Designing with Assumptions

We have all been there before, we need to start the design phase, but we don’t have enough research done. How can a team design solutions around their assumptions & gaps? Our team devised a way to start design in parallel with research.

With the first month of our Capstone project drawing to a close, the team needs to start preparing for our upcoming design phase. The problem is we haven’t gathered enough data to build a valid use case or hone in on a specific market vertical to begin designing with. We are still largely working with assumptions on who are customers are, what their needs are, and a valid market fit for the tech. This situation isn’t unique to our project, as designers we often find ourselves with limited time and budgets for research. We aren’t always equipped with all the information we need before starting ideation & designing.

My team and I devised a way for us to flexibly move forward, allowing room for our designs to be impacted by new information in addition to leveraging the visual design phase in our research.

Define goals & identify knowledge gaps upfront

To be able to start a design sprint with an incomplete research/discovery phase, you need to first create a structured research plan. When did that a few weeks ago, we clearly identified our knowledge gaps and the goals of our research.

Being conscious of what our team didn’t know and how it was going to impact our research and design moving forward was key in setting us up for success.

Team Zensor’s research and discovery phase was going to:

  1. Identify a market vertical for Zensors
  2. Understand user needs
  3. Identify possible use cases
  4. Construct a nascent list of features & improvements to tech

You can see we defined our gaps in knowledge to be along market validation and features, and in turn structured our research to help us fill in the unknowns. The interviews and landscape research we are conducting helps us to quickly fill in the gaps and collect the insights we need for the design phase.

Acknowledging assumptions and creating flexible designs

For a design and research phase to work in parallel it is crucial that designing is built to be flexible enough to incorporate new insights that are emerging through the parallel research phase.

Running design in parallel with generative research means building upon a foundation of assumptions — starting with the least risky and then building towards riskier ones.

To do that, we identified a way to not only keep track of assumptions and decisions, but also a way to adjust when new information became available.

Besides keeping the project moving forward, our team was also eager to get feedback from clients about the direction of the project. With more engaged clients, we plan to incorporate their feedback throughout the design process. Starting an early, flexible design phase should facilitate the most effective client interaction.

Identifying features and dependencies

After developing a plan that would set us up to successfully run a design and research phase in parallel we began ideating features. We used our initial market research to identify features we knew would be needed to develop a viable product. This list of features will act as a starting place for future evaluative research and design.

We worked to identify features and grouped them into categories

The next crucial step in our initial design phase was identifying which of these features we could build independent of future research, or in other words, what we could build with higher confidence it would be relevant regardless of market. This left us with a set of features that were agnostic to both market vertical and user type. Currently, this is the space in which we have began our initial design phase and hope to validate our assumptions through visual design artifacts.

Next Step

Moving forward, we’ll continue to flesh out these features and begin validation of our assumptions using speed dating methods. As we start to collect more data about our potential users we will assess our design work against specific market needs and use cases. Next week, we’ll cover the artifacts we’ll create to give more form to these concepts and how we plan to validate our work so far.

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