Speaking to Users? Try to look further and beyond

May 24, 2016

User Discussions

Are you going to speak to Users? Then you must be looking further and beyond just questions. The questions alone rarely get you the full picture and help you in your analysis. Here are a few pointers that can help you look further and beyond.

Not every question gets you the right answer

Let us be very practical and ask ourselves a question like this. How many users can give an answer with certainty when you ask them what they would do in a particular situation? Very few. It is just not easy to comprehend a situation and imagine how one reacts to it. The aspect of hypotheticality of a question throws users into a thought-whirlpool. On top of that, the need to respond in a given short duration makes it even more complicated.

So, instead of asking them to point to an individual approach, it is better for you to understand the overall task and their expectations within that. Consider an example of an accounts software. If you ask the user, whether he would like to have quick access to bank balance while paying payroll taxes, he might not be able to give an answer conclusively. Perhaps, a better thing would be to stay away from ‘asking’ and stick to understanding. How to do that? Just let the user narrate you the entire set of actions he performs while paying taxes. That should give you enough idea on what/how to design.

Stay clear from questions that users might fail to answer

Should we build this as an Android app or as an iOS app?

Users fail to answer such questions. Simply because it is not their job to conclude on tech or design choices. All that they want is their work done without much fuss. However, if your intention is to figure out their level of comfort with a phone they use, then you must ask something like this

Which phone do you currently use and what you like or dislike about it? 

Based on the response, you may also ask if they are looking for a change.

Validate before you ask

The most important thing is to ask yourself a few questions before you conclude on what to ask.

  • “Why am I asking this question?”
  • “Can I do away with this question?”
  • “Can the users comfortably answer this question?”

The answer to the first question should compulsorily point at the value you would have while you carve the design. In addition to that, if the next two responses are a ‘no’ and a ‘yes’, then you are ready to go ahead with the question. Or else, you should rethink.

Spend ample time to observe

Besides asking questions, every designer must spend a healthy amount of time ‘observing’ a user while he goes through his tasks. This method gives you an accurate perspective of how they go about their work. In certain cases, they might be doing some work outside the realm of the product to accomplish a task within it. You might have to think if there is a need to bring such ‘outside’ functions into the product to improve the experience. For example, the user might be accessing a table-top calculator to calculate taxes while entering values. You may then contemplate, and see if adding a calculator to the product would help.

The key value addition of observation is that it helps you realise what users do in their daily life and where your product fits in that cycle. It tells you the amount of time they can practically invest in using your product and it also tells you how many ‘distractions’ they would have while using it. You must factor all these while you design.

If possible, seek your users’ permission and take pictures of their environment. Make a print and stick it in a prominent place on your design discussion room’s wall. It always reminds you of the environment and associated emotions.

Lend a very patient ear when they speak

Don’t forget that they are the ones who would use the product and you are trying to understand their world. So, anytime during the discussion, if the users begin to speak, please listen to them very carefully without disturbing. If you have any questions, ask them after they finish talking. If you disturb their flow, they might skip certain detail which could be precious to you.


In a nutshell, there is a lot more than just asking questions. There is the aspect of observation, comprehension and most importantly listening. So, why not start calling User Interviews as User Discussions?


One comment on “Speaking to Users? Try to look further and beyond

  1. Pingback:【UXRen译】用户访谈,不只是“访”和“谈” - UXRen

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