Sometimes the biggest problem people face during the product development process is falling in love. So much of the development phase is spent isolated from outside perspectives that developers and marketers often find it difficult to divorce their personal feelings about a product from its actual viability in the market.
This is natural, of course. It’s human nature to get invested in something you are close to. But this attachment can spell disaster, which is why the testing phase is vital in the design process. It gives those involved a chance to take off the love goggles and evaluate a product from a more objective perspective.
This testing phase has the potential to take a product destined for failure and turn it into a success—but only if the people driving its development know how to effectively test a prototype. To do it right, designers need to not only get the right feedback, but also understand how to incorporate the necessary changes.
6 Golden Rules of the Testing Phase
1. Let go of your emotions. If designers can’t separate their emotions from a product, they’ll inevitably taint the feedback. If they’re trying to sell the product to others, they’re already feeding them a bias. This isn’t the time to market; it’s the time to gather honest feedback.
A designer’s goal isn’t to find out whether people like the way she thinks, it’s to determine whether a product can generate profitable revenue. Designers should ask themselves, “How long will it take to turn this idea into a minimum viable product?” and “How can I get it there?” These questions will help them focus on what truly matters during the testing phase.
2. Travel outside the lab. While an important part of the prototype phase will involve lab experiments and internal feedback to ensure a product is working properly, that’s only one part of the equation.
To truly understand what will make a product successful, designers need to travel to where the users are. They need to get external feedback from real customers and be ready to hear what they have to say. For example, if a designer is creating a new product or service for a hotel chain, she should travel to various hotels and gauge customers’ reactions during their stay and find out what would make their experience better.
When GES developed Expresso Mobile, a mobile ordering and customer service platform for trade show exhibitors, colleagues used the platform during trade shows, and we observed how they used it in real-world situations. This way, we could find out what exhibitors were most worried about and what information they needed at hand in any given situation.
When it came time to turn this internal program outward, we had logged months of practical experience that helped us create an instantly accessible and easy-to-use app for industry experts and newbies alike.
3. Seek feedback from both extremes. Gathering feedback from people who would likely use the product that’s in development can reveal key characteristics they’re looking for. Although these perspectives are important, designers can’t overlook feedback from the other extreme.
Who are the people who have no interest in using the product? What’s holding them back? If a development team is creating a product for trade shows or other live events, for instance, it should look for people who never attend them. Why don’t they go? What would be something that would make a trade show a compelling option for them?
This can be a painful process, especially for those who lack a thick skin, but it will result in a better, more profitable product. By approaching their likeliest and unlikeliest customers, developers can uncover ways to tap into new markets and create potential channels of revenue.
4. Adopt an empathetic mindset. Testing is nothing more than a continuation of empathy that was honed while getting to know the user during the research phase. When designers go out and gather this empathy, they’re talking to strangers about what they find important or what challenges they face. This is where it can get uncomfortable. But when designers get feedback directly from customers rather than assume they know their thoughts, it makes a huge difference.
Designers need to continually take their refined prototype into the field, find more customers, and say, “Here’s what we’ve come up with. We know it’s cardboard, but tell us what you think. Play with it, and ask us any questions you have.” Then, they can sit back, listen, and watch.
5. Look for meaning behind the feedback. It’s important for designers to look for takeaways in both negative and positive feedback and consider the ideas behind the input. What questions are customers asking? What do they get right away, and what do they have trouble understanding?
Customers’ comprehension will point designers toward the strengths and weaknesses of the product and help them create something that’s useful and immediately marketable.
If a tester is silent, designers shouldn’t be afraid to probe. In one test, a man wasn’t just quiet; he was uncomfortable. As I asked more questions, I uncovered that the product made him feel “unmanly.” The product functioned properly, but he didn’t like how it made him feel. This feeling would no doubt affect his desire to purchase.
Stick to questions that will require customers to give short answers. Customers aren’t designers, they’re users. Designers need their unfiltered first impressions and immediate reactions, not second-guessed analysis of what might work. The goal of the prototype phase is to build a minimum viable product, and a customer’s opinion at first glance can help the development team discover ways to enhance it.
6. Don’t overcomplicate it. It’s not uncommon for a product to go to market with far fewer features than originally intended.
The goal of the prototype phase is to build a minimum viable product. At Stanford University’s d.school, we called this “minimally awesome” because removing some features and sticking with what is most important to users often makes the overall product stronger.
While testing a prototype for an airport app, I was determined—despite feedback from users—that a particular feature was needed. My team finally convinced me that the feature needed to go, and they were absolutely right. Our next round of testers had a much more positive experience with the product because it was less complicated.
The testing phase doesn’t have to be stressful or difficult. With the right perspective and approach, it can result in a product that is not only viable, but also miles ahead of the competition. If the development team doesn’t find any flaws in its prototype, it might be one of the lucky ones. But more often than not, it means that the designers didn’t do their due diligence or that they let love blind them. Finding holes in a prototype isn’t failure; it means the team is on its way to success.
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