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Radio / The best interview ever

NPR recent­ly did a great sto­ry about John Sawatsky, a for­mer jour­nal­ist who now teach­es inter­view­ing tech­niques to edi­to­r­i­al staff at ESPN. High­lights include Sawatsky's obvi­ous dis­like for "hard-hit­ting" inter­view­ers like Lar­ry King, Bar­bara Wal­ters and Mike Wal­lace: "Mike Wal­lace enjoys … hav­ing the ques­tion being more impor­tant than the answer." Oth­er resources with oth­er tar­gets: Poyn­ter arti­cle in which his method is applied White House cor­re­spon­dents, AJR arti­cle skew­er­ing Sam Don­ald­son.

The NPR site has loads of inter­est­ing addi­tion­al resources relat­ed to the inter­view, and in a sec­tion called "What Makes A Good Inter­view," you'll find Sawatsky's nom­i­na­tion for the great­est inter­view of all time. The link is called "CBC Inter­view With Truck­er About Beaver Attack." A sam­ple:

"So … how did you get this beaver off of you, even­tu­al­ly?"

"Well, I hap­pen to have propane in my truck, so I have a sev­en-eighths open box-end wrench, and while he [the beaver] was hangin and chewin back there …"

This piece got me think­ing because inter­view­ing and sto­ry­telling are impor­tant parts of our design process at Coop­er. Ear­ly in projects, we inter­view a lot of peo­ple, includ­ing cur­rent and poten­tial users of the prod­uct we're design­ing, experts in the field we're work­ing in, and any­one who may be able to help us under­stand the back­ground and con­text of the design. The goal is to build an under­stand­ing of the design prob­lem from a human per­spec­tive, and to do this we need to get our sub­jects to open up, to reveal moti­va­tions and needs, the deep, per­son­al stuff that under­lies the things we do every­day.

Sawatsky's method is pret­ty much exact­ly what we try to use: sim­ple, short, open-end­ed ques­tions, giv­ing space and time to the inter­vie­wee to breathe, think and respond. Poyn­ter has some exer­cizes to get you think­ing about how to con­duct more effec­tive inter­views. Thx to JK for get­ting me start­ed on this.