UIETips: Three Questions You Shouldn’t Ask During User Research

Jared Spool

July 24th, 2013

Understanding where your users are hitting roadblocks in your design will allow you to build more user friendly designs. It’s what Christine Perfetti will focus on in October during her full day UI18 workshop Jumpstart Your UX Research. She suggests figuring out the right questions to ask in order to pinpoint where you can innovate and then speak your stakeholder’s language to ensure you have their attention.

Christine’s workshop reminded me of an article that I wrote back in 2010 – Three Questions You Shouldn’t Ask During User Research. The article still rings true today and is a key point when conducting user research.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

“If we gave you a way to annotate your files, how would that work?” “What would be the right way to organize the menu options?” “What other fields should we include on this form?” “How would you want to see this data displayed?”

I’ve heard these questions many times. (I’ve even asked them on occasion.) After all, the designers want to create an effective design for the user. The best way is to just ask the participant what that design should be, right? Wrong.

Users aren’t designers. (If they were, they wouldn’t need us.) They don’t know how to deal with constraints. They haven’t really thought the problem through.

Any answer they give us is unlikely to be a great design. It’ll be the first thing they think of and, unfortunately, they’ll take a long time to get there.

Read the full article, Three Questions You Shouldn’t Ask During User Research.

Have you compiled your own questions that you shouldn’t ask? Share your list below.

2 Responses to “UIETips: Three Questions You Shouldn’t Ask During User Research”

  1. Joshua Muskovitz Says:

    Jared, the problem isn’t with asking such questions, it is in taking the answers at face value (as you point out in the article itself). I have found that asking such questions provides a good mechanism to drill down from the hypothetical solution to the actual underlying problem. It provides the context for a discussion that is already difficult enough to tease out of the user.

  2. Jason Says:

    Hi Jared. I find that what does work for me is getting myself to the point where I can define “their” problem space better than they can. One thing I do to get “there” is by asking how would they like the process to be, because from there I can ask “why”, which leads to “tell me more” and once I understand where they are coming from, we get to the real hurdles. If I just asked them from the start, “hey, what hurdles do you face” they would almost never take me on that journey of designing it their way and the rationale behind their “perfect system.” It’s like Joshua said previously, to take the users’ answers at face value and do nothing is in and of itself completely useless. It’s not so much what you do or don’t ask, it’s where do you take it from there. Take me into your matrix, let me understand your pain.

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