You asked, we answered: Introducing Ask twig+fish

I have had the pleasure of being mentored by some of the finest UX professionals over the past 25 years. I love that so many of them have become family to me. “Pay it forward” has always been a big philosophy of life that my parents shared with me and my siblings. Over my 16-year tenure at Bentley University, I have enjoyed the great fortune of numerous fabulous students coming through my class and the Human Factors and Information Design Program. I even get to work with a fine product of that program on many fun projects, and am so glad our paths crossed (Zarla!). There have always been some students who stay in touch – and ask questions that challenge my viewpoints on research, our field, and my philosophies in general. Sharing information has been one of the best by-products of being a Bentley faculty member.

Just recently, I had a Bentley Alum write me on an interesting quandary he had found himself in – and started his email to me wishing there was a “Dear Meena” column. A “Dear Meena” column? I had to smile, but then, on Zarla’s push – I decided “um, sure.” I am happy to share whatever I can – but be careful – you might not like the response!

Given that my illustrious colleague Zarla has many fine answers to tough questions too, and sometimes much more eloquently presented than mine, we decided on a “Dear twig+fish” column.

So – here it is!

Here are the rules.

This is a sounding board.

This is not legal advice. We will never know every detail about you, your communication style, your knowledge base, your work place, your domain, your colleagues, your counterparts. And, you all know how twig+fish have opinions. We don’t expect you to conduct yourselves in the exact same manner we do. And that can make a difference to the outcome!

Let’s make this a conversation. Perhaps we can throw in how we might approach a situation when it comes to research, or handling a client that doesn’t see value. Or, what resources we tap into when we ourselves are unsure of a situation. We are always facing something new, and sometimes, it does help to just get a thumbs up or sideways on your proposed approach to handling that something.

What is fair game?

Well, really – anything. I have had students and professionals talk to me about research, client relationships, career paths, work-life balance, new ideas, electronic devices and their kids, and recipes for new food or mixed drinks. All of the above apply! Why not!

And lastly – everyone remains anonymous. Just to be fair to respecting people, and their individual situations. Respect first, always. If you want to send us your questions on Twitter, then just keep in mind it will not be so anonymous (@meena_ko #asktwigandfish).

So – let me start with the first question that kicked this off, and we shall see where it goes!



“My coworker likes to ask participants how they think a particular friend might like a product, and what their friend’s first reaction to a product might be. She says it's a good way to find out what they *really* think but are too polite to say. I've always heard that asking participants what they might like in the future is not reliable, and that asking about second hand reports of what they think OTHER PEOPLE might feel does not generate very reliable or valid data.

So, is there a value to the question I am missing here?


Confused in C(place)”


Dear Confused,

I don’t use this approach for a few reasons. Let's paint the scenario. You ask A if A's friend B likes a product. Does A know enough about B? What assumptions is A casting on B about their behavior? What part of B has A studied to truly understand their motivations in liking/disliking something? At the root - we are not there to get A's perceptions on other people. A can report on A's realities, and possibly (possibly) - at some point can cast some generalizations on other people's behaviors. But that is it. We also have no evidence from A that B really is what A perceives them to be - as we cannot task A to give us evidence and proof of B's behavior. To me, there is issue in the approach.

Regarding asking participants what they might like in the future being unreliable – I partially disagree with your statement. We cannot directly ask people what they want. That puts the onus on them to design, and really, A is not a designer. But, we can get an understanding of A’s realities, and then see what they tend toward. Is A the kind of person who creates his/her own solutions? Or does A rely on someone else to create them? We can use A’s analogous experiences to study behaviors and see how the past and future work in the analogous situation.  

At the core, though, we want people to report on themselves and provide us evidence of those reports. It is on us as researchers to craft protocols that allow people to easily share details about themselves. Maybe that means we have to work a little harder on crafting our protocols – but it is absolutely possible.

Hope this helps – and perhaps, I’ll see another question come this way shortly!



Have any burning UX or qualitative research questions? Send them to us on our website or tweet them @meena_ko #asktwigandfish. We will happily share responses as we get questions!