Most of us designers are introverts – socially active introverts, possibly. We’re not usually the type of folks who just walk up to strangers at a cocktail party and start a conversation. We have other skills. We can see where something has gone wrong in an experience or a communication, and we like making things better. But we don’t usually thrive on being around other people all the time.
Getting outside our routine surroundings takes a little effort. You have to ask for names of people to talk to and find out if they’re willing to talk to you. Much of this can be done by recruiters or social media these days, but I swear you have to get out and talk to people. Don’t let a glass pane materialize between you and the participant (read: camera lens, laptop screen, touch screen). Technology puts us at a remove from the people we want to empathize with. Conversation puts us in their head. When someone suggests, “Set up two video cameras, one at regular speed and one on time lapse to try to find patterns in behavior, and then do some casual shadowing observations without the cameras,” it smacks of being too caught up in the researcher/analyst role. You can only guess at what is going on inside people’s minds and hearts. You must ask them and listen to their stories to find out for sure.
How do we do this comfortably? Harness your natural curiosity about the way other people think. You like making things better—but for whom? Question yourself. Usually you can make things better based on your own perspective, but to understand someone else’s perspective you need to do more than observe and interpret.