The Eureka Effect in UX

published8 months ago
2 min read

Dear Reader,

Today I want to tell you the story of Archimedes, possibly the greatest scientist of the classical age.

According to the story, a newly-elected general commissioned a gold crown for the temple.

But after the goldsmith made the crown, rumors circulated that it wasn't pure gold but diluted with cheap silver.

So the general ordered Archimedes to figure out if his crown was pure gold...without damaging the crown in any way.

The task stumped brilliant Archimedes.

He tried everything, but he couldn't find the answer.

If the goldsmith was a thief, he was a smart one because the crown weighed the right amount.

One day, while bathing in a tub, Archimedes had an epiphany.

As he lowered himself into the tub, water seeped out at the same volume as his body.

He realized that he could test the crown with a similar amount of gold to see if the goldsmith stole gold for himself.

If it was part silver as the king suspected, it would displace more water because silver has more volume than gold for the same weight.

He he ran into the night completely naked, screaming, “Eureka!” (I have it!)

The Eureka Effect in UX

What allowed Archimedes to make that discovery?

Inspiration may seem easy when you have it, but when you need it, it's never there.

If you've ever been stuck on a design problem, you know the feeling that Archimedes had before the tub.

How do you work through a UX problem when you can't see the answer?

The breakthrough is called the "eureka effect" or "Aha! moment."

It's a moment where everything shifts into place and immediately makes sense. It's an instantaneous connection of lots of data to form new meaning.

In UX, we have a name for that jolt.

It's called a user insight.

And once you have one, there's no going back.

It's a paradigm-shifting discovery, and it can change your entire organization if you know how to harness the power.

A framework for understanding insights

“I saw this” + “I know this” = insight

It's a very useful way to understand insights.

Let's use it to look at Archimedes' tub example:

I see that an equal volume of water is displaced when I get in the tub
(I saw this)

+ I know that silver has more volume than gold per weight
(I know this)

= "Eureka! I could put the original amount of gold in a tub and test it against the general's crown"

This formula is a 1 + 1 = 3 relationship because insights are more than the sum of their parts.

What you saw + know = something completely new.

Insight example in UX

You can use this in UX research as well. Let's take the common occurrence of an abandoned shopping cart in this new formula.

37% of users abandon their shopping carts
(I saw this)

+ I’ve never seen that happen in real life
(I know this)

= There must be something seriously wrong with the checkout flow

This equation format helps you understand insights but isn’t compelling as a final format for sharing insights.

So how should you write a user insight?

How to write better user insights

There's not much out there to help you format your insights. There aren't many examples, either.

Everyone talks about presenting insights, but nobody talks about how to actually write an insight.

So I wrote a complete guide:

It comes with a handy template you can use to get started or even use with your team to get everyone on the same page about user insights.

I hope you find it useful!

Jeff Humble
Designer & Co-Founder
The Fountain Institute

P.S. We've got some FREE events coming up in February...

The Fountain Institute

The Fountain Institute is an independent online school that teaches advanced UX & product skills.

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