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5 Why’s in User Research

Having a simple framework for understanding why a user does something or why a problem exists is critical to a good User Experience (UX).

That’s why the 5 whys has become a really popular framework.

Originally popularized by Toyota in the 1930s it has become a fundamental tool for designers and developers when trying to get to the root cause of a problem. And is a tool that every business and designer should be using as part of their user research.

In this post, we’re going to cover:

Continue reading and get everything that you need to get to be able to get to the bottom of what your users want.


 The 5 Whys’ origin

The 5 whys technique dates back to the 1930s. Sakichi Toyoda, the Japanese inventor, industrialist and founder of Toyota Industries developed this technique to delve into the underlying causes of problems and solve them. The method became increasingly popular in the 1970s and is still used within the Toyota company to this day.


When should you use a 5 whys analysis?

The 5 whys is a question-based technique so it is best suited to solve simple and moderate problems.

This technique offers the ability to sit and think about an issue without jumping straight into action-based solutions.

By sitting with the problem it stops you from:

There are a number of scenarios in which the 5 whys analysis can be applied within user research, some examples being:

So, before leaning towards a more serious troubleshooting technique, the 5 whys should be the first step to discovering a problem’s root cause thoroughly and confidently.


How to use the 5 whys analysis?


How to get started with the 5 whys analysis:

  1. Gather a team together

The first step is to gather a team together. If the problem allows, this should be a range of employees from a variety of departments. This is allows for more varied opinions and solutions to be put forward. These different points of view will offer you enough information to make an informed and clear solution.


  1. Go over the specific problem

Next, you should recap exactly what the problem is to all of the participants. This should refresh everyone’s mind about the base issue at hand. This could be laid out verbally or written on a shared document or whiteboard to encourage active participation.


  1. Begin the whys

Now is when the 5 whys come into play. One person should be appointed as the chairman to lead the discussion. Begin asking ‘why’ to each of the answers until you come to the conclusive root of the problem.


  1. Successfully solve the problem

After asking why to each of the answers you should have come to a conclusion. Then, you can make an informed range of actions to solve the issue permanently.


Problem: The site needs redesigning

First why: Why does your site need redesigning?

Answer: The branding feels old

Second why: Why does the branding feel old?

Answer: It doesn’t reflect who we are anymore

Third why: Why doesn’t it reflect your business anymore?

Answer: We’ve modernised our service and completely changed who we are targeting.

Fourth why: Why have you modernised your service?

Answer: Because more people don’t have time and want to do things more digitally. Because of this we’ve had to switch to a more digital by default position and improve everything from the knowledge base to doing a lot more via live chat.

Fifth why: Why has that changed who you are targeting?

Answer: Because they’ve become less regional and we are seeing more and more younger customers from around the country.

Root cause: Their service and their user base have completely changed

Solution: The new sites design has to:


From that example, you can see how you can start to gleam some of the key information to develop a proper brief for the problem.


Advantages of the 5 whys

We’ve gone through what it is and when to use it. But what are the advantages of using the 5 whys in user research?


 1. Simple to implement

Due to the 5 whys being a question-based technique, it requires very little to no pre-planning making it incredibly simple to implement into an everyday working environment. This is an advantage as it creates the opportunity to quickly and easily solve problems.


2. Encourages continuous improvement within a team

The 5 whys technique can be a great way to encourage continuous improvement within a team. By regularly asking why a user is doing something you’ll be constantly developing your knowledge of them. When that is fed back into the product it results in better design.


Limitations of the 5 whys


It is not supported by data

A limitation of the 5 whys technique could be that it is not supported by data. In a large group setting, the solutions to problems can be found through anecdotal opinions, meaning they are not supported by data or hard facts. Therefore, it is important to support any answers or solutions with some form of data to ensure the solution is well-rounded and appropriate.


Difficult to consolidate findings

Due to the unstructured format of the 5 whys technique, it can be difficult to derive an exact answer and consolidate findings. The subjective nature means that participants could answer the same ‘why’ question yet have different findings.


Limited by facilitator knowledge 

Because the 5 whys is a relatively informal technique, there is a limitation based on the participants. There is no outside research or external aid when it comes to solving the problem- so there is a limitation based on the facilitator and participants’ knowledge.



The 5 whys technique is an effective questioning tool that requires little to no pre-planning and delivers brilliant results. By simply using the 5 whys, you can discover simple solutions to problems quickly before resorting to more technical and complex methods.