Venture Testing

Summary: I wrote these notes for my students at The School of Design to explain what I mean by ‘venture testing’. The ideas here are still in note form. This will be one of the school's modules. See Designing Tomorrow for context.


Designing (and building) products presents different challenges to typical studio-focused work. As studios move increasingly towards the creation of products, away from traditional client-facing work, the skills designers need to develop is having to evolve.

There’s a substantial overlap between the methods and mindsets designers need to develop and the methods and mindsets traditionally associated with startup founders. 2

I believe every designer would benefit from being part of a startup at some point in their lives (the sooner the better). There is huge potential at the intersection of startup thinking and design thinking and this module equips designers at The School of Design with the knowledge found at that intersection point.

The Venture Test Cycle

In a startup – where capital is frequently in short supply – you need to test your assumptions as quickly as possible, ideally spending as little money as possible. You start with an assumption based upon research and then you test that assumption to see if it bears fruit.

If your assumption bears fruit you probe further, if it proves wrong, you return to the drawing board.

The designer of tomorrow needs to understand this startup-focused mindset:

  • generate ideas; 1
  • test these ideas against research to establish a hypothesis;
  • test that hypothesis, pre-minimum viable product using a smoke test;
  • generate traffic and drive it towards a clearly defined landing page to test audience engagement;
  • measure signup;
  • develop post-signup research flows; and
  • test purchase patterns.

Before packaging up an idea as a smoke test and building a landing page, it’s important to undertake preliminary research.

Smoke Testing

A smoke test is a method to measure customer demand for the value proposition of a product +/ service before time and resources are invested into the creation of a minimum viable product (MVP).

With tools like Hackr, you can create a landing page with split testing and conversion tracking in minutes. At this point in the journey, investing resources in design is a luxury (and best avoided), off-the-shelf tools are more than adequate. 3

One of the benefits of building a landing page is the clarity it imposes on your thinking. Distilling your messaging down to a single page forces you to refine the message. You're looking for the essence.

Build a landing page for your product and design and build advertising assets (titles, straplines and imagery) so that you can drive traffic towards your landing page (Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, Google…).

Beating Traffic

If you’re unfamiliar with the world of grouse shooting, the idea of ‘beating’ might be new to you (it was to me). Here’s a description, lightly modified from the National Organisation of Beaters's definition:

…a beater flushes birds – pheasants or grouse – from cover, driving them in the direction of the guns.

In this peculiarly British metaphor, the birds are your customers and the guns are your landing pages. Just like a beater drives grouse towards their destiny, so too, you need to drive traffic – the right kind of traffic – towards your smoke tests.

Using Facebook’s dynamic creative you can test different creative assets in your adsets.

Dynamic creative takes multiple ad components – images, videos, titles, descriptions, CTAs (calls to action)… – and optimises them to create personalised creative variations for each person viewing your ad.

Not only is this efficient (happening automatically, behind the scenes), it also allows you to automatically build a variety of dynamically created ads, seeing which ones work and which ones don’t.

Facebook develops the creative algorithmically, refining what works best. You can use the lessons you learn with the dynamic creative adsets – learning what works and what doesn’t – to further refine the imagery and copy for your landing page. (Think of everything – landing pages, ad components – as part of an ongoing iterative process.)

Everything below is unfinished, because I'm working on the overall context. Check back later.

Post Signup

After a customer has given you an email address, there's an opportunity to undertake valuable research. The moments immediately following a prospect giving you their email address, they're receptive to research (engagement).

If we explore Superhuman's post-signup flow we can learn a great deal. An email client that advertises itself as, “the fastest email experience ever made,” Superhuman's post-signup flow is thoughtfully designed.

The moment you enter your email address and hit submit, you're taken to a Typeform survey. [I need to show images of this, or a deck.]

Typeform Survey

Name, Age, Background

What is your biggest struggle right now with being able to make a living from work you enjoy? (Sean Wes)

The Acid Test

The acid test: Will someone pay for this. This aspect of the cycle is optional.


  1. Clients’ ideas are best thought of as a starting point. With experience, you’ll be able to determine: which ones will work; which ones need work; and, in certain cases, which ones need no work, because the best bet is to walk away.

    On the latter note, by way of an example, I'm still at a loss for words that Quibi made it as far as it did. 

  2. Founders are learning machines: Iteratively improving themselves to return better results. 

  3. Tiago Forte’s note on full stack freelancing are also worth exploring. Forte:

    Full stack freelancers respond to technology as an opportunity, not a threat. They leverage software-as-a-service and online platforms to vertically integrate a ‘full stack’ of capabilities, instead of focusing on one narrow function.