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The best questions to ask users

I understand the importance of a data-driven approach rather than relying on guesswork.

When it comes to conducting user research for a website or app, asking the right questions is essential to gather the best insights. Remember - having face time with users is so valuable, so you really want to make the most of it.

As someone with 15 years of experience in UX design and strategy, I understand the importance of this data-driven approach rather than relying on guesswork.

In this blog post, I'll delve into the best questions to ask during a user test. These questions are not only designed to uncover user preferences and pain points, but also help validate your mission.

A primer

User testing is not just about discovering how easy the product is to use, but also how it fits into the user's life or workflow. It isn't about giving a demo and getting praise or acceptance. The primary goal is to understand how the product or service meets the needs and expectations of its users and often looks into user satisfaction, effectiveness, and overall acceptance.

For clarity, I typically user it in the 'design sprint' way, or more popularly know "the five act interview."

Anyway, that's a subject to go deeper on another day, but essentially, we are discovering whether what we've designed meets the needs of the user, check that those needs actually exist and start answering whether we've solved a user or business problem (or both) with a new design, typically in the form of the prototype.

We give the user the prototype and these are the typical questions I ask, followed by the critical business questions (sprint questions) that we need to ask at the end.

Let's get started by exploring the key questions that will help you achieve your UX goals!

1. What do you think this is?

woman in teal t-shirt sitting beside woman in suit jacket
Photo by Amy Hirschi / Unsplash

All of these questions are about understanding whether we are communicating correctly. Asking a user "what do you think this is" as an opener is far better than introducing the business/app/service. The prototype can introduce that and so you can evaluate whether that communication or content resonates by asking a new user what they think it is.

Sometimes they will just read off what they see, so asking them 'how would you describe this to a friend or colleague' or even more simply 'what do you understand by that?' can help get to the crux of it.

2. What's missing?

person holding using iPhone X
Photo by Yura Fresh / Unsplash

Usually, we've done a great job in design, but asking 'what's missing,' can help understand whether there's content required or messaging that needs fixing.

For more eCommerce based work, you can understand whether all the trust signs are there (free returns, guarantees, product specs), but this question has helped answer what we could consider doing in an iteration.

The other side of asking this question, is that we try and user test somewhere near the middle of the Sprint or project, so some elements may be just ideas at this point. Gaining validation can de-risk areas that may need more time or resource invesment.

3. What would you do next?

person using laptop
Photo by John Schnobrich / Unsplash

Prototypes don't tend to have everything linked up or interactivity added. It's wasted effort if we find that users don't value it or the effort/impact just isn't worth it. Asking a user what they would do next can be both helpful in understanding their user journey, but also whether they would open a tab and compare alternatives.

If you haven't encountered it before, understanding more about Google's 7/11/4/ rule can help guide on user behaviour (though I feel it might need an update).

4. Is there anything that you don't understand?

two women sitting beside table and talking
Photo by Christina @ / Unsplash

Especially when you're creating design in B2B, it can be harder for an independent user researcher to empathise with everything the user has got going on. Using the vehicle of a prototype can help guide and often it can help shape the next iteration or wider product backlog.

If a user doesn't understand what they're experiencing, then they will disengage. You want to understand the first point this happens, whether that's through the content, the journey itself or the entire problem space you're trying to solve within.

Hopefully this will serve as a good guide on what to ask. Be sure to ask the same questions consistently to each of your users, so that afterward, you can find trends and report back that e.g. 3 out of 5 users found XYZ to be true.

Do you have any to add or amend here? Let me know on X.


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