How to Leverage Design Thinking in Web Experimentation

This article is aimed at A/B testing strategists.

In the dynamic world of Web Experimentation, marketing teams often find themselves deeply immersed in data analytics. This deep dive into quantitative data is undoubtedly valuable, revealing the 'what' of user actions. But here's the rub: it only tells half the story. While these metrics show us 'what' users are doing, they fall short when it comes to uncovering the crucial 'why' behind these actions. Relying solely on this data can lead us down a path of biased problem statements, hypotheses, and even solutions, as we bring our own assumptions which leads to failing to capture the full essence of the user experience.

What happens if we shift our focus to a user-centred approach in web experimentation? Such a change means placing greater emphasis on understanding, empathising with and meeting the needs of our users. This approach can lead to better user experiences, which are crucial for achieving business goals. The key question is how to effectively integrate this user-focused perspective into Web Experimentation practices? This is where Design Thinking comes into play, providing a path to guide us through this transition.

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What Is Design Thinking?

Design Thinking is a problem-solving approach that is widely used in various fields, including business, engineering, and design. This innovative method focuses on human-centred strategies and a mindset geared towards creative solutions. It involves a non-linear, iterative process that enables teams to deeply understand users, challenge pre-existing assumptions, redefine problems and develop novel solutions through prototyping and testing.

Often associated with product design and innovation, this approach extends beyond as a versatile mindset applicable to various aspects of business and life. Design Thinking relies on small multidisciplinary teams of around six people. Bringing together such a diverse group to address challenges with this methodology ensures a rich mix of backgrounds and perspectives, fostering the ability to look at problems from multiple angles.

The Five Stages of Design Thinking

Design Thinking is structured into five distinct stages: Empathise, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test. This process is not necessarily linear; it often involves iteration and going through the stages several times as insights are gained, and solutions refined. Each stage plays a critical role in ensuring that the final product not only solves the right problems but also provides a seamless and engaging user experience. Let's explore each of these stages in detail to understand how they together form a powerful approach to Web Experimentation.

  1. Empathise: The first stage, Empathise, involves understanding the users' needs, desires, and objectives. This stage is crucial in gaining insight into user behaviours, preferences, and challenges. Methods such as user interviews, surveys, and observation are key in this phase. Empathy allows designers to step into the users' shoes, leading to more effective and tailored web solutions.
  2. Define: The Define phase is where the insights from the Empathise stage are translated into a clear problem statement. This is crucial for aligning the team's focus and objectives. By clearly defining the problem, web teams can develop strategies that specifically address the user's core needs, rather than making assumptions or following trends.
  3. Ideate: Ideation is the brainstorming phase where creativity is unleashed. Teams generate a wide range of ideas and solutions, challenging preconceptions and exploring new possibilities. Techniques such as mind mapping, sketching, and brainstorming sessions are common. The aim here is to foster innovative thinking that goes beyond conventional solutions.
  4. Prototype: Prototyping is about turning ideas into tangible solutions. This stage involves creating mock-ups or models of the proposed web designs. Prototypes can range from simple sketches to interactive digital mock-ups. The key is to create a representation that can be tested and iterated upon.
  5. Test: Testing is where the prototype is evaluated. This phase involves user testing to gather feedback and insights. It's an iterative process, where the design is refined based on real user experiences. Testing ensures that the final web design is not only aesthetically pleasing, but also functional and user-friendly.

In summary, the five stages of Design Thinking – Empathise, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test – form a comprehensive framework that guides the development of user-centred solutions. By thoroughly understanding and applying each of these stages, you can create more effective, intuitive, and engaging experiences for your users. Now, as we move from the theoretical part of Design Thinking to the practical application, let's explore how these principles can be specifically leveraged in Web Experimentation.

Applying Design Thinking Principles to Web Experimentation

Imagine integrating the principles of Design Thinking seamlessly into your Web Experimentation journey. It's not a far-fetched idea – in fact, you're already almost there. Both Design Thinking and Web Experimentation follow a fundamental cyclical process. Understanding the five steps of Conversion-Rate-Optimisation (CRO) – Research and Analysis, Hypothesis Generation, Ideation, Testing, and Review and Implementation – allows for a seamless integration of Design Thinking. This approach not only aligns with Web Experimentation cycle, but also enhances it with a human-centred focus. 

Here are some tips to get you started with a Design Thinking mindset.

  1. Step into Your Users' Shoes: Empathy is not a buzzword, it is your secret weapon. When applied in the Research and Analysis phase of your Web Experimentation journey, empathy enables your experimentation team to deeply understand user needs and behaviours. Some ways to cultivate this is to hold an empathy workshop with your team to create user personas, observe and interact in online communities, or conduct user interviews. By doing so, you ensure that your Web Experimentation efforts are genuinely user-centric.
  2. Challenge Your Assumptions: During the hypothesis generation phase in Web Experimentation, assumptions can be a double-edged sword. Therefore, it is essential to question and revise your hypothesis. Put on your Design Thinking hat and ask yourself: are your hypotheses truly based on a mix of quantitative and qualitative insights? Are you addressing a user's pain point or wish?
  3. Foster Collaborative Innovation: Your Web Experimentation team is a goldmine of diverse perspectives – tap into it. Bring together your developers, designers, and other key members for a brainstorming session. The focus of the brainstorming session with your multi-disciplinary team could be to create user personas, to generate hypotheses or to brainstorm new ideas.
  4. Schedule Ideation Sessions: Innovation in Web Experimentation comes from creative problem solving. Therefore, you should organise regular ideation sessions employing various techniques, such as mind mapping or sketching to foster creativity. The synergy of different viewpoints in these sessions can lead to groundbreaking ideas that could revolutionise your Web Experimentation efforts. During ideation, it is important to focus on brainstorming one hypothesis at a time. This focus will help you to generate as many ideas as possible for a given challenge.
  5. Embrace Rapid Digital or Analog Prototyping: Rapid prototyping is a vital component of Design Thinking. In the Ideation phase of Web Experimentation, take the opportunity to extend your toolkit beyond digital tools like Miro and Figma and include analog methods such as pen and paper or building blocks like Legos. These hands-on techniques can ignite unique creative insights, adding depth and a new dimension to your Web Experimentation process.
  6. Expand Your Testing to Include Both the 'What' and the 'Why': A key advantage of Web Experimentation lies in its ability to facilitate A/B testing of new ideas directly within a live environment. Such a testing methodology accelerates the gathering of insights by allowing you to quickly identify behavioural differences between the original setup and the modified variation.

To deepen your understanding and enhance the value of your learnings, consider integrating user interviews into your testing process. This will provide valuable insights into the reasons behind specific user behaviours observed in the variations. By doing so, you will not only observe what changes occur, but also gain a deeper understanding of why they happen, thereby increasing the effectiveness of your Web Experimentation strategies.

Conclusion

Integrating Design Thinking into your Web Experimentation process is more than just a step forward; it's a smart strategy for success. This approach centres on innovation and user needs, transforming the way you handle challenges and achieve results. Embrace this journey with an open mind. As you do, you'll see the tangible impact of human-centred design on your methods and outcomes in Web Experimentation. It's not just about immediate gains, but about evolving your practices in a way that consistently delivers better experiences and solutions.

Marinell Falcón

Marinell Falcón is Consultant at Up Reply, specialising in personalisation and experimentation. With a deep expertise in Design Thinking and Content Strategy, she is transforming digital experiences for clients to drive engagement and growth. For the blog, Marinell will share insights on Design Thinking strategies and hands-on execution tactics.

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