What are your design truths?

Users scroll.

The three click rule is dead.

The logo means “Home”.

…and the list goes on.


Whether you’ve uncovered nuggets of design insight from user research or experienced them firsthand, you probably have a handful of similar statements that you cherish as design truths.  And, the more you work, the longer the list grows.  On every project you encounter, you base some decision on something from this list.  It’s an important list and for many of us, it comes to represent the users we design for.

But, if we think objectively about the list, we realize it is merely a collection of snapshots gathered over time.  And like a photograph, each one was true once upon a time.  While old prints do us the favor of discoloring over time, our list is different.  It somehow stays forever young and is renewed each time we use it.  It is eternal until proven otherwise.

Yet, we know that change is constant.  User tastes, behaviors and expectations are constantly in flux.  Data captured today can become irrelevant tomorrow.  We can’t mistake the persona for the person.

The challenge, if you accept it, is to keep your list in sync with reality.  How do you do it?  Through user research.  It’s where the truths about users are born, realigned, or stricken from the record.  Unfortunately, many times user research feels like a luxury we can’t afford.  Not every project has the time or budget to accomodate it.  But, what if we think of user research not as a project luxury but a designer’s necessity?

Today, make user research part of your job.  Take responsibility for finding out your own truths about user behavior instead of relying on dedicated research projects.  Here’s how to get started:

  1. List your design truths.  Don’t worry if they are few.  
  2. Add your design assumptions.  You do have some.  Things like “People are used to seeing ‘Back’ buttons at the top left corner” or “If we follow the Apple design guidelines, we’re golden.”  Ah, the list is growing now, isn’t it?
  3. Now, title the list “Design Truths?”.  Next to each item, write down “Date validated __/__/____”.  Design theories are like milk.  If they get too old, you have to check to see if they are still good.
  4. Keep your list in your back pocket.  The next time you talk to a user, conduct a formal test or even have a design discussion, pull it out and see if you can validate any of them.  When you do, fill in the date.  If it doesn’t pan out, cross it off your list.

The goal is to keep a list that is always fresh and has verified value.  The next time you pull it out to work on a project, you’ll have confidence not only in your decision, but that you are in touch with the users it is based on.  You have your list of design truths.



Comments are closed here.