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Assumptions Are The Enemy of Desirable Design


Bringing a new or redesigned product to market is time-intensive, expensive, and demanding of many resources. Although it is tempting to find ways to save time, money, and resources during this process, the most expensive mistake you can make is to get to the end of this process only to discover that your product doesn't satisfy your customer or worst yet, you delivered the wrong solution altogether.


But how is this possible? How could months of well-intentioned effort by a whole team of people yield a misaligned product? The answer lies in assumptions. More specifically, assumptions in place of research.


assumption (n.) - a thing that is accepted as true or as certain to happen, without proof.

The key part of this definition is "without proof."


Much to our dismay, there are no guarantees in product development. My colleague, Ben Purrenhage, points out, "The only insurance we have is the confidence we gain from research and testing." Unlike assumptions which are not backed by evidence, research and testing provides us with proof that our solutions are both valuable and valid. Assumptions feel risky (because they are) whereas insights and validation build our confidence- the closest thing we have to a guarantee.


So, what does the proper process look like? Before kicking off design efforts, we must engage in design research. Here at Knack, we call this the "Discovery Phase." During the Discovery Phase, it is our mission to gain a deep understanding of the true design problem through the perspective of your user and then test all of our potential solutions. The opposite of this approach is to form an idea or hunch from your own perspective and then proceed into development without insight and validation from your user.


Let's look at a hypothetical example:


If we were asked to redesign a youth skateboard to be more desirable to girls, we might assume that the board should incorporate the color pink. With a limited budget and a quickly approaching deadline, it is tempting to skip over the Discovery Phase and jump straight into redesigning this skateboard, making sure to color the end product pink. Our assumption would seem to be common sense after all. Girls love pink!


The problem with this assumption is that "girls love pink" is an idea that stems from our own perspective and not from our specific user's point of view. If we resist environment pressures and instead, acknowledge our assumptions, we can push them aside and enter into the Discovery Phase with an open mind. We would need to put ourselves in these young girls' shoes to genuinely understand their needs and wants.


We might begin our research by hanging out at a busy skate park to observe how young girls behave in this environment. What we could notice is that the young girls might be visibly intimidated, clinging to the outskirts of the park, sometimes silent. We might observe that after timidly watching the older kids (most of which are boys) aggressively skate all around them, the girls wait for a calm opening to step onto their board and attempt to blend into the sea of skaters. Then interviewing the girls might possibly lead to remarks such as, "Everyone is better than me and they all stare at me because I'm a beginner." "I'm the only girl here and all of the boys make me nervous." and "I wish I could practice somewhere alone until I was good enough to not embarrass myself in front of all of these guys."


Through user research, what we might discover is that these girls don't want attention, moreover they could want badly to blend in with the boys. This observation would need to be tested, but delivering a pink skateboard could potentially be greatly misaligned with what the girls actually desire.



Design can be deceiving because it is possible to produce a beautiful, well-functioning product without design research. On the surface, the product may look victorious, but because it has been developed upon a bed of assumptions, the product's actual success is a big gamble. Until the product gets into the hands of its user, the likelihood of its success is unknown. If the stars align and the product proves profitable, this winning outcome is extremely difficult to replicate. Instead, we seek comfort in a dependable process with repeatable results.


When it comes to the success of your new or redesigned product, there are a number of variables that are out of your control. Understanding your user isn't one of them.


The formula is quite simple:

The fewer the number of assumptions, the higher the probability of your product's success.

In a world filled with an enormous amount of environmental pressures (not enough time, not enough money, limited resources) we urge you to defend the Discovery Phase in order to replace your assumptions with insights gained from research and validation gained from testing. These findings will serve as your ROI insurance, giving you confidence that your product will be truly desired by your customer.