ of the everyday is preserved, but harnessed within analytical structures.
A key benefit of this approach is how it connects all levels of an organisation with the people they design products and services for, providing real-world context for existing knowledge, grounding ideas, designs, insights and beliefs in evidence drawn straight from the lives of relevant people. What’s more, working with such emotionally resonant materials allows our clients to have their own, internal Empathic Conversations; collaborative work with engaging insights is an extremely effective way to break down organisational silos. Making our conversations ‘empathic’ is thus a key goal of all the projects we undertake, one which we employ various methods to try and achieve.
Design Documentaries: Curated Exposition of Everyday Life
Producing Design Documentaries allows us to document and share the empathic conversations we have with participants via the use of video. Video makes insights accessible: people with neither the time nor the inclination to read a report will often be happy to watch a film, which can also helps ‘make the familiar strange’, placing products and services in a new light by incorporating different environments and contexts.
Another benefit is how video makes an argument convincing. Hearing people express wants and needs in their own terms adds colour and resonance that third-party accounts lack. Employed correctly, it can also help make analysis collaborative; editing and curating Design Documentaries to match the varying needs of different audiences allows these groups to come together and interpret collectively.
Continual Contact: Multi-stage Participant Visits
Continual Contact meanwhile is another technique that allows us to reach deep into the lives of the participants we work with. A key challenge in any qualitative project is depth – exploring deep enough into a person’s life to uncover the most intimate and fundamental behavioural and motivational drivers. One of the challenges here is building a relationship with participants to allow them to ‘open-up’. Another is helping them understand the topic well enough to identify and focus upon the aspects of their life or behaviour which are most relevant
Both of these challenges can be met by engaging participants at multiple points during a project. This multi-stage contact can incorporate the recruitment process, group sessions, individual interviews, and collaborative workshops. What’s needed to make it work are the right methodological tools and processes, but also the ability and opportunity to identify the most promising candidates. Designing a project around continual, rather than one-off engagement, is another tool that allows researchers to connect with participants in a more empathic manner.