Assumption Mapping


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Gianmarco Ramos - increasing civility in young people growing up with less real world communication

Olivia Greco - financial literacy about student loans and debt

Luigi Piccolo - interactive experiences to learn more about obscure sports

Duration: 2 weeks
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Project Brief

As students begin thesis explorations, they consciously or unconsciously make many assumptions about their area of exploration. This exercise creates a map to identify and categorize assumptions, and then select those most critical to test early. Each student is instructed to:

  • Read background material on why humans make assumptions
  • Practice identifying hidden assumptions
  • Write your subject in the middle and branch out with assumptions from there, further branching out where possible with sub-assumptions you can identify. It helps to write them on an erasable board or with movable stickies and pin to a wall. 
  • As you do this exercise, you will likely discover a lot more assumptions than you thought you had. After you braindump them all out, arrange your assumptions into groups - for example, are some about human behavior, some about some aspect of the problem space, some about technology? 

Since you can't test every assumption at once, consider which to test first with a Prioritization Matrix. The higher the risk and the more is unknown, the higher the priority to test those assumptions. To gauge risk, ask "How bad would it be if you were wrong?" Keep this record and you can come back to test the others when necessary.

Learning Objectives

  • Learning to recognize these assumptions for what they are — beliefs, not facts — is essential to critical, intelligent thinking. It’s what can make the difference between a thesis that’s incisive, unique and meaningful, and one that’s superficial and untested.
  • Learning how to strategize time management, which applies to almost every assignment in the thesis journey. There isn't enough time to test every assumption, therefore each student must learn to choose which are most critical to test early.


  • Categorized Assumption Map
  • Key assumptions placed on Priority Matrix
  • 1-3 assumptions selected to test first



  • Organizing helps make things feel more manageable
  • Brain dumping first, followed by grouping, is effective
  • A second round is usually necessary - to find new assumptions in sub-groups
  • It's important to acknowledge there isn't time to test all of them
  • This assignment leads well into hypothesis exercises for testing

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