How to Get Difficult Users to Talk?


A critical task of our job as UX researchers/designers is talking and listening to real users to understand their needs, motivations and experiences. However, the challenge we face here is how do we facilitate that process. This especially difficult when dealing with difficult users

Who are the difficult users?

Several traits could fall into this category of users, which includes:

  • Shy users
  • Passive users
  • Conformist users
  • Privacy-concerned users
  • Users coming from cultures where talking about personal views and values is uncommon practice
  • Users who are unfamiliar with what it means to participate in a research
  • Users who constantly go off topic
  • Users asked to talk about sensitive topics
  • and others [please add in the comments (: ]


How to deal with them?

It is the researcher/interviewer responsibility to identify which group of these a difficult user falls into and how to deal with them. From my personal experience, I found 3 main strategies proofed useful with many users:

(1) Raport, Raport, Raport

It is vital to establish raport in any interview in general, but it is more crucial with difficult users. The ice breaking activities up front should be specifically tailored to the users to establish a mutual understanding of the topic to be discussed. This is especially relevant when dealing with shy users, passive users, privacy-concerned users and users asked to talk about sensitive topics.

(2) Depersonalize the discussion

This helps users unconciousely revealing their values without necassily talking about themselves directly. This is especially relevant when dealing with shy users, conformist users, privacy-concerned users and users asked to talk about sensitive topics. The depersonalization process could take different forms from talking about a third person, to talking about imaginary cases or engaging in creative work such as stories or sketching.

(3) Co-guid the discussion

To eliminate the power sruggle, it is important to creat a balance in directing the discussion and allowing users to take the lead. This is common in participatory research and design and it could take many different forms such as working with incomplete stories or objects, and restructuring or reordering them. This is especially relevant when dealing with passive users, users coming from cultures where talking about personal views and values is uncommon practice, users who are unfamiliar with what it means to participate in a research, and users who constantly go off topic.


Why Should You Be Actively Looking for Problems?


what is a problem

A problem, put simple, is the gap between what is and what ought to be. This means that: (a) there is an unsatisfaction with ‘what is’, (b) there is a desire to achieve ‘ what ought to be’ and there is an obstacle (or difficulty) to make that move from (a) to (b). Thus, a solution is needed to overcome that obstacle.

Screen Shot 2018-08-01 at 13.28.39

 How do we identify problems?

Based on the definition above, we can say that a problem is identified when there is a realization that our current reality does not match our desired one. The bigger the difference between the two, the bigger the problem is. Meaning, the significance of the problem increases as the unsatisfaction of the current situiation and the desire for a different situation increase.

Identifying problems is a subjective reality

To some extent, it is our decision and our judgement to accept or reject the current reality, to decide whether it is satisfactory or not. It is in our dreams that we build desired reality, which is something also we have some control over.

Subjectivity creates a utopian world

Now that we realized our perception of problems is subjective, what would happen if we decided to control that perception and just accept our world and reality as is, no desire whatsoever to have an alternative world. That means when the concept of problems does not exist, we will live in a utopian world. But do we need a utopian world.

Do we need a utopian world?

The answer to this question is, again, subjective. It depends on whther or not we agree that we all have a desire to grow ourselves and others, a desire to change and experience the word from different angle, each is enhanced and built on the other. So to answer this question, I would say yes we need a utopian world as an end goal that drives us grow, but we do not really need to achieve it. That is because the more we grow, the more our perception of what is a utopian world will change and grow simultaneously. Much like chasing our own shadow ahead of us.  Therefore, a perfect happy utopian world, will never exist. Then, what is the point of acknowledging problems and tackling them in the first place?

why should we look for problems?

When you are actively look for problems -with a mindset to solve them- you are adopting the approach basedon which all the developments in our today’s world happened. That is, development and grow are concepts that can not exist if the concept if problem doesn’t. In that sense, the more you identify problems, in your own life or in the world, the more you are participating in the development process even before providing a solution. This is because in many cases solutions are provided to the wrong framing of problems.

How do we frame and  conceptualize problems?

I have referred elsewhere in the blog to a crucial habit and technique to learn about the world and to define a problem before thinking of all the possible ways of how to solve it. It is the use of the questioning technique which stems from deep curiosity and desire to understand something from different angles.

What other techniques can you think of?

If you have any techniques in mind please share by commenting below.

Is there such a thing as ‘culture’?



Hofstede defines culture as the collective programming of the mind. So, culture reflects the dominant and shared meanings and values that distinguish people of a specific group from others. However, it is important to acknowledge that culture is an abstract, complex and fluid concept. There are no defined boundries to what to include in or exclude from culture. Boundries could be geographical physical, relational, biolegical, functional, to name a few, but these are over lapped, layered and ever changing.

Despite all this complexity, culture is still an acknowledged concept in our every day conversation, and in academic work. This is simply because culure provide a lense to understand and interact with a large group of people (could be thousands or millions) all at once. 

A counter debate against culture argues that acknowledging the existance of cultures entials adopting essentialist sterotyping attitude towards individuals. In that sense, culture hinders understanding the specificity of individuals and the different sitiuations in time-space. 

