Laddered interviews

Laddered interviewing is an iterative questioning technique used to explore cause and effect relationships. When interviewing a participant, an initial question, the participant’s response is then followed up with the question “Why?” for their next five consecutive answers.The aim of this continuous questioning strategy is to determine the underlying meaning or reasoning behind the subject’s initial behaviour, attitudes and beliefs. This method can be used in research and concept development stages to identify latent needs and associations. It is used most successfully in conjunction with participant interviews, narration or other cultural probes.

Contributor: Lizzie Bott, 2013

The Five Why’s technique was used during interviews for an IDEO health study, in order to understand the attitudes and behaviours of American women in relation to dieting and weight loss. “Why do you exercise? Why is it healthy? Why is that important? Why do you want to do that? Why are you trying to lose weight?” These questions assisted the designers in finding common themes in relation to how the participant's felt. ""I feel social pressure to look fit.” was the most recorded response.

Contributor: Lizzie Bott, 2013

Researcher: "how do you prepare for work in the morning?"
User: "I wake up, shower, make breakfast and have a coffee"
Researcher: "Why do you drink coffee?"
User: "Because without it I’m tired and struggle to get myself to work"
Researcher: "Why does being tired affect your ability to get to work?"
User: "When I’m tired, I have little motivation, and move and react slowly."
Researcher: "Why do you need motivation to get to work?"
User: "I enjoy my job, but find that I enjoy it less when I’m tired."

This interview led the researcher to a better understanding of the users thought processes and morning routine, and assisted the user to express themselves in ways they probably would not normally, without being prompted.

Contributor: Darby Bicheno, 2013

In Abeele and Zaman’s paper; Laddering the User Experience, they discuss ways in which traditional laddering techniques can be adapted to better suit UX research. They propose the idea of travelling ‘up and down’ the ladder in an interview. For example, asking why? in an interview is like travelling up a ladder, as you allow the participant to expand on details. Whereas, travelling down the ladder, is usually done by asking ‘what caused this?’ Prompting introverted reflection of the experience by the subject.

Laddering techniques can be used throughout a whole interview, or they can be understood and applied by the researcher where appropriate. During interviews, potential information is gleaned through asking the right questions in the right way.

Contributor: Darby Bicheno, 2013