“Be curious. Ask as many questions as you can. Explore. That enhances creativity and makes you a better designer.”
This was one of the many quotes I heard at a recent design talk and it’s definitely not a new idea —we designers tend to flood the room with questions at professional design critiques as well as informal chats about UX (meet ups, design events, interviews etc).
While the underlying principle behind the quote is solid, I didn’t necessarily agree with one part: ‘Ask as many questions as you can’.
Say whaaat!? That seems like a contradiction to being a designer, doesn’t it? After all, it’s the essence of our role —problems arise, we question why it arises, problems are understood, we question how do we solve them, we provide a solution, and we question how to improve it and repeat!
However, there have been many times where we forget that there needs to be an intent behind the question. Instead, we ask questions that do not provide any substance to the discussion because ‘that’s what we’re supposed to do’.
Let’s talk about why you, as a designer, should take a step back, pause and question the need to question.
Don’t ask questions that can be easily Googled
I can’t stress this point enough. I’ve witnessed multiple occasions, especially at design meet-ups or design interviews, where folks have been asked one of those standard design-related questions like ‘What’s the difference between UX and Product Design?’ or ‘What happens in a usability study?’.
While it’s understandable that designers would want to advertise themselves and seem curious in those scenarios, questions that have textbook answers lead to a collective, mental eye-roll by the audience.
Why is that? That’s because folks who ask questions like that come off as unaware, and neglectful which in turn, reflects adversely on the individual. So, if your goal was to impress someone, you didn’t succeed.
Basic rule of thumb? Ask more about ‘How’ and ‘Why’ — not ‘What’.
I’ve found that asking questions about thought processes or team frameworks work WAY better while networking or interviewing. Basically, the ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions. ‘What’ questions work only if you want to get context on something that you can’t do a quick Google search on (for example: if you’re a brand new designer on a team).
Moral of the story: The phrase ‘there are no dumb questions’ was before the internet existed, so if you’re starting out and are completely unaware of a concept, Google first, ask next. Saves time and effort on both sides.
Scope and context first, question second
Design critiques are the most valuable and productive meetings for any designer. Collective insights are gathered from the team that improve the concepts, wireframes, design elements or prototypes being discussed.
However, some design team members tend to radically question designs and propose revolutionary ideas — without taking into account the scope or the context in which the solution was implemented.
What happens then? Such questions or ideas aren’t taken into account because it’s not actionable based on the scope.
Best case — they’re tabled and discussed at a later time. Worst case —they’re ignored completely.
In this case, the onus falls on the designer presenting as well as the team members. The designer presenting should set the scene and provide context to the team before the critique in order to generate useful questions and comments about the design.
What about the team members? Well, say that you have a proposal to improve a design, but it can’t be implemented easily. What do you do then?
Make a note of it. Sketch it out. Make a low-fidelity prototype of it. This helps you think more deeply about the concept and its implementation before critiquing the designer’s work. If you come up with a solution that fits within the scope, share it with the designer.
And that’s that! Questioning and critiquing is at the core of our work as designers. However, asking the smart and the right questions helps us get the job done faster and better, which makes everyone happy! ?