Open vs Closed Questions

If you’re doing any significant work at all, you should also be doing a lot of consumer research. Software development? You should be prototyping fast and early and running experience sessions. Branding? You should spend most of your time collecting information, then working some stuff out, then collecting again. Marketing? Try everything and AB test like crazy. You get the picture – nothing good will emerge in isolation, so you must have a solid information pipeline between you and your target.

It baffles me how often careful, critical, analytical professionals miss the opportunity to design their own procedures better. It’s like we have an unspoken rule that our skills are only to be used directly with whatever we’re building, not on trying to question the efficacy and improve our tools.

Now, often people focus too much on what they want to know and forget to think about how important it is to think about how they’re going to know that. Consumers are humans (I hope), and a consumer interview is a social encounter, often among complete strangers and with a lot of underlying expectations. Would you go unprepared for a blind date? Then you cannot just hope for the best here – you need to carefully plan your research sessions, for how they will be run will have a crucial effect on the quality of information you’ll get.

Most research is about asking things, so for now I’ll tackle that. When it comes to questioning users, we seem to use closed questions more often than necessary, and this kills off a lot of potential feedback, besides providing us with data which is at best meaningless and at worst misleading. Continue reading…