Design is only a hypothesis

A genius of the Renaissance reminds us why we should always test and improve our designs.

“Art is never finished, only abandoned.”

Leonardo da Vinci

Now I’m not saying that we are Renaissance geniuses. I’m not even saying we are artists. But isn’t it telling that the biggest artistic genius of all acknowledges that perfection can never be achieved?

When it comes to design, however, sometimes there’s an expectation that, as design experts, we should get everything right first time. And maybe we should. With all the facts on the table, a clear brief, great insight into the audience, and a talented design team who are armed to the teeth with design theory and cutting-edge tools, we should hit the bullseye first try.

But the truth is, even with all that, design is often slightly off the bullseye. Occasionally it’s not even on the board. Should we be surprised by this? Not if we acknowledge that design is only ever a hypothesis rather than a definitive answer.

The initial design is just the first step to getting it right

A design is a hypothesis. It’s the designer’s best guess, based on the information and resources they had available to them at the time. But it’s unlikely that they really had all the information, as there are so many variables to consider (from the known unknowns right through to unknown unknowns).

Many other factors can steer a design’s course: feedback from clients and colleagues, time and budgetary pressures and so on. So when your design is finally ‘done’, it’s unlikely that it will be 100 percent perfect.

This is why testing, refining and iterating design is so important.

Don’t stop until it’s good enough

If a design is a hypothesis, then, by definition, it is the ‘starting point for further investigation’ rather than the finished article. It needs to be tested and improved until it performs as well as it possibly can in meeting its objectives. Is it communicating what it should be? Is it allowing users to achieve their goals effectively? Test the hypothesis and find out, adjust the design, test again, and keep repeating until you are meeting diminishing returns.

Is this all starting to sound more like science than creativity? Well, in many ways, design is the marriage of science and creativity, which brings us back to Leonardo (of Da Vinci fame).

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