Gut Instincts

Much is said about education, experience and domain knowledge when discussing the potential quality of a design.  If the designer has the right degrees, a solid cross-section of experience and deep industry knowledge the assumption is that the design will be great. There’s a fourth component though: gut.

What is gut? It’s talent, emotion, intuition, a feeling, a belief that a design direction is the right one to go in. It can’t be quantified and it can’t be rationalized and this scares us designers. It makes us perceive gut as the black sheep of design tactics.

“Why did you put the form fields in this order and then place the button left-aligned?”

“What makes this flow better than the one we currently have on our site?”

To a certain extent you can answer these questions (and others like them) with quantified insights gleaned from proper research, your experience and the domain expertise that comes from working in a particular industry. At a certain point though, these rationalizations run out leaving some skeptics in the room and you, the designer, with only one answer left — it was a gut decision.

We fear defending our work with this tactic because it’s “fuzzy” and nebulous. In a sense we’re asking our clients to trust us at this point. And I say, that’s ok. You are being hired because you possess these gut instincts. Because, in the past, they’ve propelled your designs to success and because they are an innate part of your design process.

Embrace your gut instincts. Be proud that you have this tool at your disposal and use it to defend your work. Let confidence in your design drive the public outing of your gut instincts. Ultimately, you will build trust and confidence in your work that quantifiable tactics could never earn.


About Jeff Gothelf

Jeff Gothelf is a lean thinking and design evangelist, spreading the gospel of great team collaboration, product innovation and evidence-based decision making. Jeff is an author, speaker and thought leader on the future of product development and design, often teaching workshops or giving talks on building cultures that support teamwork and innovation. Jeff co-founded Neo Innovation, a lean/agile product firm in NYC. Prior to that, he led the UX design teams at TheLadders and Web Trends. Earlier he worked with and led small teams of software designers at AOL. He is the co-author (with Josh Seiden) of Lean UX: Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience and the upcoming (Harvard, 2016) Sense and Respond (
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  • ztephm

    Wish clients thought like this! Sometimes your gut feeling IS backed by scientific facts about perception…never thought I'd mention Rudolf Arnheim outside of design school but he explains it:

  • Lis Hubert

    Great minds indeed! Awesome post Jeff.