We kicked off our second workshop at Civic Hall on Wednesday, February 8th with two main goals: 1) to refine the problem we want to solve and 2) to learn how to conduct a user interview.

We began the session by refining our problem statements. When presented with a big design challenge, “How might we use data & technology to improve the quality of life for seniors, youth & immigrants in NYC?”, it’s important to get even more specific about what we want to solve for to make the process easier during the research phase.


To determine the challenge we wanted to solve, we asked participants to answer questions like, “what is the problem you are most interested in solving?” and “what are some assumptions you have about this problem?”. Then, we asked individuals and groups to rewrite their problem statement using the following tips as a guide:

  • Phrase your design challenge as a goal
  • Keep it broad enough to discover new pathways you may not have thought of
  • Keep it tight enough that the topic feels manageable to research
  • Focus on a core need rather than a benefit

We heard responses like, “I’m looking to explore how to create a greater sense of community amongst the elderly population in NYC through a combination of online and offline experiences” and “We’re looking to understand the disconnect that takes place when immigrants first arrive in NYC.”

With our refined design challenges, this makes our research easier to set up. We can immediately think of different communities to which we might reach out for an interview, or examples of communities that are thriving from whom we could observe and learn.


Our second goal of the evening was to learn how to interview. Scott Weiss & Allie Mahler of Community x Design shared tips on how to conduct user interviews for design research:

Our facilitators shared one of the most important reminders when it comes to interviewing: pretend that you are sitting there with a friend. Great interviews are all about building rapport with the person sitting across from you. Even if you veer off for a few minutes, this will help with going deeper and asking more personal questions. If the person you’re interviewing can’t trust you, they won’t reveal information that may help with your design. Our other favorite tip is to continue asking “why?”. It may sound naive and make you feel like a child, but curiosity is another important skill of a great interviewer. It will allow you to dig into the nitty-gritty details that most people might find boring. We learn a lot from hearing someone tell a detailed story.

We then asked participants to draft interview questions for our subject matter experts and mentors in the room. We had 12 distinct group interviews going on at once with young technologists from The Knowledge House, and mentors from Bureau Blank, FWD.us, Big Brothers Big Sisters of NYC, SAGE, Intersection, and many more NYC-based organizations. These group interviews allowed participants to dig deeper into the subject matter that they are researching (e.g., intersection of transportation and seniors or community and immigrants).


We will continue to open source all of the materials from our workshops on this blog, so make sure to check back for new materials and tools. We are looking forward to taking the learnings from the interviews and research that participants will be doing over the next week to start synthesizing the information in our next workshop.

Join us at the next workshop on February 21! Register here.