The Importance of Validating Assumptions


In the early days of my career, I was quite fascinated with Flash. I wanted to be a cartoonist growing up so naturally, I was drawn to this tool that allowed me to create some pretty powerful animations. Over time, I learned it extensively, until it eventually became my expertise. I’ve built several full-Flash websites, some of which were for independent films, since Flash seemed to be the standard in the film industry.

While the sites I built continued to impress my peers, there was one problem: very few people found them to be useful. I noticed that if people wanted to learn more about a movie’s cast, they’d visit IMDB; if they wanted to watch its trailer, they’d head over to YouTube. With Flash, learning more about the movie required you to go through a preloader, a splash page, a flying menu, and a bunch of unnecessary bells and whistles. The slick animations were cool to watch at first, but it gets old and repetitive quite fast. A part of me asked, “Why?”, but the other part of me thinks that because a film’s website is an extension of the film itself, that this is justified. I mean, shouldn’t a horror movie’s website autoplay ghostly sounds in the background to capture the audience’s attention? In some way, through this website, they need be able to experience the movie before they decide to go see it. The industry’s big names are doing it, so why should I take a different route? Well, I couldn’t be any more wrong.

Over the course of my career, I have learned how important it is to pay attention to your users. Recently, at Automattic, I participated in our research to further understand Small Business Owners. We had a chance to speak with them, learn more about them, their goals and frustrations. Some of them are still in the early stages of trying to validate a business idea, some are working on their businesses on the side while holding a 9-5 job, others have been able to grow their businesses to the point that it has become their main source of income.

I have learned that people think differently than myself, that people do things differently. It’s easy to assume that users will try to accomplish certain tasks the same way we would, but this leads to ineffective design. We are not our users. We spend a lot of time and effort on our designs, but our users just want to get things done quickly using the very little time that they have.


By Jan Cavan Boulas

Jan is a designer and illustrator whose work has been featured in several publications online and offline. When not trying to help make the Web a better place, she can be found taking off on an impulse adventure, experimenting in the kitchen, or playing badminton.