How to make enormous design decisions fast

Written By

Cam McGeough

Photography By

Aaron Ellard

User testing collects thousands of insights that distill how your audience really wants to use your product.

Big-picture entrepreneurial endeavours have unavoidable financial risk— BUT there is a process, borrowed from software development, that can help “idea-people” mitigate this risk.

What if there was a shortcut between idea creation & product launch, without needing to invest big $$$ upfront? What if you could test the success of an idea, before even seeking investment? Big-picture entrepreneurial endeavours have unavoidable financial risk— BUT there is a process, borrowed from software development, that can help “idea-people” mitigate this risk.  Enter Design Thinking & User Testing. Each are processes that encourage ideating and testing assumptions directly with target markets before investing thousands (millions?) into development. 

It’s easy to fall into the pattern of doing things as they have always been done, but the top-down traditional model for opportunity recognition no longer works. Design Thinking is the solution to this broken model for addressing market needs. With design thinking, you take a human-centric approach to understanding the end user of any product (...or business plan, or mobile app, or checkout flow, or package design, or feasibility analysis…) and challenge predominant assumptions by empathizing with target market needs. By redefining problems from an empathetic perspective with your audience, Design Thinking identifies alternative strategies and solutions that have a greater positive impact on the market. In turn, this approach to needs-analysis yields much greater results— by giving the people what they really want. 

Here’s how design thinking works:

1. Define your market

Any successful big idea should start with thorough market research. The information gathered during the market research phase will help identify opportunities and risks within the marketplace and guide your investment decisions. In order to find out what they want, you need to define they. Who qualifies as an “audience”? A common question is whether to use broad categories (like “athletes”) or segments (like “first-time homebuyer families with children under 5yo”). Generally, the more specific the better. Demographic qualifiers are a good starting point, but we need to go deeper. What are their psychographic profiles, their interests, and everyday purchasing behaviour? Create an ideal customer profile (ICP). The more specifically you can define your market, the better you can understand their needs. 

2.  Research

So, you’re wearing your warm tweed empathy sweater, and you have an acutely defined market, now what? The next step is to research the needs of your future customer in order to discover the unseen opportunities. Survey’s are good, interviews are great, focus groups are better. However you approach the research phase, make sure you are speaking directly to your customer— and really listen to what they have to say. What are their grievances with the current product, market, industry, etc.? What would their ideal solution look like? What’s missing from their current spectrum of products and services? What values of brands are most important? The list of insights are endless, and a detailed map of needs analysis will begin to form.

3. Iterate

Once you have a deep understanding of audience needs, it’s time to iterate solutions. There are many approaches to this creative process, but ultimately you will want to collect a team for brainstorming. No wrong answers, dream big. How do we solve our customers problems? What experiences, features, and/or problems within a product/service category have gone unrecognized by your competition? Make a long list of great (and not so great) ideas, then, as a team, prioritize those ideas based on proximity to addressing real needs, and feasibility. 

For this process, we use an adapted workflow methodology called a Design Sprint. From our combined 30 years experience design thinking, we have found the Design Sprint to be the most effective method for encouraging creative ideas, and landing on big decisions quickly, and with confidence. Learn more about the design sprint here.  

4. Prototype

The best way to test your assumptions is to put them into context, then present them to a sample size of your target market for direct 1-to-1 feedback. This “context” is called a prototype. A prototype is a facade of the position or experience you have brainstormed in the iteration phase. In most cases, you can design a fake website or a landing page that describes the proposed ideas, and its features & benefits. Though this “website” looks real, it is in fact a hollow shell, just a static design that looks real enough to get an authentic response from a potential user in the testing phase.

5. Test

Next, we user test. User Testing helps us make informed decisions and better understand customer needs and desires. We aim to provide clarity around brand decisions and gather insights on how to take the strongest next steps. Testing helps us build confidence in ideas, and identify important issues before investing in the further development. The best possible means for collecting feedback? ask your market directly.

Through a common 1-to-1 focus group, you can directly test your market position, proposed products/services, pricing strategy, brand decisions, website & UX design, Call to Action (CTA) strategy, lead funnel optimization, and marketing creative. You will receive (bluntly) honest and insightful feedback on all major market decisions in real-time, before spending a dollar on development. 

Design thinking and user testing give entrepreneurs the opportunity to gauge feasibility before approaching big investment, but also allows them to assess how well a new venture will genuinely solve the needs of a specific market.

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