The masochistic joy of testing

Much of what I do is design masochism.

Bashing the designs I think are good against hard reality is a festival of cognitive dissonance.

Just as no military plan survives first contact with the enemy, no design survives first contact with the user.

From the one-on-one heartache of usability testing to the statistically significant traumas of split testing, each and every failure shows us that reality doesn’t give a flying fuck about what we think should happen. Reality has its own ideas.

Every time we test our opinions against reality it’s a sucker punch in our gut instincts.

But over time, we can learn to roll with the punches.

Because although it hurts when our opinions are wrong, it’s profitable. When we’re surprised by the choices of our customers, then we’ve uncovered something we couldn’t have found in any other way.

“You make more money when you are wrong than when you are right.” — Andrew Anderson (@antfoodz)

The only question is how long we put off finding out where we’re wrong — how long we haemorrhage money because we’re clinging on to our precious opinions.

The opinions that are truly precious to our business are not the ones inside the building.

So don’t dawdle to challenge your organisational opinions and tear down your authoritative assumptions. Test to learn where you’re wrong, not to validate where you’re right.

“Continuous curiosity and the will to be proven wrong as fast as possible are just part of the job.”Erika Hall

Don’t expect it to be easy. @antfoodz points out: “the hardest discipline is to ignore your opinion.”

What’s more, Dan Ariely explains: “experiments require short-term losses for long-term gains. Companies (and people) are notoriously bad at making those trade-offs.”

But, as @TimHarford points out: “The choice isn’t between experiments and no experiments. It’s between useless experiments and useful ones.”

Too many companies are hamstrung by their opinions. They’re running the useless experiment of chucking assumption-based spaghetti against the wall. Some never even check back to see what sticks before they lob another floppy fistful.

Ignoring our opinions and running useful experiments are Hard Things To Do. But as a design masochist, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Bring on the cognitive dissonance.

Bring on the sucker punches.

Bring on the pain.