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 the user experience.

Retrospective Probing is a probing technique that can be employed to gain customer feedback. It is a method, which follows usability testing, simulation, or other user testing methods to ask the participants their experience in hindsight. Basically, the users are first asked to use a prototype, product or service offering where the researcher can probe the user while using the system i.e. probe the users concurrently. 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. The researcher can choose to do both concurrent as well as retrospective probing to elicit a comprehensive feedback from the users. 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 a lesser flexibility
  • Not all experiences can be rated on a scale or can be categorized into black or white


Advantages of Retrospective Probing

01 Human-centered

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

02 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 to figure out how to increase acceptance of the product post-launch.

03 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

01 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.

02 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.

03 Participant bias

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

Think Design 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 user remembers about his user experience after the product/ service has been experienced already. It is important to remember that post-usage survey doesn’t qualify as a Retrospective Probing method since there is usually no actual probing involved in the survey. 

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