The user testing you need to do before moving from prototype to production
Having a prototype developed is a monumental achievement. The process itself is a long and tiring journey made possible by a lot of hard work and ingenuity. But before you send your product to market, there's another step you'll want to go through.
You've got one shot at a product launch. Before you get there, you want to be confident that your product meets all the users' expectations and requirements. That's where user testing comes in.
The importance of testing and prototyping
Building a hardware-based device is far more difficult to achieve compared to making a software-based project. The process encompasses real manufacturing obstacles, cost and design trade-offs, designing and adjustments for size and components, and if the whole thing doesn’t come together as a functional product, you're back to step one.
After you've finally finished developing a prototype, it’s time to move towards the testing phase. The testing phase is a fundamentally important part of a product’s production cycle. This step helps us in determining whether the product will behave and work as intended or if it needs a little bit more tweaking.
Product designers who put their prototypes to test and experimentation gain a serious advantage. Testing the prototype with intended users (testers) and putting them through several practical testing procedures helps in reshaping the final product to perfection. This may seem like one more expense, but in reality, this saves manufacturers and designers a lot of time, money and re-works while minimizing waste and increasing the chances of the product becoming a success in the first attempt. It also gives you the momentum to develop the next generation of your hardware.
Testing also provides you with valuable insights to understand user behavior. You'll see how the end user may interact with the product and what can be done to improve it. You'll get ideas on how the product can be modified to enhance the user experience. And you'll expose the hidden flaws that may have escaped you during the design phase.
The steps of testing
Your first prototype should rarely be your last prototype. The steps below will help you refine your design so the product you take to market is the best it can be.
As soon as a proper and practical prototype has been built, start putting it through tests and looking for testers. It's recommended to be in the field two weeks ahead of time so there's plenty of time to look for the right candidates to be user testers.
Choosing the testers
This is the first step of user testing a product. You need to find the right test subjects to provide you with honest feedback that can help you in reshaping and redesigning the prototype while also removing any problems. For that, you can advertise, or look around in your circle of friends and family. Just keep it in mind to keep the user tester pool small, as you only want people with interest in your product and some familiarity with how similar products function. Just as an example, if you've designed a new cosmetic, you'll want someone who regularly uses cosmetics.
Sometimes users demand to be paid for their time and the feedback they provide. These are professional testers, and they're often preferred by big organizations. But if you don’t have a budget for that, try convenience sampling. Look for potential testers among your friends and family, neighbors, colleagues, co-workers, etc. Use social media, email, call and SMS to contact those people.
Be sure to not show any bias when selecting test users. Select them on the basis of personal behaviors, their activities and interests, demographic details, availability and level of interests, etc. This will enable you to gather honest and authentic feedback on their interaction with your prototype.
Don’t go all-out at once
Sending out a prototype for testing is an intermediate step. This means that you don’t have to send out a complete and finished product. It's a smart choice to let the test users use your prototype as you've developed it. This leaves a lot of room for making changes and improvements that can help you in better shaping your prototype towards a perfectly developed product. It's good to gather user feedback as early as possible, so delaying the process by trying to refine the product to perfection early on isn’t a smart choice.
Align your business goals with the prototype
This is an important step of user testing, as you need to specify the business goals you wish to achieve with your product. Think it through and write it down. Keep it in mind while observing the user or reviewing their feedback. Ask yourself: Was the product able to successfully resolve the issues of the test user? Did it fulfil its functionality? Does this lead to actions that help achieve your business goals?
There are several qualities of a product you need to get feedback on to determine whether the product helps you in achieving your business goal or not. The look and feel of your product. How does it make the user feel? What is the user feedback on the appearance of your product and does it help you in meeting the business goals you initially had in mind? The functionality of your product. Is it doing what it was supposed to do? How does that align with your business objectives? The usability of your product. How useful is your product in the said domain? Does the usability of your product align with your business objectives? The price of your product. Does the price coincide with your desired business goals? Moreover, is it beneficial for your future growth and business development?
An important step here is to cleverly inquire about the possible market price of your product. The test user can be asked if they would be interested in buying this product at different price points. Or you can be a little creative and offer something tempting like, "If you buy my product at 'X' price right now, I will throw in a few extra features for free as we keep making improvements." This will not only give you a real-world pricing model, but also help you in generating revenue and obtaining real value from those test users.
Ask for their feedback in person
The next important user testing step is to meet the testers in person to have them use your product, or meet them after they've used the prototype for a defined period of time. Now is the time to assemble all the necessary questions that you need to ask the testers to pin down all the necessary interview protocols. This will be very useful data that will help you in implementing practical changes that will shape your final product.
A good suggestion is to meet the test users in the contextual environment of your product. If your product is to be used in an office, try meeting the test user there. Give them a brief introduction of what your product is (in case of a new user)/was (in case of catching up with a user who has been testing it for some time). In the case of a new user, let them use the product and gather their initial response of the concept and how they react to it. In the case of the user who's already been interacting with the product, ask them about their experience thus far with the prototype. Ask them both to suggest what possible changes they would like to see if the product was to be presented as a complete solution. Also, ask them to perform a few tasks using the prototype. Make sure these tasks are intended uses of the product. Report everything properly and take into account all the details pertaining to the product.
Find common patterns and act on the feedback
Now that you have all the necessary feedback from the test users, it's time to implement all the changes that will refine the product to make production-ready. A good move would be to develop multiple prototypes and integrate all the feedback to identify a common pattern that can refine your research and reshape your prototype into a marketable product.
The process of user testing is crucial if you wish to approach the development phase towards completion in a scientific manner. It is a tested and tried method employed byproduct designers globally to shape a final product that consumers want to buy.