Part 3: How can I get better at asking questions?

Photo by Ken Treloar on Unsplash

In this final post in a series about how to get more useful answers from asking better questions, I’m going to look at five tips to help develop your skills to become a questioning ninja.

I firmly believe that more effective and innovative design comes from gaining a deeper understanding of the problem you are looking to solve. Asking questions is at the heart of uncovering ideas and opportunities that can then be translated into products and services, software and interfaces.

The five suggestions below are all techniques that I have tried and continue to practice. They are all easy to do and require less time than you might think. They will all help you to develop the vital skill of asking better questions as part of your UX toolkit.

How can I get better at asking questions? My five top tips:

1. Do more of it. Improvement comes with practice and reflection.

Even though I’ve been a UX researcher for a long time, I still occasionally ask a dumb question. What I do find is that with experience I’ve got better at recognising when it is a dumb question and recovering from it.

2. Listen back critically to session recordings of yourself. However experienced you are, you’ll always find things to improve upon.

It can be painfully listening back to yourself, but don’t beat yourself up. You will have made mistakes; the UX police aren’t going to come knocking. Use the exercise as a positive way to nip any affectations and bad habits in the bud. Then pick just one thing from your list to concentrate on improving in your next research session.

3. After each project, reflect on which questions gave you the best insight and why. Keep an ongoing list, iterate and re-use good questions.

When you stumble upon a question that engages the interviewee and gives you useful insights, note it down and recycle it.

For the questions that you expected to prove useful but fell short, don’t be too quick to ditch them. You can’t iterate on something if you only do it once. Have a go at reworking them and see if any tweaks lead to a more useful response the next time.

4. Find time to watch other practitioners in action (live or recorded; experienced colleagues and those starting out).

Then I got to a level of experience where I was pretty much left to get on with interviews on my own. It wasn’t until I started mentoring colleagues that I got to observe anyone else carrying out a research interview. It was a revelation how useful watching others was to my own practice.

So I highly recommend finding an excuse to slip into a session to shadow a colleague. If you can’t do it in person then watch or listen to a recording of them. Let your colleagues know you are there to learn from them and not to judge them. Give feedback that can help both of you continue to carry out best practise techniques.

5. Stretch yourself. Build your toolkit by asking a new question or trying a new activity in your next project.

An easy way to avoid this is to make a deliberate point of doing something new in each project. This might be introducing a question you’ve never asked before, or finding a new way to ask an old question, or by trying a new activity. Who knows, you may uncover your new favourite question in the process.

What tips would you add?

This article was originally written by Chris How and first published on the blog of The Unit, a digital agency based in Brighton.

Principal UX Consultant @clearleft & Co-organiser of @uxcampbrighton. Insatiable curiosity for people, digital design and tech. Recovering Post-it note addict.

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