I would argue that we could still acknwledge the concept of culture without being essentialist or adopting a ‘negative’ stereotyping attitude. First, because culture, just like individual personalities, does exisit as a group identity which is something we can realize (congnitively) experience (emotionally) every day in different places (in different cultures). As such, neglecting the existence of culture entails neglecting the group/collective identities which have been developed throughout the human history. Second, essentialsim entails a static and postive conceptualizing of culture, whereas culture is dynamic and fluid. Thus essentialism in and of itself is contrary to the notion of culture. Third, there is a negative conotation to stereotyoing as a concept linked to racisim and discrimination in different aspects. I see steretyping as a neutral attitude towards treating ‘individuals’ identities MERELY based on their ‘collective’ identity (=cultrue). This means, culture is not meant to be representing one individual but rather the collective group as a whole, whereas one member of this group would be different in some way from the collective.

To conclude, culture is a benefitial concept for our understanding of the world and the different realities around us. It is meant to represent collectives not individuals. Thus, when dealing with people from different cultures, we should not consider culture as the only factor explaining their identity but rather it is only one factor and in any case it is should not be taken from a static or postivist point of view.

How do you understand culture? How would you use that understanding?

Keeping your Passion for Design on Fire!


Losing passion is easy:

Losing your passion for something you truly love is not uncommon. Sometimes the more you work on things you are passionate about the more likely you will lose passion at some points during your journey. 

As a PhD student, this has been the case for me ever since I started my PhD. They usually say, if there is one thing that can keep you persistent in long journeys, such as a PhD, it would passion. I learnt this first hand yet realized passion can go up and down during your journey and thus you have to learn how to keep it on throughout the road. 

Another concern I have is that my PhD is in the field of Human Computer Interaction (HCI). It is a very exciting and a fast growing field. Which means no matter how much courses and experience you have in the field, you need to keep learning and updating your knowledge constantly. 

Thus, to work on both my knowledge and my passion, while doing my actual PhD work seemed like a double burden in the begining and it was rather scary. I had to work long hours, and read many scientific papers every day to improve quickly but I found myself burnt out. 

Life long learning is the key

At some point while looking for literature online, I came across Interaction Design Foundation (IDF). IDF has a rich database for articles in HCI many of which are written/ contributed by top experts in the field such as Don Norman, Clayton Christensen and Alan Dix. It has “the biggest and most authoritative library of open-source UX Design resources”. What I found fascinating about this library was the fact these article are meant to be educational unlike scientific paper that are meant to present specific projects and discuss their progress. This led me to believe that I need to assign part of my time to educational resources beyond scientific journals. Luckily, I found that this is exactly the mission of IDF, which is to provide rich and interactive resources for design education. This is manifested in the UX Courses IDF provides.

As such,  for the past two years now, I have allocated around one hour everyday to keep learning through these courses. This did not only help me widen my knowledge but it worked also as a reminder everyday of my passion for design which I realised the more I learn the more it grows. It has been a life changing step that I will always be grateful to. 


How can IDF courses help you as a designer?

1- Widening your knowledge base

IDF provides a wide range of courses covering different topics in design such as User Research, Usability, Gestalt Psychology, Visualisation, Design thinking, User Experience, Interaction Design and many more. As such this helps you learn in width, as opposed to what we commonly do in academia, learning in depth in particular topics. However, the courses are divided into three categories: beginner, intermediate and advanced level. This categorisation will help you also learn in depth starting from the beginner courses ending with the advanced ones. 

2- Active Learning

IDF courses use a mix of text, videos, photos, infographics, quizzes and writing-based tests. This variety makes learners engaged in an active process as opposed to passive reading or some other learning methods.

3- Acknowledged work

Since IDF is well known as a reliable educational resource, this can enhance your career opportunity when receiving certifcates of the courses you complete successfully. Here is an example of one of my certificates (: 

Screen Shot 2018-04-24 at 14.17.16

Finally, I would like to share three tips for how to stay focused while learning online

1- Associate learning with fun. For example if you work long hours on something, take a break by leaning something online. I found that this strategy made me feel excited every time  I log in to IDF as it has been associated in my brain with breaks, fun, rest and excitement.
2- Allocate time for online learning in your calendar. Don’t just keep it in your ‘may-be’ to do list. This will help your brain associate learning with important tasks to be checked every day.
3- Share your learning with others. Whether it is the network within the platform (such as IDF community) or your colleagues, friends, or your students if you happen to be a teacher, or even your followers on your blog or social media . I found that this strategy is very effective to provide a solid motivation to learn actively in order to be able to pass the knowledge to others.
For any questions about my personal experience and reflection on IDF or the field of HCI please do not hesitate to contact me. Happy learning!

A Most Religious State


Image: Wikimedia

According to Gallup Poll, Saudi Arabia is one of the most religious countries in the world (shown in dark red in the image above). This study also identifies a list of the top 11 religious countries. Surprisingly, Saudi Arabia did not make the list. This might be contributed to how the study was designed. It was based on the question: “Is religion an important part of your daily lif?”. Such a question has two fallacies; first, it investigates conciouse behavior and second it investigates individuals and not groups, regulated by religious cultures or states.

