• Transform magazine
  • July 18, 2024


How to confidently validate a new idea


Greg Calacouris, strategy lead at Work & Co, explains why starting with a hypothesis to test with research can get you to a great product faster.

When research gets proposed, I often see a mentality that it’s to do the due diligence of hearing the voice of the customer. That mindset typically assumes research must be done first and your customers must tell you what they want, but it often misses a huge opportunity.

At Work & Co, when we are briefed on a new website or app, our design and development team work together to rapidly create working prototypes. Putting trust in our team’s expertise fosters the creativity needed to come up with transformational experiences. Just as being memorable is important when advertising, having a distinctive website or app experience is critical to stand out in a competitive market. Working prototypes help our team form clear hypotheses about why our idea will work to test with customers. Finding out that your customers likely would or wouldn’t use your product gives you far more velocity to turn an idea into reality than a list of customer insights. Working backwards, by starting with an idea and then validating it with research, unlocks a different type of learning.

Bold concepts feel scary - even risky - because they’re new. But that’s where the right research approach can set you up for success. When you have an idea you’re excited about, test it with customers. This lets you prove whether your hypothesis is right or wrong, reducing a lot of risk further down the road. When I’ve tested ideas with clients, they’ve ranged from putting a website prototype in front of customers, to launching a simple A/B test, or even designing a mock sign-up page and measuring how many people actually clicked on it.

When exploring a new app for a financial service company, we had a hypothesis that customers would be interested in seeing other relevant content - such as reward points, special offers, recommendations, and more - alongside their financial account information. We knew if we asked customers directly we’d never know if what they told us was actually how they would react. So we designed a prototype of the app and showed it to customers. We learned very quickly that whatever customers saw needed to be both relevant to their personal financial situation and actionable. That gave us the confidence and guidelines to evolve our app concept and continue designing the rest of the app.

When you’re coming up with an idea - whether that’s for a website, app, or something else - start by thinking what are the things you are assuming or hoping are true. This will typically be your hypothesis. It might be that customers are interested in a new type of product or service, they will understand how to use a new tool, or the new design will resolve an existing problem customers have told us about. Simply asking “does this work?” doesn’t get to the core hypothesis of your idea. An approach I’ve found helpful is asking: if we’re wrong about this, the idea will fail. That’s typically a good indicator of what you should be validating with research or user testing.

Once you have a hypothesis, think about what the simplest version of your idea can be to validate. For example, if you’re testing whether customers can find products on your eCommerce website, you can do that without even creating a prototype; create a tree test study to see if people understand how to use your website’s navigation. If you want to know if customers would subscribe to a new service, create a sign-up form to see how many people are interested. Whatever the approach, this helps your team be focussed, or pivot to a new direction.

As new technologies continue to become mainstream, such as AI chatbots, there’s more possibilities to explore entirely new digital experiences. A space with a lot of ambiguity and opportunity is ripe for testing a bold hypothesis with research to confidently take an idea and make it a real product.