“If you do not ask the right questions, you do not get the right answers.”
One of the most important skills of a successful UX designer is his ability to discover real needs and problems for his users. Asking good research questions is the secret of discovering these needs and problems.
Asking the wrong questions during the discovery phase may lead the whole project into the wrong direction and may lead you to solve the wrong problems.
Here are some guidelines and tips for asking the right research questions for your user in order to make sense of real needs and problems.
1- Ask open-ended questions rather than closed-ended questions.
Closed-ended questions are great for surveys and statistical analysis, However, open-ended questions will give you more insights, stories, and deep data.
Open-ended questions are asked with the goal of listening to stories, experiences and examples which give you as a researcher more deep data and insights rather than just single answers (Yes or No) using closed-ended questions.
Asking “How satisfied or dissatisfied are you with this service?” will tell you about the user experience with the service and how he is satisfied or dissatisfied, maybe the user will tell you stories and examples about the service which will give you a deeper understanding of the service and the experience.
Asking “Are you satisfied with the service?” will tell you a “Yes” or “No” answer which is better when conducting surveys with a massive number of users to know whether they are satisfied or not.
2- Avoid leading questions.
The user interviews goal is to learn more about the perspectives of your users and to achieve this you must avoid biasing your users point of view or influence their answers.
Leading questions are questions that prompt or encourage the answer wanted. Leading your user’s answers could be through using some words and language or through the way of asking questions.
Asking “Do you like our improved experience?”. Using the word “Improved” will give the user the feeling that the improved experience is better than the previous one which may lead his answer to “Yes”.
3- Ask follow-up questions.
Users may not be comfortable when answering interview questions especially in the beginning of the interview. Asking follow-up questions has two benefits:
First, It will give you more insights and will help you dig deeper into the topics you don’t fully understand or get.
Second, when users feel that you are paying attention to what they are saying and learning from them, they will more likely answer questions, tell stories and give examples.
When user tell you for example “I use [Product] to help me in keeping track of my house supplies”, it will be great to ask him “How it helps?” to get more data about the usage of the [product] and how it helps your users.
4- Ask for only one direction only.
Asking questions that include more than one direction will lead to answers that may be incomplete or inaccurate.
Asking “Tell me about a story that made you worried and angry with [Product]”, this question can be split into two questions about a story that made the user “Worried” and another one that made the user “Angry”.
A good research questions are questions that discusses one topic only.
5- Don’t use the word “Why”.
Although asking “Why” is a great tool for digging deep and understand more insights about your users but asking “Why” leads people to make up a rational reason even when they don’t have one. Also, asking “Why” may transfer the feeling of judging or criticizing your users.
Instead, asking “Tell me more about ..” is better than asking “Why” because it has a more feeling of learning from the user or exploring more about him.
6- Don’t ask users about what they need
The first rule of user research: never ask anyone what they want. – Erika Hall from Just enough research book
As Henry Ford said before that if he asked people what they want, they would say faster horses. This quote teaches us to ask about needs and wants rather than solutions.
People usually don’t know what they want and their answers may lead to wrong decisions, Like what happened to Walmart when they lost 185 billion as a result of listening to users.
Try always to ask about needs, listen to users stories and start to find the pain points, problems, and needs from these stories.
Asking “What do you think is the problem for the transportation problem?” can be replaced by questions digging deep to understand their problems, for example, “Tell me about your worst experience using public transportation?” or “Tell me about a time you enjoyed using public transportation?”.
Good research questions are the fist step in discovering user needs which lead at the end in desining better user experiences.