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Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners Resource Guide Collection

Elements of UX: A Librarian's Guide to User Experience Design

"How did you get here today?"

Try this to get a feel for user research and building empathy. You'll ask a colleague about their commute to work today. You can also adapt this slightly to try at home or anywhere else you can find a partner.

Time commitment:
15 minutes
Writing utensils
Post-it notes (at least two per participant)
Scrap paper
A wall where you can stick things
Chocolate (optional)

post it notes, writing utensils, scrap paper, and chocolate



  • Step 1: Find a partner - and if possible, recruit more partner pairs.
    Ask a co-worker to join you. If you can, find at least two more people. This works best with at least two groups of two, because you can share what you've learned at the end with a larger group.
  • Step 1A: Start thinking about the interview question: How did you get here today?
    You can try this with other open-ended questions, too, but we find this one works with just about any pair of co-workers. Everybody has a commute, even if it's just a few steps across the street or into another room.
  • Step 2: On one post-it note, spend one minute drawing each other.
    Just enough time for a quick sketch. Don't worry about quality!

    post it note drawings of partners from the interview exercise
    Partner sketches from a workshop at our office.

  • Step 3: Spend two minutes writing an interview guide (individually).
    Sounds fancy, but all you need is a list of several open-ended questions that will keep your partner talking. Avoid "yes or no" questions that could stop the conversation. Always have a few tricks up your sleeve, like "Can you tell me more about that?" or "How did that make you feel?"
  • Step 4: Spend three minutes interviewing each other (six minutes total).
    Using your guide of questions, interview your partner. If you think of anything else to ask, go for it! Be prepared to take notes. Practice your active listening skills by jotting things down that stand out to you as particularly interesting or worth probing deeper. Then switch roles.
  • Step 5: Spend two minutes drawing your partner's commute on another post-it note.
    Again, this is just enough time for a quick sketch. Focus on what stood out to you when you were listening to your partner's journey rather than trying to capture every step along the way.

    post it note drawings of journeys from the interview exercise
    Commute sketches from a workshop at our office

  • Step 6: Stick your two post-it notes on a wall, side by side - your partner next to their experience.
    Debrief for a few minutes about how this exercise made you feel. What did you learn? What surprised you? Where did you have trouble along the way? What part of your partner's story inspired your second drawing? If you did this exercise with another pair of partners, have each person explain their partner's journey to the rest of the group.

What can be learned from this?

This exercise gives you a chance to:

  • build your active listening skills
  • empathize with another person's experience
  • practice writing interview questions and note-taking
  • develop comfort with one-on-one interviews - embrace those awkward pauses!
  • think visually
  • encapsulate and share your findings with a group