Cindy Alvarez

3 Questions We Should Stop Asking

We ask questions that help us to make better decisions. We don't want to waste time. So we need to stop asking questions that won't help us make better decisions -- that, in fact, often obscure our insights or mislead us.

Which design do you like better?

You won't get an answer that matters to your business.

While people enjoy beauty, it doesn't trump usefulness, or context, or critical mass. Path didn't kill Facebook, Gowalla didn't win over Foursquare, and countless startups have failed to dethrone the hideously bare-bones Craig's List.

Your prospective customers will definitely have an opinion about which workflow or copy they think is superior, but they're probably wrong.

I've seen far too many A/B tests that directly contradict what people say they will use or prefer.

Most humans just aren't good at predicting what they will use, or articulating their needs perfectly. That's not their job. That's YOUR job, product manager/designer/engineer.

Do you want [this feature]?

Of course I want that feature. I want all the features! I also want a deep-dish pizza and bourbon and a whole quart of cookies-and-cream ice cream, right up until the moment where my stomach feels lurchy and I can't focus on anything.

Customers will always say yes to a feature, because that question only focuses on getting something. We always want to get something! Even if we did mention the cost, it wouldn't seem like much.

Hey, it's just a toggle, it's just one more click, it's just one more decision to make, one more split-second for your app to load. That sounds fine until you multiply that times the forty-seven times per day they need to interact with this screen. Then your customer will hate you for forcing them to make so many choices before they've finished their morning coffee. Along comes a startup offering an elegantly bare, stripped-down, clean product that only does one or two things but does them simply and easily and there goes your customer.

Would you buy/use [this product]?

Yes (if it sounds like the socially responsible or cool thing to do).

No (if it sounds frivolous or doesn't match the external view of myself I wish to portray).

Look, people are terrible at predicting the future.

For one thing, we're hopelessly aspirational. People make New Year's Resolutions, break them all by mid-January, and then the next year we do it again, swearing that this is the year we're going to hit the gym every day/quit smoking/finish that novel. It means that if your product promises to make me better at my job, I'm going to say YES, of course I'll buy it. The truth may be that I don't really care about being better at my job; I really just want to show up on time, do what I'm asked, and not disappoint my immediate coworkers, and I certainly don't want to change or have to learn something new.

The other thing is that we over-index on our current environment and situation. We aren't willing to pay $15 for a beer -- until it's late and hot and we're tired in our hotel room and order room service (markup + service fee + tip!). We assume our current processes and tools will suffice -- until we get a new boss or a new business fad takes over. We laugh at those idiots buying in-game turns on Candy Crush -- until... I HAVE NEVER DONE THIS, I SWEAR.

Saying 'no' to bad research questions is critical to building the competency to ask the right ones.