In an effort to demystify the art of cooking, chef and writer Samin Nosrat wrote a book explaining that all great cooking can be boiled down to four essential ingredients: salt, fat, acid, and heat. Salt enhances flavor, fat amplifies it, acid brightens and balances, and heat determines the texture. And while it appears simple, what Nosrat has articulated serves as a viable, accessible, and essential framework that helps people organize their steps to make delicious meals.
If we were to boil the ocean of design thinking methods, tools, and systems (and Medium articles), what would remain? Is there such a thing as an essential design pillar, something that stands unshakeable and universally relevant when everything else is shaken off?
For interactive product design — whether you’re talking at the product strategy or feature level — I have found that this four-part framework serves as helpful scaffolding for an otherwise abstract exchange of thoughts, business needs, and ideas. I call it the ECHO framework.
Ethos The values and spirit we are trying to capture. Articulate the intended experience using emotional terms. Facebook is not just for profile management, it’s about feeling connected to the world and to your friends. A sales dashboard is not just about reading data points, it’s about being empowered to make smarter decisions for greater impact. You may need to define this after defining the other three parts.
Example: Start Your Day keeps you informed and in control of your daily tasks, so that you can keep uncluttered focus on high impact, creative work.
Context What is the pain point, the problem being solved, or the behavior you’re trying to change? Who are you designing for? In what ways does the existing solution fail to meet the ethos?
Example: Traveling consultants in Company A have many administrative tasks that are unorganized and hard to keep track of on the go. As a result, they often miss these tasks.
Hypothesis What is the proposed solution for that particular problem and how does it work? Be specific about how it addresses the proposed problem.
Example: This mobile application centralizes the company’s 4 most important administrative tasks (time reports, approvals, compliance training, meetings) and displays them to you in a feed, making them easy to track. Each task can be acted on within the application, saving you time.
Outcome What do you expect will happen as a result of this solution?
Example: Consultants will have greater awareness of the administrative tasks they need to complete, and will complete them at a higher rate.
I may be wrong, but I’m not confused. — Ben Casnocha
This framework does not guarantee innovation or success. What it does is take the abstract mental process of ideation and adds guardrails by helping teams trace their thought process and move toward a clearly defined goal. It serves as a way for teams to assess the coherency and rationality of design ideas so that everyone is aligned, decisions are clear, and no efforts are wasted.