When it comes to ideas, most people are just guessing. It’s easy to make an idea sound good. They can even look fresh and shiny in PowerPoint.
Ideas don’t live in PowerPoint – they live and die in the hands of customers.
Until a product has been in the hands of the customer — all ideas are guesses. Segway, Iridium, and Webvan are companies that did too much guessing. Things proved way harder when they started working with customers.
Products fail because we fall in love with our ideas. We can’t imagine people not being completely in love with our idea. On the other side of the deal is the customer. They’re not in love with new products. In fact, they have a bias towards the status quo.
Two parties deeply in love with different things they own – this is called the Endowment Effect. How do we bridge this gap? We need to make things 10x better than today. When we ask for little effort and offer significant benefits – customers will cross the chasm.
If you want your idea to be validated, get off your computer and onto the streets and test with customers. Here are five universal steps to validating your idea.
1 Create a prototype
There are endless ways to make a prototype. From classic paper to clickable prototypes – even hula hoops. What’s essential in prototyping is work in low fidelity mediums in the early stage. Nothing beats pen and paper for speed in creation. And the quicker you prototype, the more you learn.
Here are the essential and fast prototyping techniques that can help validate your idea.
Roleplay a scenario – perfect for a customer service experience
Sort concept cards in order of preference – good for customer needs analysis
Show a user journey – useful for radically improving an existing and complex customer experience
Make a paper/cardboard prototype – a low fidelity way to bring your next digital service to life without the need to write code
Posters and print outs – ideal for testing messaging and advocacy
2 Work in the direct experience
With prototype in hand, it’s crucial to use it in the right context. When used under the right circumstances, prototypes can generate the great feedback that can help you draw insights.
The key to a prototype success is using it in the context of the direct experience. By this, we mean a situation that closely represents how the product works in real life. A prototype used in the direct experience engenders real responses from the user that suggest how the product would work in real life.
Here’s how to create the direct experience.
Recruit real customers – find people who are your potential customers. Do not recruit family and friends as customers. Real customers give real, unfiltered feedback.
Install a facilitator – someone needs to run the testing experience with a prototype. The facilitator will help sessions stay on track and ensure that designers understand the feedback.
Set the context – provide the user with a goal or a task. Don’t forget to explain where they are, what time of day and any other context that creates the direct experience.
Don’t lead the witness – never sell a prototype. In fact the less you explain, the better the feedback.
Refine after each test – each prototyping sprint session should reveal opportunities.
3 Watch and listen
Today’s executive spends a lot of time talking. Pitching ideas, convincing others, etc. Well, just don’t do that when you’re prototyping with a customer. In fact, it’s best to shut up completely.
By watching like a hawk and listening with intent, many clues will be offered by your customers when they’re testing a prototype. Here’s what you’re looking for:
A positive response to prototypes; head nodding, energetic hand movements, hands in front of the stomach.
Negative response to prototypes: squinting eyes, hunched shoulders, scratching the top of the head.
As you’re testing, it’s critical to record notes. Each time the user responds, the documentation needs to correlate exactly with what the product was doing. Video can be an effect means to map these moments.
4 Ask these questions
After a customer has tested a prototype, there are some essential questions you can ask. Keep discussion short and focus on price sensitivity and advocacy. The insights won’t be empirical. But they will be directional.
Price Sensitivity Questions from 5circles.com
“At what price would you consider the product to be so expensive that you would not consider buying it? [too expensive]
“At what price would you consider the product to be priced so low that you would feel the quality couldn’t be very good.” [too cheap]
“At what price would you consider the product starting to get expensive, so that it’s not out of the question, but you have to give some thought before buying it.” [expensive]
“At what price would you consider the product to be a bargain – a great buy for the money.” [cheap]
How would you explain this to a friend?
How would you explain this to your mom?
In less than 30 seconds, explain this product to a child?
If you have time, the most powerful advocacy test of a product is customer to customer. Invite a user who has tested the product to *pitch* it to another potential customer. Listen to the words and metaphors they use. Map the responses the potential customer gives and see what works.
Evaluating an idea is all done in the context of Endowment Effect. You are striving to develop ideas that are ten times better than the current solution.
So here’s a formula you can use to evaluate your product idea.
Based on the Behavior Model for Persuasive Design by BJ Fogg
Amount of Behavior Change Required: Time, Money, Effort, Brain Cycles, Social Deviance, My Routine
User Benefits: Simplicity, Mobility, Affordability, More personal time, Freedom, Higher performance, Fulfilment
Go Beyond a Guess
While the five steps sound relatively straightforward, the hardest thing will be remaining objective.
If you keep things black and white, you’ll be able to save all that time and money we waste on fixing broken products. You’ll probably keep your sanity too. So play the long game and get your idea right at the start.
By embracing the rigorous validation, you’ll be on track to creating something that works. Something that helps people do stuff. Isn’t that what we all want to create?
I’d love to hear your comments and suggestions. Just email firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the author
Mike is the Head of Innovation at QUALITANCE. He’s passionate about emerging technologies and experience design. Over his award-winning career, he’s worked on big innovation and marketing projects for Nike, Levi’s, Xbox, GE and many others.