If you’re a product person you’ll know that user interviews are great, they give a substantial amount of qualitative insights that can be used as foundations for a product idea or to validate one. Not only it provides a lens through your target user group, it is also a great activity to involve and bring on board different parts of the business. User quotes can be a quite effective way to demonstrate and justify product decisions.

Recently I’ve been involved in a round of user interviews where I decided to take a little bit different, yet common approach, which is more hypothesis lead.

This idea is nothing new or radical it’s been around for a while, on the most basic level it’s going into a research activity with an already formed assumption that you might want to validate, and then learning from user responses and reactions to that assumption.

Including it in the digital product environment brings some interesting benefits and challenges. In my view, there are three main benefits: team buy-in, efficiency, space for bold changes. And a couple of challenges like designing upfront and bringing stakeholders on board.

To go a little bit more in detail on the benefits and challenges I will briefly discuss them below:

Benefits

Team buy-in, hypothesis led research allows you to collate all the different opinions from the team and put them to test. This way all members of the team get to be part of the research, feel involved in it, and be more receptive of the outcomes of research. It also validates or disapproves any opinions that the team may have, reducing the risk of unconscious bias towards one or the other idea.

Efficiency, this links to the benefit above, with hypothesis led approach you can really focus on delivering best user experience possible without any internal voices in the company cherry picking insights, it also involves team members throughout the process meaning less reporting and reviewing.

Space for bold changes, this slightly goes against an agile iterative approach, but going in with a hypothesis allows you to test bigger changes in a controlled environment. You might not naturally get to do this, with an iterative approach, which can be especially useful within the discovery stage of the design thinking process.

Challenges

Designing upfront, this approach usually will mean more design work to create different prototypes based on various assumptions. And as result discarding a lot of these designs in the process.

Bringing stakeholder on board, showing big bold changes can be discomforting to stakeholders and equally there’s a tendency for people, not familiar with the process, to think that the proposed designs are “final”. It’s important to emphasise, that it’s only an assumption that can be discarded and that the work attached to it will even out with more efficient research process.

Interview insights

In this round of user interviews, where I decided to take a more hypothesis driven approach, I also had the opportunity to conduct one of the interviews. It brought some interesting challenges and discoveries:

One of the key challenges was asking unbiased, non direct or leading questions. This can be really tricky as a product designer in a hypothesis led environment, as in the back of your mind you really want to prove or disapprove any assumptions. Thinking a few steps ahead helped with this, knowing where the conversation might go prevented me from guiding it in a specific direction.

Another, more general, challenge was the ability to control the pace and time. It comes with practice, but getting answers to all the question you have in mind without sounding like a robot and at the same time resolving any tangents can prove to be difficult. Again, thinking on your feet and changing the plan as you go along helps with this.

Personally, the most interesting discovery, out of this particular piece of research was when a user — shown exactly the same copy paragraph twice, just within a different colour background context, thought that the copy was completely different in each scenario. Even though there were more substantial and useful product discoveries during the research, this one proved again, that people don’t read, but scan. It also gave me a new found respect for UI/Visual design when it comes to UX.

In the end I would say that, hypothesis led research is something that I will try to keep doing forward, even though it can bring some challenges - it also brings some really great added benefits like team buy-in, efficiency and scope for bigger changes. I would definitely recommend trying this kind of an approach, especially if it’s during the discovery phase of the project.