The Sucky Questions

How to become a better designer (and human) by asking better questions

“You get what you ask for, ask a shitty question and you’ll get a pile of ?” Ignazio Laci

How many times have you heard questions like:

“Why do I have to do everything all the time?”
“Why do we have only two designers here?”
“Why do we have to do all these changes?”
“When is the copywriter going to learn to be concise?”
“When are the users going to learn to read the description?”

… shall I keep going? Why not.

“When is the marketing team going to start doing their job?”
“Why don’t they communicate their feedback better?”
“When is someone going to show me how to do this?”
“Who did this?”
“Why is he such a dick to me?”

Ok, I’ll stop now. Reading these questions most likely surfaced bad memories in your head and brought up uncomfortable feelings. Why? Because these are typical complaining questions that we ask when feeling victimized and disempowered… it happens to all of us at some point, but nobody likes that.

A Ticket Story

I’m very guilty of this, at times of frustrations, I have blamed all sort of things. In the past five months I collected over a thousands dollars worth of tickets, mostly for not parking my Vespa in “the right spot”, but one was for speeding and one was for not fully stopping at a stop sign. After each ticket I found myself asking the stupidest question of all:

“Why does all this shit happen to me?!” ?

“Why was that officer such a douche to me?!” ?

…as if the universe was had a conspiracy against me and was materializing police officers in my surroundings. There is no effective answer to that question.

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After the last ticket I was not only very sick of mailing checks, BUT if I were to receive one more ticket they will suspended my driver license. So the circumstances forced me to change my mindset and I asked myself:

“What is causing me to attract all these tickets?”, “How can I stop that?

Pretty quickly my brain started working towards more productive answers like:

“You are often late, and that that’s why you speed and park ‘creatively’ in the closest spot.”

I’m happy to announce that it has now been two months since my last ticket! Pathetic, but nonetheless a record. ???

And it all started with a different question and personal accountability for my actions. No blaming involved.

There is always one person to blame.

Accountability is a top quality that I look for in friends and people I work with. People are accountable when they realize that they have choices and that each choice comes with responsibilities and consequences. When something doesn’t go as planned, there is only one person to blame. You.

That’s right, 99% of the shit that happens to you, happens because of you. For the other 1%, you can blame your mother-in-law. And that’s ok.

A Poor Sailor Blames The Wind

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The Questions Recipe

So how can we consistently ask the right questions? Thanks to John MillerQBQ – The Question Behind the Question” here are some helpful guidelines to phrasing empowering questions:

  1. Begin with “What” or “How” (not “Why”, “When”, or “Who”)
  2. Contain an “I” (not “They”, “them”, “we”, or “you”)
  3. Focus on action

So here are some examples of how you can turn a sucky question into a better one:

✘ “Why do I have to do everything all the time?”
✔︎ “How can I be more productive and do more?” or “What should I do to involve more people?” or “How can I stop this situation?”

✘ “Why do we have only two designers here?”
✔︎ “How can we get more done with the resources we have?” or “How can I demonstrate to Bob that we really need one more designer?”

✘ “Why do we have to do all these round of changes?”
✔︎ “How can I gather all the feedback at once next time?” or “How can I better understand feedback next time?”

✘ “When is the copywriter going to learn to be concise?”
✔︎ “How can I involve the copywriter in a way that makes him understand the amount of copy we need?”

✘ “When are the users going to learn to read the description?”
✔︎ “What can we change in the design to make more users read the description?” or “How can I test a different version design to see if more users will read the description?”
✘ “When is the marketing team going to start doing their job?”
✔︎ “How can I do my job better today?” or “What can I do to improve the situation?”

✘ “Why don’t they communicate their feedback better?”
✔︎ “How can I give good guidelines on how to deliver design feedback?”

✘ “When is someone going to show me how to do this?”
✔︎ “How can I learn this on my own?” or “How can I find someone that can teach me this?”

✘ “Who did this?”
✔︎ “What caused this to happen?” “How can I prevent this from happening next time?”

✘ “Why is he such a dick to me?”
✔︎ “How can I see things from his point of view?” or “What am I doing that is irritating him and how can I change it?”

“If you wanna make the world a better place, Take a look at yourself, and then make a change” You know who.

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If this was of any help to you please share it with your designer friends!





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