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Design hypotheses can power boost your product and help you to create features that your users actually want. Here's how to get started

Design hypotheses can power boost your product and help you to create features that your users actually want. Here’s how to get started

Innovation is a key factor when it comes to growth. If you don’t innovate and keep up with the times, you’ll end up in yesterday’s news.

Companies strive to innovate to stay relevant but many are unable to do so. That’s why in the last decade we’ve waved goodbye to companies like Blockbuster and Yahoo! while other companies like IBM, Ford and Airbnb have reinvented themselves.

But how can companies innovate? Is there a tried and tested method available to them? Yes. There is. They’re called design hypotheses. They are assumptions that get put to the test and built upon.

In this article, Justinmind will highlight how design hypothesis drive innovation, provide you the structure to write your own statement and ways to put your statement to the test.


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What is a design hypothesis?

A design hypothesis is a supposition or an attempt at explaining something relating to your product with little to no evidence.

It is a starting point before you go on to investigate further to understand whether or not your hypothesis was right or wrong. You can call it a hunch if you like.

Let’s imagine that you call a meeting to tell your team about a hunch that you have. Your hunch is that users respond better to red call to action buttons and if your change yours from blue to red, conversions will rise.

This is a hypothesis because you have no idea whether or not your customers will respond in that way. At this point, you’re guessing. You need to dig a little deeper, through various research methods, to uncover whether or not your customers will respond better to a red call to action button and therefore convert more frequently.

At the heart of good design are design hypotheses. Practitioners of UX design have to put their hunches to the test constantly in order to innovate. By understanding what works and what doesn’t work, you can get a successful product to market faster. And this relies on hypotheses.

design-hypothesis-venn-diagram

Image credit: Furthermore UX

Why use design hypotheses?

To continue our previous example. Let’s say that you go ahead and change that call to action from blue to red anyway, based on your hunch. No testing. Your hunch is all you’re going on.

Then a month or two down the line you start to notice that your conversions are dropping. Oh no! What’s going on? How can this be? At this point, that one little design change you didn’t think made such a big deal and have kind of forgotten about is losing you money.

The point here is hypothesis help us to understand which of our assumptions were right and which were wrong. We find this out by validating them through a series of tests and eventually, based on the results, we can make good decisions about our product.

Lean UX makes big use of hypotheses in its approach to software development. In Lean UX, you validate early and often. If there’s one thing Lean UX loves, it’s being validated. If you have an idea, validate it. If you have a new design, validate it. If you make a minor tweak to your product, validate it. Soon you’ll be dreaming about validation.

Now you might be thinking: gosh, where’s all the fun? Validating my designs? How boring! I’m an artist! Lean UX is the kind of system that doesn’t give two hoots about your beautiful design. It cares about getting usable products to market quickly that people like. You find out what people like by creating hypotheses.

Lean UX will tell you to re-do your gorgeous typography, perfect composition and user flow if it isn’t validated by your users. This is where some designers might scream in fear at the faintest whisper of Lean UX.

As Laura Klein brilliantly put it in UX for Lean Startups when she says:

“You’re running a business, not a museum. The most gorgeous visual design in the world isn’t worth what you’re paying your design if it doesn’t improve conversion.”

How do design hypotheses drive innovation?

OK, so how does creating assumptions and hunches drive innovation? Well, firstly, hypotheses give you the opportunity to be creative.

Creativity

You think of an idea and you put that idea to the test by letting your users tell you whether or not they like it. This sort of process will help you refine your idea generating prowess. By generating and developing your own assumptions, you’re being creative.

Failure

Fear of failure is what can stifle creativity. Worrying about whether or not a design tweak will work or not can damage your creative thinking.

To remedy this, Lean allows for failure. One of the principles of Lean is the permission to fail. When we’re not scared of failing then our creative thinking has no limitations. Seth Godin once wrote that the person who fails the most wins.

More design leads and by extension design approaches should embrace failure. UX designer Steve McGarvey agrees: “I’m a UX Designer. I love to fail. Failure to me is a goal. As counterproductive as that may seem, there are very good reasons for it. Chief among them are: I fail so you won’t have to.”

In their book Lean UX, Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden talk about failure, too:

“Creativity, in turn, yields innovative solutions. When teams don’t fear for their jobs if they get something wrong, they’re more apt to take risks. Frequent failures lead to increased mastery of skills.”

Continual optimization

Embrace failure and learn from it. Create wild hypothesis and test them. Test them again. And keep going.  That’s how you really innovate.

Prioritizing your design hypothesis

Structuring your hypotheses are important. It’s one thing to have a hunch, it’s another thing to have a hunch that you can test.

It’s crucial that your design hypotheses are testable. If you can’t test and validate properly then you won’t be able to innovate and learn.  

Not all hypothesis will have the same merit. Some hypothesis will be right on the money and precisely what your users are begging for. Other times, your hypothesis should go directly into the trash.

You can use something like a prioritization matrix, sometimes referred to as the Eisenhower Box, which can guide you so you don’t fall off track when it comes to understanding which assumptions to pursue.

priority-matrix-example

Image credit: James Clear

By analyzing which assumptions are high risk or low risk, you can begin to prioritize which assumptions to put to the test. Some will make sense, some won’t.

Just because some assumptions don’t make the cut doesn’t mean they’re bad. Pop them in a backlog and come back to them another time.

Building your own design hypothesis statement

There’s a simple template that you can follow when structuring your hypothesis. It usually goes a little like this:

We believe [this statement is true].

We will know we’re [right/wrong] when we see the following feedback from the market:

[qualitative feedback] and/or [quantitative feedback] and/or [key performance indicator change].

If we think back to the call to action buttons from earlier then our statement might look a little like this:

We believe that red call to action buttons will boost our conversions.

We will know we’re right when we see the following feedback from the market:

An increase in conversions with a red call to action button on our product page.

It’s that simple. What you do next is find out whether or not your hypothesis is any good by putting it to the test.

Testing your hypothesis with experimentation

Ideally, for your design hypotheses manageable, you should start small. What we mean by that is incremental and not revolutionary. You don’t want to scare your customers.

If you believe you need an entirely new website design, it’s best to start with smaller elements of a redesign than the whole thing.

What are some of the ways you can test your hypotheses? There are many qualitative and quantitative methods out there which can help you test your hypothesis:

  • A/B testing
  • Prototyping and wireframing
  • User testing
  • Demos and previews
  • Surveys and questionnaires
  • Blogging about what you’re doing
  • Use websites like Reddit or Quora
  • Google Ads
  • Crowdfunding

You don’t have to do all of those. Some methods will be more suitable than others for what you’re trying to do.

If you’re building a new feature, asking users in one of the many subreddits could help you gain valuable feedback. Likewise, A/B testing can help you make a decision over two different UI elements. It all depends on what exactly your hypothesis is.

Conclusion

Creating hypotheses and testing them is a fundamental approach to learning more about your product and how your customers interact with it.

Incremental changes over time bring big wins and creating your own hypotheses can help you achieve those results without all the unnecessary risk.

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Steven is the web editor at Justinmind

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