3 Reasons Why You Should Always Test Your Prototypes

3 reasons why you should always test your prototypes

Kim & Don’s eyes meet. The anxiety and fear they see in one another only increases with each gaze. In a futile attempt to calm Kim down, Don reaches out his hand as a reassuring gesture to Kim only to realize the sweat developing on his palm coming into contact with hers solidifies their uncertainty as to what’s about to take place for both of them.

All of a sudden, a figure emerges into the room. She’s wearing a headset with a microphone attached to it. She says hurriedly to Kim & Don, “It’s time.” After taking one last nervous look at each other, the couple gets out of their seats and begin walking down a very strange hallway. The hallway is unlike any they’ve seen before. There are aquariums on both sides with real sharks swimming around in it. They come to a set of double-doors and slowly open them to find four very well-dressed people sitting in chairs sizing them up.

Obviously, Don & Kim are on Shark Tank.

Mark: “Hi there. So, what are you pitching today?”

Don: “Hello Sharks. Today, we’d like to tell you about a revolutionary device that helps people stop snoring. We call it the “Nose Nanny”.

Mark: “Hehe. Great, let’s see it.”

Don: “Sure, here it is.” [Don reveals what looks to be a clothespin with some sort of rubber insulation around the clamp edge]

The Panel: [Perplexed looks on their faces]

Daymond: “So…[trying not to laugh], how many of these have you sold??

Kim: “One so far. To my father.”

Barbara: “Okay, how much did you actually spend developing this…uh, product?”

Don: “We spent over $10,000 of our own money in R&D, and another $10,000 of the kids’ college savings mass-producing these.”

Panel: [Gasp]

Mark: “Does it even work??”

Don: [Wiping a tear] “Truthfully…nope. It doesn’t work for snot.”

Mark: “So you’re telling me you didn’t develop a prototype and test it with the market before mass producing these?!”

Kim: “Well, uh…no. We assumed it would be a smash hit out the gate so we moved forward with production.”

Panel: [Picking jaw up off the floor]

Mr. Wonderful: “This product is a real snoozer. You’re dead to me!”

As ridiculous as this example is, it’s equivalent to building and shipping a digital product without ever testing a prototype with your customers. The end.

Just kidding. The article could probably end here. But since it didn’t, here’s three reasons why you should always test your prototypes:

Reason #1: Assumptions Are Expen$ive

What’s that old saying about making assumptions, and what that makes you and me? Building a product is not cheap. Many of the projects we work on, even if seeming small in scale, end up costing a lot more than we may realize. Take into account the number of team members working on the project, meetings, materials, etc. Oftentimes companies spend far more than $20k on product creation.

When building products, it’s only right to keep the oft-forgotten other customer in mind…the business. Dunno about you, but I’m a big fan of payday. It’s only right when building products to respect the ones signing your paycheck by making sure your design works and solves the problems it’s intended to solve.

Reason #2: Data Speaks Louder Than Words

We designers have an unhealthy (yet perfectly natural) desire to fall in love with our work. So much so that we sometimes fall more in love with the solution than the problem. Our tastes have a way of rising to the top…even if they’re not the cream of the crop. Thanks House of Pain.

The advantage of working in this field today is we have some incredible tools available to us (Sketch + Framer + Pixate to name a few) that make designing, prototyping and iterating a breeze. This causes our clingy attachment issues to occur far less often. When we spend significant time nurturing every pixel, it becomes much harder to admit that even though our baby may be pretty, she’s constipated.

When you “just know” you’ve solved the problem, yet are still challenged by a stakeholder or executive – William Hung will win a Grammy before you win that design argument without unbiased proof.

If your prototype was guilty of being a perfect solution to a problem, would you have enough evidence to convict it? If you determine through testing that your design decision was in fact right all along, you’ll at least now have overwhelming evidence to prove it.

Reason #3: It’s Our Job

As User Experience Designers, it would behoove us to always remember that most of that title (and therefore role) is not about us.

Even though our role is important, we’re last in that equation. The user and the business come first…always.

Testing our prototypes is a great way of validating whether our idea was any good. If our idea was good, we can also determine whether it’s usable. Once determined good and usable, we will present our product and design decisions before the business with far greater levels of confidence as they in turn much more confidently open up their wallet to invest a considerable amount of Benjamin’s into its development and success.

The business wins, the user wins, you win and good design wins…again and again.

In Closing

I’d like to close in User Defenders style with quotes from a few industry folks I greatly respect. One who happened to be a guest on the podcast.

“You aren’t doing user experience design if you haven’t actually seen a user experiencing it.” — Tom Greever excerpt from his UserZoom article

“Don’t ship without showing your design to real users first, because you will learn things you weren’t expecting.” — Koen Bok (Founder of Framer)

“A great idea is only a great assumption. Get out of the building and test it.” — Josh Tucker

About The Author

Jason Ogle — Senior UX Designer at NCM & Host of @UserDefenders podcast

Jason Ogle has been designing digital experiences and fighting for the users since 1996. He’s a Senior UX Designer at NCM in Denver, CO and the host of the User Defenders podcast focused around inspiring interviews with UX Design superheroes. He’s also a husband, father of 7, and craft coffee roaster. He has a personal relationship with the Creator of the Universe. Connect with him on Twitter @jasonogle

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