Design interview methods: helping to tell the story

When it comes to creative practice approaches, design interview methods often borrow techniques from other disciplines. Although quantitative methods might be informative, design and other creative practices often embrace qualitative approaches (Finley 2003; Savin-Baden and Wimpenny 2014). So, let’s explore the significance of some aspects of design and creative practice interview methods.

Storytelling and interpretation

One key aspect of qualitative interviews is the emphasis on interviewees as storytellers and interpreters of their own experiences (Erickson 1985; Sandelowski 1991; Denzin 2001). One fascinating approach to this are the performative methods of Anne-Deavere Smith, who uses participants as informal collaborators to create scripts (Denzin 2001) before re-performing them (Smith 2005) – seriously, check out some of her performances they are gold. Through such approaches, design researchers can glean valuable insights by examining the personal reflections, supplementary literature, and experiences of other professionals in their field (Edwards & Holland 2013). In some research projects, interviews can even serve a dual purpose, acting as both a source of data as well as a narrative-building prototype for further projects.

Shared experiences and subjectivity

A sense of affinity between interviewer and interviewee can significantly enhance the interview process. In particular, shared professional experiences can foster a mutual understanding between design research interviewers and design respondents, enabling more in-depth and insightful conversations (Porter 2000). However, such interconnectedness can also introduce the inevitable subjectivity of this kind of ethnographic interview structure, which should be acknowledged (Denzin 1998).

The balancing act of semi-structured interviews

Fully structured interviews are fine for quantitative approaches, but they don’t lead to very productive qualitative research. Semi-structured interviews provide an excellent balance between structured approaches and unstructured discussions. By using a pre-set pool of questions as a guide, researchers can ensure the conversation remains focused while still allowing for flexibility based on individual responses or experiences (Hill et al. 2005; DiCicco‐Bloom & Crabtree 2006; Knox & Burkard 2009).

How many interviewees?

There is little consensus on sample sizes for qualitative interviews (and probably never will be), but relevance and specificity (Edwards & Holland 2013) are probably the core driving factors. Some researchers argue that smaller sample sizes may be more suitable for targeted groups (Hill, Knox et al. 2005). In fact Julia Brannen (2012) in arguing that suitability rather than quantity is critical, suggests that even one participant can be crucial to the analysis. And of course, budget and other resource limitations need to be taken into account, especially in education settings such as doctoral projects (Baker & Edwards 2012).

In summary…

Design interview methods can play a crucial role in broader creative research, providing researchers with a rich source of data and insights. By considering the structure, sample size, and interview formats, researchers can effectively explore the experiences and perceptions of creative practitioners in their professional environments, potentially enriching the broader research process.

Denzin, N. K. 1998. The art and politics of interpretation. In: Denzin, N. K. & Lincoln, Y. S. (eds.) Collecting and Interpreting Qualitative Materials. SAGE.

Denzin, N. K. 2001, The reflexive interview and a performative social science, Qualitative research, 1, 23-46.

Dicicco‐Bloom, B. & Crabtree, B. F. 2006, The qualitative research interview, Medical Education, 40, 314-321.

Edwards, R. & Holland, J. 2013. ‘What is?’ Research Methods series, London New York, Bloomsbury Academic.

Erickson, F. 1985. Qualitative Methods in Research on Teaching. Occasional Paper No. 81 [microform] / Frederick Erickson, [Washington, D.C.], Distributed by ERIC Clearinghouse.

Finley, S. 2003, Arts-Based Inquiry in QI: Seven Years From Crisis to Guerrilla Warfare, Qualitative Inquiry, 9, 281-296.

Hill, C. E., Knox, S., Thompson, B. J., Williams, E. N. & Hess, S. A. 2005, Consensual Qualitative Research: An Update, Journal of Counseling Psychology, 52, 196-205.

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Porter, E. J. 2000, Setting Aside the Identity Furor: Staying Her Story-Course of Same-ness, Qualitative Inquiry, 6, 238-250.

Sandelowski, M. 1991, Telling Stories: Narrative Approaches in Qualitative Research, Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 23, 161-6.

Savin-Baden, M. & Wimpenny, K. 2014. Practical guide to arts-related research, Rotterdam, Netherlands, Sense Publishers.

Smith, A. D. 2005. Four American characters [Online]. TED. Available: [Accessed 22 June 2014 2014].