As designers, we’re often sizing up the designs of the products we use. We can’t help up but form initial gut feelings on what we consider the good and bad points of an experience. This is our design intuition kicking in.
This intuition is forged over time by things like our formal training, professional experience, our design eye and of course, our experience using other products. And, when it comes to solving challenges for the products we work on, our intuition can help guide us in decision-making. Trying to design without relying, in part, on our well-formed intuition would be like trying to navigate the woods without a compass. We may eventually find our way but it would certainly take much longer.
Intuition is great but it is not infallible. When it comes to designing for real people, we need to look beyond our subjective opinions. One way to get beyond this is to think about our design hunches — those initial intuition-based guesses about the best ways to solve a problem — as hypotheses.
But why do this? Firstly, it allows us to give more structure to our early thoughts and when leveraged with research and/or analytics, it can make our ideas more informed. This handy piece of documentation is also a way for our proposed solutions to be more understandable and compelling to others on our team.
So now that we know more about the whys, let’s take a closer look at the design hypothesis method.
The anatomy of a design hypothesis
Here’s a lightweight and flexible framework to form your own hypotheses. It’ll allow you to bring clarity and structure to your ideas without losing too much time in paperwork.
A. The problem
Person/people might statement of problem because proposed explanation
B. The evidence
We believe this because your evidence found
C. The solution & outcome
Therefore, proposed solution might outcome of this solution
D. The metrics
We’ll know this is true when X metric changes
A design hypothesis gives you a clear way to lay down the problem, your evidence and how you intend to solve the problem. Defining your metrics at this stage allows you to know what success will look like for this project.
So, how might we…use this
Imagine this: you’re a product designer working on a service with a checkout experience. Based on analytics, you know there’s a sharp drop in the checkout journey before many users complete purchase.
You have some initial thoughts about why. Your hunch is the checkout process doesn’t promote a feeling of trust and security and the UX is more complex than it needs to be. However, at this stage these are just your best guesses.
Here’s where the design hypothesis comes in:
Shoppers might drop out at the payment details stage because it doesn’t actively promote trust and has a visually cluttered design.
We believe this because analytics data shows a 70% drop off at payment stage.
Therefore, adding in reassurance elements and a cleaner design might promote a sense of trustworthiness and ease of use, making shoppers more likely to complete checkout.
We’ll know this is true when purchase rate improves.
Signed, sealed, delivered. What happens next?
Like all great experiments, a hypothesis is a launching point to investigate further. A design hypothesis gives you something to refer back to during all phases of a design project: from analysis, to research, through to prototyping and beyond. Here are some example next steps:
- Exploratory research — run usability tests to dig deeper into how real customers fare with the current problem/experience. This helps build a more robust picture of the customer problem
- Get prototyping — based on the proposed solution, create prototypes to test with usability participants, so that you can gain feedback on your designs before they’re implemented
- A/B testing — Use the hypothesis to create multiple design iterations that can be A/B tested on the team. The metric will give an indication on whether the changes are successful
These are just a few routes that we may take to get closer to a great solution that keeps the user in focus. As designers, so much of our work means being explorers — digging out the underlying cause of problems and working out how best to solve them.
The last word
Creating a hypothesis provides a valuable piece of documentation that can be referred back to during the design process.
And, for those of us who need to champion our ideas or gain buy-in, this method gives transparency into what we’re working on and why, which is often valued by stakeholders and/or team members.
Try writing a hypothesis for your next project and using it as a way to inform your steps throughout the design phase.
Finally. Here’s a parting gift:
Grab a PDF version of the framework on my site to save and use.