Significance before validation

With the widespread adoption of Agile/Lean UX methods in software design, there’s been a steady, ceaseless drumbeat for “validation” of design outputs. It’s laudable and useful, although there is some nuance lost in this specific term, which I have previously discussed. Validation is important, no question, to help ensure creation of something of value for a credible, viable market of customers (i.e., not just for you).

However, before running “out of the building” to validate a prototype that may be “the winner”, your team must first assess the perceived & actual significance of what is being offered. By “significance” I mean the meaning and consequence of the proposed product, service, or system. Let’s break this apart…

Where does meaning come from? Philosophies and theories abound. Fundamentally, meaning is contextual & interpretive, arising from vectors of contact, or relationships, as described below:

** Person to person: How does the offering enable a positive sociable relationship, creation and projection of identity and trust?

** Person to environment: How does the offering support the physical surroundings and context for activities in a safe, responsible, positive manner, and/or contribute to attitudes promoting a healthy progressive environment?

** Person to object: How does the offering support the accumulation of things, possessions, artifacts, etc. that form the tangible personal layer of meaning found in their owned and used artifacts. What makes this possession personal meaningful?

** Person to culture/spirit: How does your offering enable participation and resonance with a set of ideals held by a collective of people (community, tribe, team, etc.) as well as at an individual level of aspiration and achievement? (related to Maslow’s hierarchy)


Not all these relationships are always applicable in creating meaning for every product or service offering. Yet, based upon these possible relationships (or any combinations thereof) you should ascertain what’s the significance of what you’re proposing to create and sell in terms of people, place, community, objects, and even cultural/spiritual values.

Also you must consider what’s the consequence of your service or product. This refers to the ever-expanding ripple effects in terms of production, distribution, materials, usage patterns, and disposal or renewal after the consumption. Also this refers to social and personal behaviors: etiquette, health, diet, communication, respect and tolerance, trust and privacy, etc.  Is it responsible and humane and life enhancing? Yes, it’s unabashedly “green” “social” and “ecological”, relating to critical concerns for “the greater good” in a positive & profitable manner, as espoused by Paul Hawken (Natural Capitalism), William McDonough (Cradle to Cradle) and even Victor Papanek (Design for the Real World). Value creation should minimize any possible negative consequence, with clear foresight of ways to address them in a fair, responsible manner, not simply an afterthought slapped on.

Please note–this isn’t it some academic theory! Instead, it’s at the very heart of creation that matters, beyond mere “snake oil” profiteering. How is what you’re creating moving human progress forward, offering distinct meaning in one or more ways? How are the consequences of what you’re making leaving behind a positive footprint for others to follow? It’s not easy but working through this helps simultaneously a) broaden your window of problem framing and b) winnow down an appropriate solution set before soliciting customer feedback prematurely.

Ultimately, it is your team’s responsibility to define what’s truly significant, requiring deep thought & analysis, before plopping it in front of users for mere validation.

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