The importance of being curios.. in UX Research



We people are social animals and questions are an important part of how we socialise   and relate to each other. One only has to spend a short time with a 4 or 5 year old child to hear them constantly asking Why this? Why that? Those questions and the corresponding responses are an important part of the development of that child.

As we get older, questions continue to be an important part of how we all engage with the world around us. Our brains love questions; it is how forge new associations and wire neural connections.

Curiosity is an essential part of creatively and innovation. Through questioning we spark new ideas and then use more questions to pull apart those ideas and build them back together again.

Questioning is also an integral part of UX Research.

question mark

Promoting a culture of questioning and debate

In prod development once we agree internally what we think the product might be and what the important features are, we need to test this with users.  The important phrase here is what we think the product ‘might be’. As UX researchers we need to challenge the thinking from inside the business that they already know how the product should work.  We are not merely undertaking a validation test with users to prove our ideas but rather we are undertaking a test to test our assumptions about the product.   The difference may be subtle but it is important because if we frame our product ideas as hypothesis this allows us to say that we (as a business) don’t know what the answers are yet and that we are open to discussion and debate on what those answers might be.

Jeff Gothelf in his blog on his Lean UX approach puts this very well when he suggests starting with testing a hypothesis of what we believe the new product or design to be.  When the new product/design or feature is framed as a hypothesis e.g we believe x feature will deliver x value to customers, is more of a question about our assumptions that a statement of fact.

The aim is to test not only that users understand and can use our products but also that they actually desire it.  And if we frame our product ideas as hypothesis this allows us to say that we don’t know what the answers are yet and be more open to the results.

As UX Researchers it is vital that we never forgot that curios 5 year old inside us who is always asking why? Questions will help us deliver not only more usable but also more meaningful and valuable user experiences.


A focus on Focus Groups and Worshops

Having not being involved in Focus groups for some time, it was very interesting running some workshops with customers and non customers last week.    Our session was really a cross between a focus group – we wanted the groups thoughts and opinions on some concepts and a workshop – we wanted the group to be creative and come up with some new ideas and designs.

A reminder to myself when running these sessions:

Prior to the Focus group/Workshop 

The more time spent on planning the smoother it will run

  • Ensure your aims and objectives are clear for the overall research and for each section; think about the outputs you want from each section
  • Planning the timing is essential and build in extra 10 between sections to allow for overrun
  • Get to the room early and have room set up the way you want it and make sure you have all the materials you need e.g. paper. Blue tack, post-its, pens  etc.
From Untuvikko- Flickr

During the Session

People like to be creative and compete in groups

  • Show participants an agenda, the timeline and share overall objectives/top level ideas with them.   Return to these ideas during the session to keep everyone on track
  • Set the tone at beginning, be clear and concise but also remind participants you want to have some fun!
  • Spend some time on housekeeping– letting them know you want everyone to have the opportunity to speak and to respect one anothers’ opinion etc.   Let them know you are on a tight time schedule and might have to hurry them along.   Tell them to turn off mobiles
  • Include an ice-breaking session at the beginning, we asked people to bring a personal item in (or to imagine a personal item that would represent them) which worked well
  • Keep questions short, simple and open and use their language.   Do not start with anything threatening or embarrassing but build up trust in room first.
  • Do ask participants to think about questions or points themselves first and commit ideas to paper and then share ideas with their partners
  • Be adventurous – plan some interesting exercises for both pairs and groups – have them build or design sites or items,  people love the opportunity to be creative.   Mix it up.
  • Reward and encourage new ideas and don’t be afraid to encourage teams to be competitive – nothing wrong with a little motivation and of course;

>>don’t forget the chocolate>>

A final thought

We had sessions with two groups.  Only one of the groups had been participating in diary study before we had our session and were much more primed to be part of the research from the onset.   Consider giving participants who are coming to a focus group or a workshop some sort of short exercise the week before the meeting.   It will get them thinking about the research before they step into the room

The Human Mind and User Experience

Here goes.  I have officially started my PhD by Research with the School of Health and Life Sciences and the Centre for Interaction Design at Edinburgh Napier University, Edinburgh.

My working title is:

The UX Factor; what makes Positive User Experiences
 and how do we describe and measure them?

Companies talk about creating a ‘great User Experience ’ for digital customers.  I would like to know more about what that means.  As UX it is essentially about experience (of technology) I believe the study of human behaviour- psychology- has a lot to offer us in better understanding what is going on.

Anyone who has done or is undertaking a PhD knows that starting off is daunting task.  There is an ocean of material out there to navigate through.   Where to start?

How do you eat an Elephant?  One bite at a time.

The first areas I would like to look at are:

  • What does UX mean? And what elements does it comprise? Both within academia and in industry.
  • What has psychology got to do with it? And which areas to consider e.g. the affective (emotional/feelings) or the cognitive (analysis/evaluation)
  • What measurements/methodologies are companies currently using to capture these processes?

The term user experience has expanded in recent years to include all aspects of users engagement with a company from branding to design.  It is a continuous loop with all parts of chain impacting on each other but I would like to focus on the  area between marketing and user experience/research.

Take a deep breath.