Testing Your Way To a Better Idea (Part Three)

Testing-Your-Way

So if you’re still with me, we’ve talked about:

  • Product Ideation
  • User identification
  • User acquisition
  • User verification
  • Conversion testing
  • Surveying

…whew! Now, we’ll go into actual prototyping. You finally get to think about your product again!

Usability

The best kind of study is face-to-face. Asking open ended interview questions allows the user to guide you through their experience and lets you glean information without affecting the results. The quickest way to show a user your idea is via prototyping.

When we prototype, we mostly start with a whiteboard or hand drawn sketch. We use tools like FlintoDA.IOor Prototyping on Paper to reveal our ideas in flat, clickable prototypes. Sometimes these are sketches or actual UI. Starting with sketches or lo-fi wireframes allows us to quickly pivot to satisfy a user’s needs. We do lots of different types of exercises (mostly with notecards: ideation, cart sorting, user workflow pathing) to get a users’ ideas articulated.

Notecards are also sort of shaped like screens. We can draw little diagrams that look like apps and guide a user through an experience on the table in front of us. They’re also cheap, portable and easy to play with. You can tear one up when an idea turns sour; it’s cathartic, final and you haven’t wasted time writing good code for a bad idea. I love notecards.

Once we have something to work with, we quickly move into a build phase. Once we’re building, we seek constant user feedback. For user feedback, a few tools…

  • Silverback is a Mac app that allows me to record a user’s screen as well as the iSight camera (meaning I can monitor their face/voice as they navigate an experience).
  • Userzoom is a similar tool, but allows for remote users (meaning they don’t have to be in the room with me).
  • User Testing is a tool that asks anonymous users (so, not your ideal customer) their thoughts about an app or system.
  • Feedback Army is another anonymous user tool, but it gives me 10 user responses for $20. Cheap.

Taking this user feedback allows us to start making decisions on how we build. This leads us to our MVP.

The Minimally Viable Product

On the Centresource UX team, we constantly work through this process via a variety of prototypes. I mentioned paper prototyping but that’s just the beginning. Often times we use paper prototyping merely as a way to validate an idea or workflow internally. We’ll apply a brand style to our paper or HTML prototypes to create a UI prototype. We refer to this internally as the Minimally Viable Concept, or MVC. This concept is clickable and feels like a real experience (especially on an iOS device with Flinto). It’s perfect for user testing or even to show potential investors or partners.

From there, we can further validate and iterate on an idea until it’s ready to be built. We often start with aproduction prototype. This is a front end only prototype that actually breaks our MVC into workable HTML, CSS and Javascript. We can test our assertions for responsive design, identify any holes in the process and create a solid pattern library for all interaction types.

Once we have this in place we can hand the whole piece over to our development team to create the real product. Now, it’s time to ask the key Minimally Viable Product question:

What is the least amount of effort I can expend on creating the most amount of value for my users?

This is a tough question to answer, and it’s why the previously mentioned tools (ESPECIALLY interviews) are important. The concepts and prototypes we’ve created often show the full product experience. Do you truly need all those elements and features to get your product to market?

You should know exactly what your users find valuable and start with only those bare requirements. Using iterative development methods, we can use our user learning to iterate and grow towards our ultimate vision. And now, a little kung fu wisdom:

“It’s not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential.” – Bruce Lee

The healthy product is the evolving product. Use your base of committed users to tell you what to do next, and don’t be afraid to pivot when you need to.

All the tools we’ve talked about are important, and they should be returned to frequently. This process is iterative and your target constantly moves. Ultimately, by caring about those you serve and constantly checking up on them, you’ll make a truly valuable product.

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