Design isn’t just about creating something stylish, clever, or pixel-perfect. If you aren’t answering the right questions your solution serves no purpose. In the world of design, it’s of utmost importance to truly understand the problem – asking the right questions – before prescribing a solution.

It happens too often that designers get lost in their work and create something remarkable, but it doesn’t solve the problem at hand. Spending hours on hours crafting answers to the wrong question doesn’t get either party very far.   

“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than 5 minutes.”

– Albert Einstein

This situation is most common when designers begin to make assumptions. They begin to create answers for problems that nobody has. So how can we make sure we’re asking the right questions?

Female thinking about asking the right questions

Keep things open-ended. Don’t ask yes or no questions. Ask questions that will provoke elaborate and wholesome answers. Rather than asking, Does this screen accomplish what you want?, ask What would make this work better for you? 

Embrace small silence. Nobody likes awkward silence, but just let it happen. Especially as the one asking the questions, don’t feel the need to jump to the next question. Give the respondent a few seconds to think.

Ask questions you can’t Google. These are typically the questions that provide the most value. Don’t waste time asking questions that you can easily find answers to on the internet. The answers to thought-provoking questions require deep thinking and provide the greatest amount of information.

Listen. Don’t just ask a question then wait for your opportunity to ask the next one. Listen carefully to what the respondent has to say. Don’t cut an answer off either. Provide a couple seconds after they’re done answering to ensure that they’ve told you everything they want.

Be prepared to ask your questions. Don’t rely on your memory to remember what to ask. Write down a list of questions, there’s nothing wrong with that. In order to receive better answers, you must be asking the right questions. This is applicable to all stages of the design process, from wireframing to turning over a finalized product. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Use tried-and-true methods and you’ll be able to better understand your users and gather deeper insights.  

Thanks for reading!

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