As Researchers gather experience and try to improvise their Research skills, the art of asking probing questions develops naturally. For the ones early into this profession, here is a summary of five ‘Probes’ which could be kept in mind while woking on a User Research project.
1. CLARIFY. People express themselves differently. For a researcher to be able to understand the real message, it is important to clarify what you hear from the participant. Clarify any expression or words that the participant used as a reaction. Also ensure you cross verify your summary of what has been expressed, with the participant.
2. DETAIL. Usually, a lot is left unsaid. Often because people think they have already said it. Or, the researcher might have fallen into the trap of thinking s/he understood it. Always ask the participant to detail out things which you feel slightly ambiguous. Ask for explanations, examples. Do not hesitate to ask participants sketch things out for you, if that helps. Some experienced Researchers have advocated using the Five WHYs technique to uncover the actual insight. Here is a supplementary article to gain a deeper understanding Why Is Not Enough: Overcoming Flaws of the Five Whys.
3. RATIONALIZE. Behind every action there are feelings and reasoning. Ask for prioritization of elements in terms of importance to the participant. Find out which Interface elements the participant can not live without and which elements can be dropped off. Ask for reasoning for each of the answers. You might not want the visual impression of an item as the sole reason behind it’s existence on the interface.
4. IMAGINATE. Context of use is very important. The way people Interact with a Mobile phone App in a train is different than at the time they are about to fall asleep. If it is important for the Interface to be used in different situations in the real world, ask your participants to imagine them being in that scenario. Then ask them probing questions and you would find a lot more this way.
5. IDEATE. Chances are rare that your participant is a designer, artist or a creative person. People generally remember the experience of the things they have been using to get their tasks done. Prompt them to tell you good things from those interactions and things that could have been done better. That would help you to figure out how the new interaction design you are researching can be made persuasive.
A lot of useful content is available on the topic of User research, example this one - Laddering: A Research Interview Technique for Uncovering Core Values. While this and similar literature might appear common sense to the uninitiated, it immensely helps Researchers to be explicitly aware of techniques and pitfalls.
As a User Experience researcher, always remember to effectively use three of your most important words “What”, “How” and “Why”. An absolute Don’t is to avoid leading your participant to an answer. There is always more there than meets the eye.