Three Ways to Challenge Assumptions
by Matt Fisher, UX Consultant

How do you challenge assumptions?

To assume makes an ASS out of You and Me states the wise adage. A user-centred upgrade of this could be; to assume makes an ASS out of Users and Me. Well-intended assumptions are easy traps to fall into as we manage stakeholder needs, others’ opinions, and cherry-picked data.

Assumptions placed upon users often lead to surprises when it comes to usability testing and user research. We assume that this user will interact with an interface in this intended way, our intended way. Yet users’ actions often surprise us.

Establish the True Facts

Neutral and unbiased qualitative user research establishes the true facts of a user journey. User researchers must provide a safe place in which to surface users’ natural responses and actions. Sit back, get out the way, and observe how a participant interacts with a product or service naturally.

How do we step aside from our assumptions?

So, how do you notice, accept and move past your assumptions? How can you gently question assumptions in your day to day? I see three key steps:

1. Seek it

Change begins with awareness. You must be alert to assumptions in our everyday. Notice when you and others around you are viewing the world through a periscope. Identify when you need to switch that periscope for a bird’s eye view. Listen for statements starting, ‘they won’t…, ‘they will…’, ‘we know…’ – you’ll likely find an assumption nearby.

Along with this awareness will come a desire to name the assumption.

2. Name it

With our assumption-scanning antenna live, we can name them. Write them down. Set them aside and come back to them later when you have more data. If you work with a research partner, openly share your list with them and invite a third party to consider them, free from your noise. Name them as assumptions that may be proved, disproved, or even disregarded when it comes to research and testing.

3. Challenge it

With your assumptions labelled, we are once removed and free to think differently. Gentle and open questions challenge us and those you work with to probe deeper and uncover unconsidered perspectives:

‘So what do we not know?’

‘How might this not be true?’

‘What have we not considered?’

Counter assumption with open questions and eyes-wide-open curiosity.

a signpost to 'Answers', 1km away

Trust the process

Identifying assumption requires a watchful eye and continual awareness. It requires humility as we cast aside our perspectives, expectations, and viewpoints in favour of walking into user research open-handed and with zero expectations. One thing you can be certain about within user research is to expect the unexpected.

Stop. Pause. Trust the process of user research to establish the true facts which provide strong foundations on which you can build.

UX Consultant Matt Fisher

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