5 Steps in Design Thinking, Part 5: Excellence in Test Design


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We now come to the end of a great arc on how to overcome any kind of business roadblock using design thinking. This approach is often used to create innovative new lines of business, but the more you apply it, the more you’ll see how these underlying principles inform problem-solving on a much wider canvas.

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In the beginning of this series, we talked about the wreckage in the market left by many fine solutions that nobody wanted. You could count roll-up fabric keyboards, Google+, and the Zune among the solid concepts that starved from lack of customer enthusiasm. Other technologies, like HyperCard in the 1980s, personal digital assistants in the 1990s, and LoudCloud in the early 2000s, prefigured successful technologies, but simply arrived too early with a supporting cluster of related innovations.

If you have been working through the stages of design thinking so far, you will have started with the Empathize stage, then used that data to Define the most comprehensive problem statement. Next, you pushed the bounds of the possible in the Ideate stage, and then settled on the best plan of action in the Prototype stage. Along the journey you may well have looped back to earlier stages to perfect your concept. Now you are ready to push your idea out of the nest and see if it can fly in the final Test stage.

Not all tests are valid, though, and not all test results are valuable. You must design your test with the same level care and circumspection as you brought to the original problem statement definition.

The Best of the Test

It’s common for concept design teams to try to test too much at once or to be blind to the power of confirmation bias. Even following the “Fail fast and fail cheap” mantra, it is easy for teams to get overly attached to certain ideas or specific expressions of certain ideas. They tend to test for things that will confirm what they already believe about the value of a MVP.

The best testing environment allows users to explore the prototype in an open-ended, non-directed environment. Don’t lead them through the process and give them extensive instructions. Allow them to encounter the prototype as users would in the real world. Minimal instruction engages their curiosity and creativity, often uncovering uses and approaches that designers never imagined. An open experiment makes it possible to find serious flaws and discover what makes users truly happy.

4 Areas of Interest for Iterative Improvement

Take notes on developments in four categories:

People – Describe who is testing the prototype and who is observing. Make educated guesses about their assumptions.

Objects – Discuss what kind of supports would make it easier for subjects to test the prototype. Describe how it would work in the real world with objects that make it easier to use and objects that are likely to get in the way.

Location – Detail where and when the users are interacting with the prototype. Consider what the ideal conditions would be.

Interactions – How to subject treat the prototype itself and each other during the test. Take note of their emotional state and what they want to share with others about the prototype.

Life After Design

Don’t forget that this process is called Design Thinking because it is not a project management technique – it is a way of thinking about the world and the roadblocks to getting what you want. Approach each problem with human centricity, not from the standpoint of business objectives. Try to fully inhabit the user’s viewpoint and their emotions. Don’t get attached to any one idea too early. Create a range of possibilities and spend more time on choosing the best one. Even the best ideas don’t matter if they don’t set off a fire in the hearts of users. Design thinking is always moving, always improving and never really ends. That’s its toughest challenge and its greatest strength.

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