Here it is:
Ask “why?” often.
Why ask why?
It’s a powerful question for multiple reasons.
Why brings understanding, purpose, and motivation. How? Why unlocks valuable information from customers, clients, and co-workers to provide depth. Why directly uncovers assumptions and can open the door to areas that hadn’t been considerations, enabling us to solve the root cause.
If we don’t ask why, we tend to solve symptoms of the problem at best and risk missing the mark altogether. We also lose the chance to look at ourselves and our own assumptions.
An example of applying the power of why is the 5 Why method. Sakichi Toyoda, one of the fathers of the Japanese industrial revolution, developed the technique in the 1930s. Sakichi was an industrialist, inventor, and founder of Toyota Industries. He is known for developing the Toyota Production System, which became lean manufacturing in the United States. He believed that problems were opportunities to practice continuous improvement. What a great way to frame it. When problems occurred, he encouraged his team to observe the issue objectively and “ask why five times” until the root problems were found.
As described on Toyota’s website:
He used the example of a welding robot stopping in the middle of its operation to demonstrate the usefulness of his method, finally arriving at the root cause of the problem through persistent enquiry:
- “Why did the robot stop?” The circuit has overloaded, causing a fuse to blow.
- “Why is the circuit overloaded?” There was insufficient lubrication on the bearings, so they locked up.
- “Why was there insufficient lubrication on the bearings? “The oil pump on the robot is not circulating sufficient oil.
- “Why is the pump not circulating sufficient oil? “The pump intake is clogged with metal shavings.
- “Why is the intake clogged with metal shavings? “Because there is no filter on the pump.
Decades later, Toyota is still practicing the 5 Why method to solve problems today.
As we learn with design research, stakeholders and designers tend to have a different understanding of what is actually happening with the users. With a “go-and-see” approach (or philosophy), the decisions are made based on an in-depth understanding of what’s actually happening, rather than on what someone in a boardroom or at an agency thinks might be happening. No longer based on what we know about the past but rather what is happening today.
As we design experiences, a great UX designer leverages these learnings to inform and explain how we are making design decisions. Our goals vary based on the project but we’re always looking to make the experience intuitive, simple, and lovable. Arm yourself with customer insights to keep focus and prioritize the users.
The 5 Whys technique is an effective method. We want to look smart as designers. But I’ve found countless times throughout my career that asking what may seem like a dumb or obvious question is where really great insights are found and conversations become most fruitful. Be brave and keep asking why.