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Challenging Assumptions in UX Design: How a User-Centered Approach Can Lead to Innovation

In this story, I want to explore the importance of challenging assumptions in User Experience (UX) design and how we can get different and surprisingly better results doing that. This topic is vital to anyone, not just leaders in UX, but fundamentally to good leadership.

Illustration by Eddie Song on Dribbble

Let’s start with some facts; research studies tell us that users with positive experiences using a product are likelier to 1) continue using it and 2) recommend it to others. That’s one of the reasons why having a good UX is essential to guarantee success. The sad part is we all know that creating a good experience takes time, and because time costs money, teams often like to work based on assumptions.

Assumptions in UX Design

I classify assumptions as any beliefs or ideas taken for granted without testing or validation, and often they are made about users’ needs, behavior, or preferences. For example, a designer may assume that users prefer a particular color scheme or always read the instructions before using a product; these assumptions could be based on the designer’s personal preferences, past experiences, or industry standards, but they do not represent users’ preferences.

Challenging Assumptions in UX Design

Disclaimer: Wrong assumptions will lead you to poor design decisions that will negatively impact the user experience of your products.

The Art of Assumption Making

Challenging assumptions is pretty simple, but it can be hard to achieve. First, you must uncover your users’ goals and motivations instead of assuming what you think they are. In product strategy, you do that through observation and inquiry; making assumptions and not questioning them is poison to innovation and continued growth.

This inquiry for finding out the goals and motivations is more complicated than asking them, “What do you want? What’s your goal?” and this is why creating a good UX requires cross-functional teams working together using a user-centered approach, gathering insights about your users, typically through research methods such as contextual inquiry, interviews, surveys, usability testing, etc.

“User research puts people to the center of attention where they’ve always belonged.” — Randolph Duke II

Transforming Results through Challenging Assumptions

When cross-functional teams use a user-centered approach, they will bring innovation to the table by creating intuitive products that meet users’ needs, and the outcomes will be:

  1. Improved user satisfaction
  2. Improved customer satisfaction
  3. Reduced development costs
  4. Increased revenue
  5. Reduced churn
  6. Improved product development
  7. More efficient design and development
  8. Increased trust and credibility

… and at the end of the day, my friends, this is all about increased revenue;

Look how the following two examples transformed their industries:

  1. Airbnb created a platform allowing travelers to rent out their homes to travelers, disrupting the traditional hotel industry and creating a new way for people to travel and experience new places. They broke the assumption that travelers always want to stay in hotels;
  2. Apple, before iPhone, phones were primarily used for calling and texting. Then, apple introduced a powerful tool combining one MP3 Player, Internet Communicator, and Phone on the same device, including features like touchscreens, mobile apps, and mobile internet browsing. As a result, they transformed how people use phones and created a new mobile app and service market;


In conclusion, this “You are not the user” quote, one of the most famous UX quotes, should be your mantra; it tells us — literally — you are not the user, so you cannot think like them or assume that you know the users’ goals and motivations, and this is critical to making products that your customers really want to use.

Always have in mind this question:

“If we do a fantastic job delivering this product (or service or feature), how will we improve someone’s life?”Jared Spool

And you will only know the best answer if you take a user-centered approach by challenging your assumptions; cross-functional teams can create intuitive, easy-to-use products and meet their users’ needs if they conduct user research, and at the end of the this is the best way to lead to transformative results and create new opportunities for innovation and growth.

Thanks for reading! This post was published originally on Medium.

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