The Art of Asking Questions

The Art of Asking Questions

Those of us who work in UX or web aren’t strangers to critique of our work — we know the importance of stepping back to view what we’ve done, so that we aren’t working in a bubble. The ability to ask good questions of ourselves and each other allows our critiques to be more effective, but this skill can be intimidating to cultivate.

Why is asking questions so difficult?

Sometimes we think there’s simply nothing to ask questions about, but avoiding questions can also be a self-conscious behavior:

  • We don’t want to admit that we don’t know something, or don’t want to appear as if we don’t
  • We don’t want to create more work for ourselves
  • We think something should be clear and we don’t want to waste time
  • We’re afraid to imply that we think poorly of a coworker’s efforts

But to create the best work, it’s critical to question your teammates’ work and your own. Interrogate your work before you share it, and encourage your teammates to do so again when you present it to them.

Why is asking questions so important?

Working through questions out loud will help your team build a shared understanding. Something that is clear to you might not be clear to someone else. Alternatively, you might think that something is obvious, but actually have a different understanding than your teammates. You’ll never know if you don’t ask.

Asking questions will increase your confidence in the solutions that you create; if you realize you cannot clearly articulate why you made a certain decision, you know that you need to go back to the drawing board. It also forces you to rehearse explaining your thinking out loud, which will in turn make your client presentations more successful.

How do you ask good questions?

How do you ask questions, especially if you don’t see anything immediately wrong? Channel your inner toddler and ask “why” repeatedly, or evaluate your work as if you might have to explain it to a toddler. You’d come up with a lot of questions because you can’t hang onto your assumptions anymore.

Ask about the reasoning behind every element of the work, and let the answers lead you to better and more specific questions. Here are some examples that we use to evaluate our UX work:

  • What is the purpose of this page?
  • What types of content should appear on the page?
  • Where is that content coming from?
  • How does this item help achieve that UX purpose?
  • How does that purpose relate back to the larger goals of the project?
  • Why does the user need this?
  • How will this help the user achieve their own goals?

You can break questions down in this way for any type of work — think about how you could apply it to your own discipline, and how you can build a workplace culture where people feel comfortable asking questions.

 

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