Retrospective Probing

Retrospective probing is a probing technique that can be employed to gain Customer/ User feedback. It is a method, which follows Usability testing, Simulation, or other User testing methods to ask the participants their experience in hindsight. The researcher may also choose to just observe the user, so that the natural flow of the user’s thoughts and actions do not get altered and then the researcher chooses to probe the user immediately after they have used a system i.e. probe the user in retrospect.

Quick details: Retrospective Probing

Structure: Semi-structured, Structured

Preparation: Research Topic, Participant recruitment, Recording tools

Deliverables: Recordings, Transcripts, Notes

More about Retrospective Probing

User Feedback plays a very important role in improving the User Experience of a product or service. Without data about user behavior or experience either through observation, a questionnaire or probing, one can never know whether the product fulfills user needs or whether it must be altered to improve user experience.

Retrospective probing is employed to gain an understanding of those elements of the product that have a great positive impact in the user’s minds as well as those aspects or issues that affected the User’s Experience negatively.

Retrospective probing is usually conducted with one participant at a time and in conjunction with other user centered methods. The probing can be either open or closed.

Open Open retrospective probing allows for participant-driven discoveries and makes way for qualitative responses, limiting any preconceived barriers by the designer.
  • The users can freely express their thoughts about the prototype or product they test.
  • Chances of identifying criticalities are higher.
  • If managed well, can limit researcher bias from getting introduced.
Different participants may give different responses or perceptions which can add complexity when consolidating findings.
ClosedA closed retrospection format assumes that the researcher knows the research project well enough to employ a yes or no or a rating scale to record user responses.
  • The data gathered can be analyzed to determine a pattern and draw a conclusion based on this pattern.
  • A novice researcher can also conduct this probing as the questions on which the user is probed are pre-defined.
  • The users have lesser flexibility.
  • Not all experiences can be rated on a scale or can be categorized into black or white.


Advantages of Retrospective probing

1. Human centered

This method focuses on understanding the user needs and making improvements so that they get addressed.

2. Feedback based

Retrospective probing is used to get user feedback.  If the user group recruited for research is comprised of potential customers, this method can help figuring out how to increase acceptance of the product post launch.

3. Consolidated findings

The responses based on the usage of a system can be consolidated to give a bigger picture of things that matter to the users the most and the ones that frustrate them hampering their experience using it.


Disadvantages of Retrospective probing

1. Time consuming

The method is time-consuming, as it requires probing individual participants at a time. Unless a survey is employed to collect data, but in this case the participants cannot be probed to understand why they responded to something specifically.

2. User experience in hindsight

Not all participants would be great at recalling the peaks and troughs in their experience using a product after the session.

3. Participant bias

Participants that had a great or bad experience may be either too happy or too unhappy to share their opinion after the session. This to lead to adding a significant bias in the feedback.

Think Design's recommendation

Retrospective Probing is to be used when our intention is to assess the quality of experience. Fundamentally, it is used when we want to know what the users remember about their experience after the product/ service has been experienced already. In this context, do not use Retrospective probing if you want to observe how the user is using the product/ service (shadowing or concurrent probing) or if you need to understand the context of usage while also probing the user (contextual inquiry or concurrent probing).

It is important to remember that post-usage survey doesn’t qualify as a Retrospective Probing method since there is usually no active probing involved in the survey.

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