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The value of open-ended questions while identifying user needs

UX designers discussing user needs

Once you have established the business goals for the product, you are designing, analysing or even managing its time to figure out what people (the users) want from it. What are they looking for, what is the value delivered to them and what do they expect?

“If you add value to the people who use the product, it's very likely that the value will come back to the creator and the organisation.”

Ask open-ended questions

Asking the right questions isn’t always as easy as it sounds. It is imperative to ask non-leading, non-specific questions that allow the person to answer freely without being influenced.

For example, don’t ask them specifically about the tool they are using instead ask them what they do or how would they complete a particular task. By doing this, it allows you to understand the process the users take and not the opinions of the tool used.


“Lead me through how you would complete task A.”


The above question will allow the user to talk openly about the way they perform a particular task. Don’t be shocked if the user speaks about other websites, systems or devices — this is relevant information! The goal of open-ended questions is to reveal what they use and why they use it — anything you find interesting or odd prompt the user to discuss ‘why they do that.”

By asking open-ended questions, you are essentially gathering requirements. It can be as simple as having a conversation with the person who uses that particular or similar product instead of creating a list based on assumptions. The tone in which the user speaks, the negative feedback or frustrations they have are all things your product / re-design need to avoid or solve.

Usability issues are rarely a result of the technical problems and are often a handful of unrelated factors – company policies, processes, deadlines, stress etc. The only way to address the real issue is if you know about it because if you don’t the product you’re launching will still have the same difficulties and you’ll be the one held accountable.


Below is a list of questions you should ask of users:

  • How do you define a successful workday? What do you have to achieve to feel good?
  • How are you go about X? (This is valuable in gathering user requirements)
  • Did you complete task X in the same way at other organisations you have worked? Was it better or worse or different?
  • What are the most significant problems you face in your daily tasks
  • How often do you use this product or tool?
  • What frustrates you the most about this
  • What features act as obstacles to you?
  • Have you used another product to do the same thing?


When asking open-ended questions, your role is to get unbiased information and merely listen to what the user has to say. This way you aren’t influencing the user to say something you’d like to hear because this will add no value to your product.


Designers and Developers

A significant amount of work you will do is ‘re-design’ something that already exists. You still need to ask similar questions like the above. However, you are asking the users to frame their answers using the existing product.

Your role requires you to liaise with stakeholders continually, and you will be asking questions about how the current product impacts the business, why decisions are being made and request the data to back it up etc.

  • What has led you to believe a redesign was needed?
  • What data or feedback do you have to support this?
  • What complaints does customer care receive the most?


Adobe is a perfect example

Have you ever come across the ‘edit original’ option when right-clicking on an image in InDesign? That feature hasn’t always been there.


Adobe listened to their user’s problems, understood that the original process was too long-winded, and consequently built a simple solution. The delight added to designers was priceless, it felt like adobe listened and cared enough to make the change.



The only way you can address the real issue is if you know about it. Don’t make assumptions based on other systems or influencers from stakeholders. Ask people (users) open-ended questions and allow them to take freely about a product.

If you can’t address the real issue its bad for the organisation and your reputation too. A company will have invested time and money into… nothing. Create solutions to real problems NOT assumptions.

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