Part 1: How to get better answers from asking better questions

“Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers” — Voltaire

“The answers you get depend on the questions you ask” — Thomas S. Kuhn

As a digital design agency with a focus on creativity, user experience and digital transformation we ask a lot of questions. In user research and usability testing sessions, in surveys and from analytics data, in stakeholder interviews and when facilitating workshops. Questions help us to frame and get to the bottom of the problems we are looking to solve.

I think the thing that links all great innovators, thinkers, artists, entrepreneurs and designers is the ability to get better insight from asking more probing questions.

In three separate blog posts I want to share some thoughts and practical tips to answer:

1: What makes a good question? A checklist of eight characteristics to use when coming up with and reviewing your questions.

2: How can I get better answers from my questions? Five things to think about during a research session.

3: How can I get better at asking questions? Five ways to help develop your skills as a questioning ninja.

These tips have come from a combination of years of asking questions in digital projects, making plenty of mistakes (and hopefully learning from them), from mentoring colleagues and asking for advice.

Like many User Experience (UX) people I love questions and questioning. It is how I understand, uncover, iterate and refine creative solutions.

However, for many people questions can be difficult, dangerous and disruptive.

Traditionally in school and then into the workplace people are rewarded for knowing answers and not for having a good question. It would seem we start life as dedicated questioners. Then as we get older many people loose the habit of asking questions.

A survey from Littlewoods involving 1,000 mothers with children aged between two and 10 showed UK mothers get asked around 105,120 questions a year by their children. An article in Newsweek on ‘The Creativity Crisis’ highlights research that points to pre-school children in the US asking their parents on average 100 questions a day. However, by the time children reach middle school they’ve pretty much stopped asking questions.

From years of undertaking user and stakeholder research I’ve noticed the quality of an answer is closely related to the quality of the question. The projects I’ve worked on that have the biggest impact and create the most value are the ones where the questions asked has uncovered better insight.

Asking better questions is a vital part of every UX designers toolkit. However, experienced you are asking questions is a skill that can always be improved upon. I hope you enjoy my tips and I look forward to you sharing yours.

Originally published by Chris How on The Unit blog in March 2016