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Last updated on 12/5/18

Ask the right questions

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“Questions are more powerful than answers.” - Erika Hall

Because UX is a user centric process, you'll be talking to a lot of people. Interviews are a great way to learn about your target audience, as well as about their world view. Learning to ask the right questions will help you unlock key insights and information to help inform your design decisions.

Before starting any interview, remember to check your biases at the door.

It can be helpful to go into an interview with a script, but don't be afraid to diverge from it in order to dive deeper into a topic or issue that comes up during the conversation.

“The questions you want answers to are not the questions you ask. The answers you get are not your decisions.” Steve Portigal You never know when you may get the best responses, so be open minded and keep asking questions to uncover the unknown.

Frame your questions to get the answers you want

Believe it or not, even a few words can really make a difference in what kind of responses you'll receive. It's important to be aware of these different situations so you can be sure to ask the best questions.

❌  Avoid closed questions:

Do you prefer red or green? It's a dead-end question which doesn't offer much room for elaboration. 

✔️  Ask open-end questions:

Can you walk me through a typical day? This also happens to be a great question for kicking off interviews in order to get a better sense of the context and the environment.

❌  Don't ask if somebody liked something.

"Did you like the experience?"  "Yes" is a boring answer.

✔️  Ask questions that will get you more information.

"What did you learn from the experience or situation?"  Chances are you'll unlock a door to information you didn't even know you were looking for.

❌  Watch out for leading questions:

If you say, "What did you think of our new app? It's great, isn't it?", you're not really opening yourself to honest feedback. Chances are the person responding will just nod and smile even if they thought it was complete crap because they can tell you're not actually open to feedback.

✔️  Invite your respondent to show you how they do something:

Can you walk me me through how you make a cup of tea in the morning? Can you show me how you swaddle your baby? Can you break down how your desk is organized the way it is? Hmmm, that's interesting what you said about XYZ, do you mind sketching what it looks like [and then explain it].

You get the point. Learn by seeing and doing.

Helpful advice from Steve Portigal on framing questions and the power of silence. [5:08 min]

When you get to an interview

Interviewing is something that you'll get better at the more you do it. Here are some key things to keep in mind:

  • Make some small talk. It's quite awkward to dive right in. You may even get some insights in these unlikely situations. Even a simple question such as, "What do you do for a living?" helps show your interest in the person, and gets them talking.

  • Tell the informant what your research is about. You can keep it vague: "We're doing research on technology habits" will suffice (even if that's not exactly what you're researching). You don't want their mindset to shift or for them to think they need to answer questions in a certain way.

  • Reassure your informant that they are the expert. There are no right or wrong answers, and you're here to learn from them. 

  • Start with a general question such as "Can you walk me through a typical day?". It will get the informant talking, you listening, and you can learn a lot about the user. Listen for "pain points" (frustrations in their day) and things that may prove to be opportunities.

  • While listening, also pay attention to the kind of words and language they're using. This can be important later in the design process to ensure you're talking to the right audience.

  • Consult your "script" to ensure you've addressed all they key questions for the interview.

  • Build on or refer back to responses by saying something like "Earlier you mentioned XYZ, I was hoping you could tell me a bit more about that...". This will not only get you more information, it proves you were listening. 

  • End with a question that invites them to share more information such as "Based on what we've talked about, is there anything else you'd like to add?".

  • Thank them for their time. 

Additional resources:

Example of certificate of achievement
Example of certificate of achievement