5 Things UX Designers Should Never Say by @lauraklein & @katerutter


I’ve recently stumbled upon an insightful podcast by Laura Klein and Kate Rutter, in which they discussed, and provided solutions to avoid, the top five things that UX (user experience) designers should never say. These include misguided questions that UX researchers often ask their customers, as well as mindsets that some UX designers have (but shouldn’t).

You should listen to their podcast. But if you can’t spare the time (or the internet bandwidth on your mobile device), I’ve summarised the key reasons why these five statements are taboo, and what you should ask (or do) instead for each case.

Here’s the rundown:

#5: What do you like about the product?

The Problem:

While this question helps you start a conversation, it doesn’t tell you nearly enough.

Many UX designers will listen to the answer, and then stop there because, well, they’re happy with what they hear. And that’s bad, because what you should really be asking isn’t just what users like – or hate -, but why they do.

What You Should Ask: 

If you have to ask users what they like, at least follow up with why they do. Ask: why did you find this feature cool? Or generally, why did you feel X about this feature?

What’s The Difference? 

Knowing why your user likes or dislikes your product gives you actionable information. Consider this:

Scenario A

Q: What do you like about the product?

A: Oh, I like the cool animation that I see when I press the buttons in the app.

If you stop here, you might end up thinking to yourself: We’ve got to add more animations to the app! 

Which is a fair enough proposition, except that, if you followed up with a why question:

Scenario B

Q: Why do you like the animations?

A: Hmm.. I think it’s because it gives me some sort of feedback, like I know for sure that the app’s transmitting the data.

Now you’ll know that it’s really the feedback loop, not the animations per se, that users want.

Yes, that’s really the question, isn’t it?

#4: We don’t need to talk to users, we have the data!

The Problem:

Don’t get this wrong, data is great; it lets you know what users are doing far better than talking to them individually. But the problem, like #5 above, is that it doesn’t tell you why.

What You Should Do: 

Talk to your users. Like, real people. Figure out why they’re spending so much time on that pricing page; is it because they’re really considering signing up, or because they don’t understand the way you charge them?

What’s The Difference? 

Again, like #5 above, you can only work on improving your product if you know why the current one isn’t working (as well as it should).

#3: Let’s do a survey (or a focus group).

The Problem with Surveys:

The draw of surveys is its ability to get quantitative data at scale. The drawback, however, is that they don’t give you the insights you need to improve on your product.

To start off, multiple choice survey questions shut off all other possible options; instead of finding the actual problem, you’re basically asking your users to pick from your pool of hypotheses.

On the other hand, if your survey is qualitative, you’re essentially asking people to write down what they think or feel. As a general rule, people hate writing. Especially when they know they’re helping you do your job (you’re supposed to be the one who’s doing the writing in an actual user interview!). In the end, you’ll probably get lousy data.

What You Should Do: 

Go out and talk to real human beings.

The Problem with Focus Groups:

Hey, if I need to talk to people, surely focus groups is the solution, right?

Nope, not quite. If you place a group of strangers in a room, and ask them for their opinions on certain issues, chances are you’ll get similar answers from all of them. Because that’s the social thing to do. Humans are troublesome like that.

What You Should Do: 

Ask your users questions, one user at a time. That’s how you can go deep and get insights from each of them.

No one likes awkward situations, so people in focus groups generally just play nice.

#2: I’ll show it (my design) to you when it’s finished!

The Problem: 

First, to whom (and implicitly, why) you are showing it to greatly affects the level of fidelity required of your product. If you’re showing your prototypes to fellow designers for directional feedback, then napkin sketches might work fine. If, however, you’re showing your prototypes to users to get usability feedback, then you might need more than that (because users might not be used to thinking in terms of paper).

Next, what do you mean by finished? Nothing is perfect, and so long as there are imperfections, there is room for improvement. And so long as there is room for improvement, there is no final.

What You Should Do: 

As a designer, shake off the mindset that you own the product (or design). You don’t. Your users do, eventually.

Next, be a better designer, by opening up your ideas and work to constructive criticism. Learn how to take feedback, how to resolve different perspectives (and nasty colleagues), and how to design for someone other than yourself.

#1: Would you buy this product (if it comes out)?

The Problem: 

Humans are social creatures. The most reasonable, social thing to do after being interviewed for over an hour by someone about a product, is to lie and say “Yes, I think I might buy your product”.

And even if they really think that they’ll need your product in the near future, humans suck so much at predicting future behaviour that they’re probably wrong.

What You Should Ask: 

Let’s assume that your product solves a problem (it should). Instead of asking people if they want to have this problem solved, ask questions that will uncover whether they’ve tried solving it. In other words, do they have the intent to solve that problem? If they do, and if your product solves that problem, then chances are they’ll really buy it.

What’s The Difference?

Consider this:

Scenario A

Q: Will you buy the product (an app that aids you in losing weight)?

A: Yeah, I’d love to lose some weight! I’ll buy anything that helps me to that.

At this point, all seems to be going well: after over an hour of interviewing and explaining how your app works, this person says that s/he’ll buy your product!

But consider how the situation quickly changes once you start finding out about the intent to solve the problem:

Scenario B

Q: What are some measures that you’ve taken to lose weight in the last 6 months?

A: Oh, I cut down on my beer intake. I only drink one 6-pack a week now.

Well, now you know that this person isn’t even in your target market to begin with. There’s no intent to solve the problem that your product is about.

Yes, Claire, but trying to care isn’t enough.


Here are the are 3 key takeaways from this podcast:

  1. Don’t only care about what’s happening; you need to know why  they happen as well (#5, #4). 

  2. Don’t be afraid of hurting your designer ego (#5, #2, #1). 

  3. Don’t be lazy (#5, #4, #3, #1).

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