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How to conduct user research by Joel Marsh

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Chapter 4. How to Ask Questions

Often in UX—especially at the start of something new—you will need to ask real people some real questions, for realz.

Three Basic Types of Questions

The specific questions you ask will, of course, vary, but there are three basic types:

  1. Open Questions—“How would you describe me?”

    This allows for a wide range of answers and works well when you want all the feedback you can get.

  2. Leading Questions—“What are my best features?”

    This narrows the answers to a certain type. My example assumes that I have some good qualities, which might not be true. Be careful: this type of question also excludes answers you might want to know!

  3. Closed/Direct Questions—“Which is better, my smile or my frown?”

    This type of question offers a choice: yes or no; this or that. But remember: if the options are stupid, the results will be stupid. Protip: don’t be stupid.

Over the next few lessons you will look into some different types of research methods that involve questions of one type or another:

Observation

Give people tasks or instructions and watch them use your design, without help. Afterward, you can ask them questions.

Interviews

Get somebody and ask them a set of questions, one-by-one.

Focus Groups

Get a bunch of people in a room together and ask them to discuss your questions.

Note

Confident people often persuade others in the group, and a few random people are an unreliable example of anything, which is why I would rather set myself on fire than do a focus group in real life.

Surveys

A form, which people answer on paper or online. These can genuinely feel anonymous, which is useful.

Card-Sorting

Each person gets a set of ideas or categories (on cards or post-its or online), which they sort into groups that make sense to them, personally. ProTip: don’t use your colleagues for this.

Google

It’s amazing how many useful opinions you can find online, for free, right now. Google is this website where you type in what you want and—oh, you’ve heard of it? Well, fine then.

Important

  • Ask the same questions, the same way, to everyone.

  • Avoid interpreting questions or suggesting answers.

  • People might lie to avoid embarrassment or if it seems like you prefer a particular answer.

  • Take notes or record the interview. Do not rely on your memory, ever.

  • Don’t eat yellow snow.

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