Ben Holliday is an experienced designer, leader, writer and speaker. This is his blog (started in 2005). If you’re new to this site, Ben has published a playbook for design linking together many of his blog posts from the past 8 years of work in the pubic sector. You can get in touch or follow him on Twitter.


Hypotheses in user research and discovery

Back in 2015 I wrote ‘Everything is hypothesis-driven design’. It remains one of my most (and still frequently) read blog posts.

Something I’ve been thinking about more recently is how this translates to user research and ‘discovery’. 

A discovery should be focussed on research and learning.


The problem with over testing, experience, and intuition. Designing something is about making a choice. Right or wrong.

Thinking about how we use evidence in user-centred design

Working in a large government department like the Department for Work and Pensions has created a few challenges about how to bring together traditional types of evidence-driven decision making and a new focus on delivering digital by default services.

The weight of starting

Why I don't think you need more evidence before getting started. It's about a learning mindset.

We only notice what we notice

It’s May bank holiday in the United Kingdom. If you believe your television, everyone is decorating.

How things unfold

Once you paint one room, you recognise a greater need to paint the rest. You see all the imperfections in the next room. You obsess about things you hadn’t even noticed before.

What people want and what people need

I’m reading the book Why We Build by Rowan Moore at the moment.

This story jumped out as a great example of understanding what people need, not what people want.

An architect used to tell a story.

Invited by a couple to design an extension to their house, he dined with them, listened to their needs and desires, heard his and her versions of what they wanted.

The death and resurrection of the user persona, proto-persona, and more

I tell people to kill their personas because of my own experience of researching and designing them.

A question about user needs: Understanding the job

I was asked an interesting question this week about user needs. I answered by talking about ‘understanding the job’.

The question

How did Apple know that people needed an iPad? Could they see a latent need/problem or was it a response to a known need/problem?

Asking the right questions to frame the problem

This is something that many teams struggle with. These 5 questions will get you started.

Making user research deliberate

To be deliberate. Something that’s done consciously and intentionally.

Being deliberate is thinking about who the users of your service are, taking the time you need to understand what their needs are.

Being deliberate is having a plan about what you need to learn.

Discovery. We’re not scared

We’re going on a bear hunt. We’re going to catch a big one. What a beautiful day! We’re not scared.

We're going on a bear hunt

As children we have a great sense of adventure.

Pick up almost any children’s story book and you’ll find characters setting off on exciting adventures. I’ve read ‘We’re going on a bear hunt’ many times with my young kids.


Here’s a thought. We talk a lot about “putting users at the heart of out thinking”. More than this, we need to find ways to put more heart into our thinking. We need empathy.

Empathy is a difficult concept to get hold of. Here’s the best way I’ve found to explain it.

UXPA – The State of UX

Last Thursday (19th April) I took part in a UXPA event about the state of User Experience (UX). I was joined on a panel by others representing different areas of industry – private business (Michael Lock – Experian), public Agency (Daniel Harris – Fjord) and Startup (Anna Dahlström – byflock).

It seemed to test okay

I’m making the case that the most dangerous phrase in a design process is “it seemed to test okay”.

If it didn’t solve a problem than why it is there? If it doesn’t help people get something done – the thing the product is intended for – then it could just be getting in the way.

Speaking roundup

Last month I spoke at UX Riga in Latvia. You can watch the film of my talk online – Delivering User Experience for Government Services. The slides are here.

This talk included new material and examples from recent work with the Department for Work and Pensions.

Getting closer to context and extremes in product design

I drive a 2007 Citreon Picasso. It’s a functional car that suits my family.

When the clocks change I never reset the time on the dashboard in British summertime. This is because I can’t work out the dashboard controls. I’ve tried a few times but given up.

Big trucks and user research

Why user research needs to start by looking for the most significant problems. Are we even building the right thing?

The last 12 months

12 months is a long time, but a year later I’m wondering where the time has gone.

Last September I left FreeAgent – a company I really enjoyed working for. I was there 2 years, did a crazy commute and learnt a lot about researching, designing, and building great products.