Asking good questions is essential for great design



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Great questions are the lifeblood of great design. A well-placed question uncovers insights and provokes new ways of looking at the world.

A discipline I recommend for designers and design practices: start a running list of good questions, and add to it every time a new question presents itself.

“Great questions are the lifeblood of great design.”

At HANDSOME, our running list now has over 200 questions. Before each major engagement (and several times during), I’ll take a look through these questions and will almost always find a new line of inquiry I would not have thought of otherwise.

To help you get started with your own list, here are a few general questions:

  1. Where do you feel stuck?
  2. Where do things feel broken?
  3. What politics are involved here?
  4. What do you wish you had more time to do?
  5. What makes you angry?
  6. When do you find yourself losing track of time?
  7. What things do you find yourself complaining about?
  8. If you had an extra hour in the day, how would you spend it?
  9. What is wasted?
  10. What wears you out?
  11. What problem are we solving? Why this a problem worth solving?
  12. Currently, what things make this problem worse? What things make this problem less of a problem?
  13. What don’t we understand yet?
  14. What are the edges of the problem? What is out of bounds of this problem space, or what problem are we not solving?
  15. What ways have people tried to solve this problem previously? Were they successful?
  16. What are we most passionate about?
  17. What behaviors need to happen in order for this initiative to be successful?
  18. What do you wish someone else would do for you?
  19. If this product were magic, how would that experience look?
  20. What battle are we fighting?
  21. Who is the hero in this story? What makes them a hero?
  22. What achievements are we most proud of?
  23. What characteristics or attributes of this thing or this group are we most proud of?
  24. At the end of the day, what is the story we want to tell?
  25. In what ways may our educational background influence the way we understand this thing? What about cultural or socioeconomic background?
  26. How will we handle conflict?

Sometimes the information or inspiration needed to solve a problem lies behind the right question. And remember, there’s always at least one more question you can ask.


Jonathan Lewis
Jonathan is the Experience Design Director at Thinktiv, a strategy and innovation firm in Austin, TX, where he manages their ethnographic research and interaction design practices. He has worked with teams ranging from seed-round start-ups to Fortune 100 companies to design and ship successful businesses, products, and services. Jonathan is also an instructor at the Austin Center for Design where he teaches courses focused on Design Research in the context of large-scale social and humanitarian issues.

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