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Design Research

Don’t ask why

Getting to the why without asking why in user testing or design research is harder than it sounds. If you’ve ever struggled to find the right words to get participants to open up, try these words instead.

As a student  I worked in retail. I was expected to invite conversation with open questions. It’s harder that it sounds. Years later when being trained in user research I was encouraged to ask why. Not only why, but as many whys as I could … and you know why … to get to the root cause, that deep fundamental driver of behaviour. Of course this too is not as easy as it sounds. Unless you’re a charming 5 year old asking why can sound pretty obnoxious and being asked why can make anyone feel quite defensive. I’m guessing advice like this has its roots in the famous 5 Whys, which I take to be a tool of analysis, not a script. If you disagree with anything here, or have more to add please say so in the comments.

And if you are looking for more in depth information on conversation for design research read Ethnography for Marketers.

Ask participants the right open questions to get them to describe or explore your line of inquiry.
Ask participants the right open questions to get them to describe or explore your line of inquiry.

One reply on “Don’t ask why”

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this! It is pretty easy to put people on the defensive when they feel like they are being judged with the Why line of questioning. It is better to come from a posture of understanding their approach, rather than justifying their reasoning for an action.

The other approach is to get the person to agree to the issue or problem they face by empathising with them. Chris Voss does a great job of explaining the power of getting the other party to “That’s right”.

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