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Hypotheses: the design nursery

Hannes D’Hulster

As good designers we all know that everything starts with understanding our users. But sometimes we are already having discussions with clients, drawing things and checking out competitors.
In some cases we’re still in the process of convincing our clients just how important it is to interview users in this field of work. Even more common are the moments that we’re in full development; new questions arise and there is no way we can answer them fundamentally before launch.

Design discussions can be messy

Design disussions can be messy

This is where hypotheses come to live. They mark the beginning of your design process by containing a starting point for the problem that we’re going to solve. It describes what you think is going on and shows you the way for fixing it. At the same time it recognizes the uncertainty within this statement and you have to promise to research it one day.

This gives us the opportunity to keep inventing the new while the research is still limited.

Change the life path

There is a business logic behind all this: flexibility.
As a Saas company you want to be on top of your game: faster than the competition, better support, more fitting feature set and an increasing monthly revenue.

By redefining your market insights as hypotheses, you make sure you keep your eyes open for trends in the market for your target audiences. If you want to respond to these changes, you need to be able to shift priorities and create value fast. But that is not the only force within your business.

You also need a solid vision to work from because:

  • Your current customers need clear answers when they chat with support
  • Your decision makers (and engineers) need to make decisions
  • Your team need consistent prioritisation of work

Writing down your current knowledge and world view in hypotheses provides steadiness but keeps things flexible.

This way of working is inherent in the scientific method where thought experiments are used as the basis for innovation, even before all of it can be proven. If we combine this with the insights from The Lean Start-up, Eric Riess’ bestseller, we have a tool that defines the ‘what’ within the build, measure, learn cycle. What are we testing? What are we trying to understand?

Hypotheses support your design to be constantly challenged and so constantly grow.

Nursing is hard, just as parenting

Nursing is hard, just as parenting

Do parents know best?

One of the counter arguments for doing research, besides the cost, is the knowledge our clients have from their market and usage. Sometimes, they will be a future user of the solution we’re designing.

This knowledge, as paternal advice, is very important for the understanding of the market and the creation of the hypothesis. Interviewing or testing our design with more users brings unfiltered nuance into the understanding of the needs and effectiveness of the designs. The parents’ vision is blurred with good advice and protection measures. It is biased on the prettiness of their own conceptions.

No, you don’t have to start your research from scratch on every project but be very aware of this founder bias.

Lifelong nurturing

Doing research is about reducing risks — you can choose to take that risk but it does not mean that you are sure about things. By always writing your knowledge in the form of a hypothesis, you will be triggered to measure and test.

Hypotheses are great for testing, settling a discussion and using it as a starting point. It combines flexibility of uncertainty and a solid reliable structure of decisions.

Be aware that bias easily sneaks into the discussions that you have about what is important. The best way to figure that out is to ask your users. Different hypotheses can have different ways of testing. For example, finding out if a navigation is clearly understood will be tested differently than discovering how to segment your users. That is a whole new story which will come out soon!

If you need help with setting up the right design and product culture, or you have a complex problem that needs solving, Smooth Sailing will save your soul!

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