Asking the Right Questions


This is one of the most important things I’ve learnt from an experiment that took 2 years of my life. I was the sole developer on my game, and I had to think about what made my game better. At first, I started with the wrong questions. What if I made the icon into the shape of a lightening bolt? Where can I go to learn how to make good looking 3D models? Which software is the best for developing games? 

Slowly, I began to realize my error. I was not getting to the root cause of things. I had to ask the right questions, and these questions would lead me down better, more thought provoking rabbit holes. I started asking more why questions. Why do I even need an icon? Why do I need music? Why do I need to build an AI system? Why am I making this game?

This new set of questions forced me to take account of the bigger picture. These questions allowed me to find my way through hard problems. For example- ‘Why do I need an icon’ made me realize that it would be foolish to obsess over the look of an icon if I was unclear about the information I wanted it to disseminate. So it wouldn’t matter if my icon were blue, green or rather eye catching if it did not do the thing it was intended for. Another great thing about these ‘why’ questions is their affordance of answers to ‘how’ questions. I started getting my why questions right, and for every root cause I could now ask ‘How do I resolve the problem now that I understand the reason for its existence’, which gave me not one, but many alternatives. This learning is powerful- applying it to everything I did, I realized that there was hardly anything that could not be possible to accomplish. 

Another great thing about asking ‘why’ questions is that they help form a good use case scenario. “Why do I need an icon” could be answered through “Because I need my player to be able to control the most crucial action”. This makes one realize that this icon is an important element of the game and thus needs to be displayed prominently on the screen at a place that is accessible by the user. This helps cover meaningful test cases, helping create  a robust product. 

A good place to get started thinking about meaningful questions on design is Don Norman’s famous book- The Design of Everyday Things. He suggests exercises that promote thinking about objects we deal with in our day-to-day lives. If turned into a practice, this sort of a thinking can become second nature and help us create better products.