The Importance of Being Curious


Simon Goodwin

Asking questions OG image

When we at Savas begin a project, we gather as much information about the project as possible. It’s our responsibility to try and familiarize ourselves with your product to the point where it’s as if we made it ourselves. We look at the current design, evaluate the content, examine analytics data, and ask a lot of questions. All to wrap our heads around the work previously done. 

Clients often reach out with what they perceive as a problem, and sometimes they will even provide a proposed solution. And that’s ok. We’re more than happy to consider that problem and the proposed solution. However, we’ve often found that the real problem isn’t so readily apparent. Oftentimes it takes some digging, and some reading between the lines, to figure out the root cause of a problem. Only then can we really start to find a solution that will work. This article will provide some examples of when and how to be curious in ways that will improve your website or custom application.

Starting with Why

WHY are we doing this work in the first place? Every project starts with a problem. Some projects even come with their own proposed solutions. The question everyone should start with is really, “Why are we trying to solve this specific problem, and how do we know this will be the correct solution.” We want to know the root cause behind the problem so that we can provide the best possible solution. Finding the root cause before fixing a problem is like the old construction adage of measuring twice, and cut once. We KNOW it will fix the problem because we know exactly what the problem is. Anything else is like eyeballing your cut without even using a tape measure. Asking lots of questions along the way helps us answer this bigger WHY.

For example, let’s say you own an e-commerce business and you notice that you have lots of visitors to your website, but no one is purchasing your products. You may think to yourself, “I’ll just add a big button below each item to make it super easy to find.” Surely this will increase my sales. But they don’t. Now what? 

If the problem isn’t visibility, then what could it be? Using this example, what questions could you ask yourself or your stakeholders that could help you find a path forward? In the next section, we’ll walk you through a scenario of utilizing questions to hopefully find your answers.

Be Curious, Not Judgemental

To quote Ted Lasso quoting Walt Whitman, “Be curious, not judgmental.” In this quote, Ted was applying it to the judgment of people, but in our context, we can apply this to the judgment of our problem. We shouldn’t assume that we know the answer to the problem or even the problem itself. Using the example above as a starting point, we might start with a method called the 5 Whys to see if we can find the root cause of our problem. The method is called the 5 Whys, but we like to think of it as just asking five continuous questions to help us find the root of the problem, and it looks something like this:

Customer: We want to add a purchase button below each of the products on our website.
Savas: WHY do you want to add a purchase button?
Customer: Our product sales haven’t been great, and we think adding a button will help.
Savas: Are customers entering your purchase flow?
Customer: Yes. Our data shows a lot of traffic to our purchase flow. 
Savas: Have you identified the page that users are leaving from?
Customer: It seems to be the selection page where a customer selects the specific product to purchase.
Savas: How long do users spend on this page?
Customer: According to our data, users spend an average of 1 minute on this page.
Savas: Are they interacting with the selectors on the page?
Customer: Our data shows that our customers interact with multiple selectors before leaving.

This is a lot of questions, but it’s helped us figure out a few things. The first is that adding a purchase button will only help customers find a flow they already know how to find. Second, customers spend an unusual amount of time on a specific screen and even interact with it before leaving the page. This information tells us that there’s an issue on this page, and we need to do our best Sherlock Holmes impression to figure out what’s going on. Now that we have a starting place, it’s good to take a step back from the entire issue and ask what kind of data you have to work with. Do you have site analytics in place? Have you watched users interact with this flow? Could you send out a user survey to gather insights? At this stage, data and research will be your best friend in finding a starting point, and one of the best ways is to take the questions directly to the customers through user testing.


How Design Thinking Can Spark Innovation

What a Twist!

User testing has the profound capability of showing us just how unpredictable customer behavior can be. Sometimes the results can be more surprising than the conclusion of an Agatha Christie novel. Surely the user won’t miss this bright red, flashing button that says “Buy Now,”... but then you watch them skip right over the button for 5 minutes during a user test. When we test, it’s important to recognize that every customer has a different perspective than our own and may experience your website or product in a different way. You are NOT your user. You are a super user because you designed or built your business’s website or app, and you know it more intimately than anyone else. One of the best ways to check perspectives is through the many different user testing activities. These activities can be the creation of a survey or a moderated test, an activity where we get to watch a customer actually use your product or website.

When creating a survey or test, it’s important to keep your test unbiased and to refrain from leading the users to specific conclusions. It’s best to utilize open-ended, action-based questions such as, “If you were looking to _______, how would you go about completing that task?” And If the question requires a user to find something on the screen that is labeled, it’s best not to use that label in your question if it can be helped. If the button your testing is labeled Services, your question should not be, “Where would you go to find services.” A better question would be, “How would you find out more information about ______.” Providing non-leading questions will help you fully understand what’s running through a user’s head and why a certain web page may be causing problems. No matter which method is chosen, user testing is the opportunity to ask questions directly to the user, and their answers can help us build, or refine, a better product.

So Now We're Done?

We’re finally done. No more questions. We’ve talked about how questions help any project get started on the right foot, how they help us get to the root of the problem, how they can help to understand users better, and how they help to focus on the future. We hope you’ve enjoyed learning about the importance of asking questions. If you have questions for us, we’d love to hear them!

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