Subconcious Religious Behavior

The question in Gallup’s study investigates the number of individuals practicing religion, more likely in a conscious manner. Whereas it is possible that individuals subconsciously acount for their religious values in many aspects of their daily lives. Moreover, even those who discard their faith, are suceptable to holding religious values of their communities and past religious experiences if they had any. Author of “The Atheist Muslim“, explains how religion is infused within cultures and societal values and how it shapes people’s identity even after they lose their religious beliefs. As such, to measure how important religion is we need to consider these factors and not only concious behavior.

For the country of our concern here, Saudi Arabia, a suprising finding of another Gallup study states that atheists consitute 5% of Saudis. However, it is still possible that those individuals are experiencing the mixed identity as in “The Atheist Muslim“. This is particularly more likely to happen in highly religious states such as Saudi Arabia as clarified in the next section.



Religious Regulations

The question in Gallup’s study targetted individuals not states or regulations. For a country to be listed as a religous one, it is essential that both its  culture and governance system are based, fully or partially, on religious provisions. As such, if we were to investigate religious regulations, Saudi Arabia would certainly make the top ten list, if not the top five one.

The tribal system in Saudi Arabia is profoundly infused with religion. To the point that many of the common traditions now are under debate in terms of whether they are Islamic or just tribal traditions. As such, even for someone who is not particularly religious, they are expected to conform with their tribe’s traditions, which are mostly religious.

The governance system in Saudi Arabia derives its authority from Islamic (Sahria) law. According to the Saudi Basic Law of GovernanceIslamic provisions regulate, and are infused with, almost everything from eduacation, eonomy and judiciary, to media, national identity and social norms. In addition to being represnted in regulations, the Islamic identity of the state is represented in its mundane system such as public holidays, Hijri (Islamic) calendar and the expression of Islamic faith on the saudi flag. Consequently, these regulations made it certain that religion is entrenched in all aspects of Saudis’ lives.

Image: Pixbay. The Saudi flag holds the expression of faith “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of God”

Furthur more, in recent Saudi regulations, calling for atheist thought has become considered a terrorist offense:

“Calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based.”

This might be due to the recent increase of Saudi social media users who have announced their apostasy. However, it is notable that the article above specified “calling for atheist thought” as an act of violating public order especially when associated with “question[ing] the fundamentals of the Islamic religion”. Whereas, apostasy per se, declairing oneself as an atheist, or converting to another faith, are not directly addressed in this article nor in the articles of the Basic Law.


To measure to what extent a contex is religious we need to understand both concious and subconcious religious behavior. Also, we need to understand the role of cultural and legal regulations in enforcing religious values as these factors although crucial seemed to be easily overlookedin Gallup’s study.

Designer’s Take on This Context

  • Understand whether your users are conciousely or unconciousely religious, or not.
  • Understand what ‘religious’ values they would always hold regardless of how religious they consider themselves.
  • When designing for social change, it is crucial to align the new change with religious values and not against them.

The Research/Design Process

UX designers go iteratively through four main phases: Assess, design, build, and evaluate. For each phase, there are a handful of methods and techniques (design activities) to be undertaken, they can be generally categorized as drawing, sound, movement, writing, discussion and game-based activities. They can focus on different themes including identity, spaces and places, society and politics. Below I break down these phases and list some of the methods and techniques used in each phase.


Continue reading “The Research/Design Process”

Don’t look for answers. Ask questions!


A question is defined as a problem, a matter of debate or discussion, a subject or doubt, or a matter to be inquired into. At early stages of our lives, we instinctively learn to explore the world by asking questions. No wonder that, according to studies, a 4-years old kid might ask their mother 390 questions a day. As we grow up, this curiosity seems to decrease and we start exploring the world by looking for ready-made answers. 

Moreover, at schools, students are rewarded for memorizing answers whereas asking questions is not unrewarded, but even mostly it is not taught. Waren Berger associates this to political agendas:

 … and why schools don’t teach or encourage questioning—is that questions challenge authority and disrupt established structures, processes, and systems, forcing people to have to at least think about doing something differently…

Continue reading “Don’t look for answers. Ask questions!”

Methodology vs. methods, Philosophy vs. Paradigm, Tradition vs. approach


boy confused with lots of homework

Methodology and Methods

They might be used interchangeably, however, they each refer to different concepts. Although some PhD student might be immersed in the literature review in the beginning of their PhD to the point that they might postpone looking at methodology and methods to a later stage, however, it is crucial to define what methodology and methods to adopt in the research project as it could guide what literature to look at.

Continue reading “Methodology vs. methods, Philosophy vs. Paradigm, Tradition vs. approach”

Logic, Criticality, Criticism and Critique




As a part of being a researcher, I quite often come across the term ‘critical thinking’ and how crucial it is in many or even all sections of the research. Sometimes, this term is confused with other terms; namely logical thinking, criticism and critiques. Therefore in this post, I will attempt to find the difference between them Continue reading “Logic, Criticality, Criticism and Critique”