Our favourite UX research questions

In this, the fourth of a series of UX blogs, Triad UX consultants Jenny Lardh and Lucille Harvey talk about the questions they most like to ask users when researching a UX problem.

In Lucille’s first blog of this series ‘UX and me’, she explained that there are two main roles of a UX specialist: design and research. We use research to understand the user’s needs, goals and feelings and adopt various methods to uncover problems and design opportunities.

In this blog, we wanted to talk about our favourite research questions and after a debate, we settled on the following three.

Question #1 – The stupid question

Oh, we do love a stupid question. How do I use an ATM? How do I put this car into reverse? What is a SIM card? These may sound so obvious that they don’t need to be asked, which is exactly why we ask them.

Never assume that you know what someone else might see, think, or believe. What is obvious to you may not be obvious to me and that is why the answer to stupid questions can be so informative.

We required 11,000 users to swap to a new SIM card on a project that Jenny is currently working on.
People asked if they had to re-enter all their phone numbers into their phone after they had swapped their SIM card. In the past, phone numbers were stored on the SIM and the phone. This is rarely the case anymore, but it’s a great question to ask, even though it may seem like a stupid one.

Question #2 – Why?

‘Why’ is a wonderful question to ask. So wonderful, in fact, that some researchers ask it up to five times. The ‘5 why technique’ was developed in the 1930s by Sakichi Toyoda, a Japanese inventor and industrialist whose son Kiichiro Toyoda later founded Japan’s largest automaker, Toyota. The method is remarkably simple and is still used by Toyota today. When a problem occurs, the researcher drills down to its root cause by asking “Why?” five times. In response to anything a user says, we will often apply the 5 why technique to analyse deeper or clarify areas that we are less sure about.

For example, Lucille recently talked to a user about their processes and how they enter data. The user explained a long winded and elaborate process, to which Lucille asked, ‘Why do you do it this way?’. The user’s initial answer was complex, but the more Lucille drilled down into the problem by asking ‘why’, the answer became simpler. By the fifth time, the user said, ‘Well, I’ve always done it this way.’ This highlighted an illogical process which we could change and improve.

Question #3 – Can you give me an example?

‘Can you give me an example?’ is a great question to ask, because the user’s answer enables us to understand how relevant a problem is. Recently, Jenny discussed a problem with a user and tried to understand why something didn’t work in their current system. The user made it sound problematic, so Jenny asked, “Can you give me an example of when that last happened?”. They could only recall an example from a long time ago and they couldn’t remember the context in detail, which enabled Jenny to de-prioritise the issue. If the problem was significant, then it would occur either more regularly or more recently.

If in doubt, keep quiet!

When we debated our top three research questions, we got stuck, because one of our favourite research techniques isn’t a question. In fact, it is silence. There are two advantages to pausing and asking no question at all. Firstly, people often feel the need to ‘fill in the silence’, hence the phrase ‘small talk’. Secondly, by asking no question at all, we can receive unprompted information because when we ask questions, we create bias in the words and tone we use.

On a recent project, Lucille wanted to know what was annoying a user about a piece of software. Instead of speaking, Lucille stayed silent when the user gave an example. The user filled that silence with another example and another and another. By asking no questions, Lucille got more information than if she had asked questions.

That’s it! Our whistle-stop tour of top research questions to ask. If you are interested in UX or have a question for the Triad UX team, please get in touch here. We would love to hear from you.