Why do we ask stupid questions in designer`s research?

4 min readSep 7, 2016


– by Terézia Soukup Tůmová

As you already know, we use principles of human centered design (HCD) in our everyday work. HCD is also the our condition for accepting new projects at 2FRESH. It means that in the very beginning of each project our research team is looking for real needs of the customers who are in the centre of our interest. Everything we create is focused on customers and therefore we know that our job is useful and makes sense to us.

Terezia, our research specialist, has lots of surveys, interviews, observations and testing under her belt. However, there are some unwanted questions which are sometimes asked during our research

Either we or our clients tend to ask the following questions as they are common in our everyday interactions. We can consciously use them as icebreakers. Such questions will not destroy our research. On the other hand, they will not provide us with information that are crucial for us.

Terezia described these “irrelevant” questions and we are going to have them on our minds. How are you dealing with them?

In 2FRESH we believe that everyone is able to improve their design — it doesn’t really matter whether it is a product, a service or a website — by simply talking to people that they design for. That is the core of human centered design. Sounds easy, right? We also encourage anyone who interviews people about their design/product to make the conversation as natural as possible. But let’s be honest, speaking to a complete stranger about your ideas to get valuable feedback is not natural at all and never will be.

You may not be aware of this but the goal of most conversations is not to reveal the truth. People lie because they want to be polite, not hurt anyone’s feelings and be in agreement. So if you really want to know the truth about your ideas, you need to be prepared to get your ego hurt and appreciate when someone discovers flaws in what you have created.

Hypothetical questions

“Would you buy this product?” “Do you think you would use this function?” “Do you think this product will be important to you in the future?” People will most likely admit “probably yes” and in this moment they usually really believe they would do that. But there is a long way from words to action. More specific category of the hypothetical questions are questions for third person: “Would your mum like the product?” How certainly can they know that, what do you think?

Questions with no real answer

“Do you think that our product would be more usable if we add this feature?” “Would this claim work for you?” We can ask just those questions which can be answered by our respondents. In case we ask questions which respondents have never thought about the we will be provided with false answers. Do not let respondents express their opinion even if they have no attitude to it.

Leading questions

“Do you consider this new function to be innovative?” “What do you expect from a button called save?” It is not desirable to ask questions which stand as a prompter to the answer. Try to focus on real experience of the respondents, observe them and let them tell you their story. Long story short, do not use questions which include a part of expected answer.

Questions with only one possible answer

“Do I look fat in this dress?” “Do you like my idea?” This type of questions seem to be similar to leading questions but are in fact much more tricky. We are convinced these questions are not inferring the answer we need to know. But in fact, 99 % of people give you absolutely the same answer. Everybody tends to avoid being rude even if you ask them for an absolute sincerity. Do you wonder why? The process of socialization and our social conventions requires us to be polite to each other.

Yes, no and that is all

Avoiding questions with simple answer — “yes” or “no” — is also recommender as they quickly cut the conversation. On the other hand, questions — “how” and “why” are able to evolve longer answers or fluent story telling.

At the end, the interview should consists of as few questions of the researcher as possible. Only through this approach you can watch the problem from a different perspective which is valuable for you as a designer.

If you want to avoid these types of questions it is a really good idea to prepare a script for the interview in advance and test it with at least one person (colleague, friend…). Good luck.

More tips on how to ask GREAT questions are coming soon…

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