Ask questions to learn, not to receive an answer

I don’t find it useful to ask users directly for the answer to a question of detail. For example, I hope I’d never ask a user what they think the order of columns in a table should be, or even if a table was appropriate for the data at hand.

If we ask a user a question of detail such as one of these we will receive an answer, and we would likely be able to fulfill that answer through design, but we would not have learned why; the resulting design would be indefensible, hearsay. It’s akin to asking for and expecting a “sandwich order;” you receive a request you can meet but with no insight by which you could critique or improve upon the request. (This is a problem not just for designers but also for product managers.)

Rather, we should ask questions that help us understand better how the data will be used – where attention needs to be brought, what decisions need to be made, what activities encouraged – so we can come up with and offer a sensible arrangement of data, possibly so we can transform that data into information.