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Image by SIMON LEE
  • Writer's pictureantoniodellomo

Interviewing People to Find Latent Needs

Back in July 2020, I started participating in an online course called Interaction Design on Coursera. More precisely, the course is a specialization consisting of 8 single courses. Each of them can be enrolled separately and takes about 4-5 weeks following a determined schedule with assignments and deadlines.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) offer accessible and affordable remote learning opportunities to students all over the world. I found it pretty amazing!

As a global society, getting an education has become increasingly important, but increasingly difficult beyond the high school level. Institutions of higher education present the obstacles of entrance examinations, tuition, distance, living expenses, and so much more.

The course I attended counted more than 4000 classmates from all over the world and gave me the chance to listen to a professor from the University of California, San Diego, the creator and publisher of the course. I had access to knowledge, information, and inspiration, which I probably wouldn’t have had in a non-digital world.

Today I want to share an assignment from the specialization’s first course “Human-Centered Design: an Introduction”.

Project overview: Create an interview guide, then find a participant, and interview him/her using your guide. Finally, write a short reflection about your experience and what you learned about interviewing participants to find design opportunities. At this stage in the design process, our goal is to understand the user’s goals and context. We’re not yet at the stage where we’re looking for feedback on a specific design idea. Good design often benefits from understanding people. What are the goals, problems, and contexts of the people who might use your design? How might their settings and goals inspire you to create new applications, products, and services?

The setting for this general area is transportation. You want to learn how people get around. What opportunities can you unearth for redesigning the transportation experience?


  • Location: Field Trip and Studio

  • Equipment: Notebook, audio recorder

Intro & Participant Background

  • Thank you for participating! We would like to talk with you today about Berlin's transportation service. With this, we hope we can make our digital product better for people like you. There are no right or wrong answers to any of the questions I'm asking in this study - we're simply interested in understanding the way locals, as well as tourists, interact with the public transportation in Berlin. In order to understand our problem, we will conduct a field trip. We decided to go to an unfamiliar location in the city using public transport. The 3 team members will use 3 different apps to navigate us to our destination - I will ask you to show me how you do things using the app and ask you questions to better understand what you do. We will record a little video of you so that I can go back and review things later and make sure we get everything right. We won't use your name in connection with the recordings or the results. The videotapes will only be used internally and never shared anywhere with anyone. We look forward to hearing your stories and experiences. Thanks for your time.

  • Participant 1: Jens, 48 yo. He is born and bred in Berlin. Lives in the north of the city but works in the south, every day he uses public transport to get to work.

  • Participant 2: Maria 23. She is Italian and just moved to Berlin to study. Lives on a student campus but she uses public transport to get around her new city every weekend.

  • Participant 3: Simon 31. He travels often to Berlin for conferences and work. Originally from England. He uses public transport a lot to get around the city.

Main Interview Questions


  • Can you tell us a little about yourself?

  • How often do you use public transport in the last week?

  • Do you prefer to travel by train or by bus? Can you tell me about your most recent trip?

Transportation Experience

  • What do you find particularly enjoyable? What is frustrating?

  • What tools do you currently use to accomplish your task, and what limitations do they see with their current practices?

Exploring Specifics (locations, subject matter, motivations)

  • Previously you mentioned that the tram is often packed on your way back home. Why do you always do it in this way?

  • Have there been any special circumstances where you’ve done it differently? Why? How was that?

  • Has anything about the way you do this changed over time? How? Why?

As our interview goes on, we tried to synthesis our findings to arrive at opportunity statements. We noticed the two key areas of struggle were:

  1. Orientation

  2. Access to relevant information

  • Which direction do I walk-in the train station?

  • Can I catch the bus from this side of the street? Or shall I cross the street and go to the other side?

  • In order to reach my destination asap which metro exit should I take?

  • Which type of ticket do I get (one-way, return, daily, weekly?) Where should I buy it?

  • In how many stops do I get off the train/bus?

  • When is the first/last bus?

Wrap Up

  • Is there anything we haven’t talked about?

Thanks for your time, we found your support incredibly helpful.


Soundcloud URL of the interview recorded


Short Reflection

The objective of the trip was to understand how locals or tourists use the transport system, and any pain points encountered on the way. The experience was incredibly insightful as we covered performing field research and, since we used 3 different apps we also covered competitive analysis. The following day, with plenty of material in our hands, we individually charted out positive and negative observations we had regarding apps as well as transportation service.


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