What UX Designers Can Learn From Political Scientists

Up until recently, I’d only heard soundbites and snippets about what which personality traits correlate with American voters’ likeliness to be Trump supporters. There’s a deep well of pejorative adjectives one can start with, but the one that social and political scientists agree upon most as a predictor is an individual’s “penchant for authoritarianism”. There’s a video on Vox that explains how researchers went about seeking to learn if subjects exhibited characteristics that inclined them to be aligned with authoritarian traits. In their testing script, they couldn’t simply ask people if they were “freaked out by social change” or if “racial issues unsettled them” which would 100% result in a skewed data set… they had to use a neutral, innocuous topic to act as a trojan horse to gather more honest feedback. They learned that they could frame questions and multiple-choice answers around the topic of child rearing to accurately predict people’s inclinations towards authoritarianism.

So how does this affect UX design and research?

How often have you been involved in a user interview or proofread a survey script where a well-meaning stakeholder asks a question like, “Be honest now. Do you see yourself using this feature the next time you’re on our site/app?” — to which the response is almost always a lukewarm, “yeah (I guess)”. Don’t let your group fall into this trap and net-out with a worthless set of data. Learn from our research colleagues in other sectors and get creative in asking questions that cut deep into the motivations behind why someone might or might not choose to use your product/feature. Know when to use stand-ins for sensitive topics particular to your line of business. Follow these guidelines and your conclusions are bound to be more insightful.