Understanding design exploration

Most people believe that they shouldn't change their first answer when taking a multiple-choice test. Always trust your gut feeling, they say. In 2000, Justin Kruger and Derrick Wirtz, psychologists from the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign designed a study to prove whether the strategy of always trusting the first answer is a false belief.

Kruger and Wirtz examined the introductory psychology course exams of 1,561 University of Illinois students. They recorded the number of times students changed answers by checking for eraser marks. 51% of the changes were from wrong to right, only 25% were from right to wrong, and 23% were from wrong to wrong. Even beyond their predictions. They estimated a 33% change from wrong to right.

Here’s what we can learn as designers.

Like students taking exams, designers make some decisions – such as, which UI component can answer the best solution – how should I group information and structure the visual hierarchy? The difference is in the design there is no definite answer, even though there are theories and principles that designers can follow. Decision-making is not an easy job for designers.

It is totally okay if you have doubts. Through doubts, you rethink your idea. You challenge your thinking before others see loopholes in it. It all takes effort. Krugers says, “even the test-takers already warned sticking with one’s first instinct is an ill-advised strategy, however, they may be reluctant to switch as often as they should.”

Without understanding the underlying of your ideas and just making a lot of alternatives would lead to indecisiveness. It gets even worse when you rely on others’ judgments who don't spend as much time as you do.

Exploration is not only about the number of alternatives but also the quality of your thoughts. It's about you being aware of how you think - how you observe your ideas and challenge them by asking to yourself

  • Where did you get that idea? Why do you think that is?
  • Do I have enough evidence to support my idea?
  • Is there any better solution? In terms of efficiency, effectiveness, or delivering more value.
  • What do you think X person might say about your idea?
  • Who do you think benefits from that viewpoint, and who might be harmed by it, if anyone?

Having alternative designs is a consequence of you observing your thoughts. It's not an act based on your instincts or just looking at references.