Stage 5 in the Design Thinking Process: Test

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There are a wide range of testing methods available to designers during a Design Thinking project; many of which stem from the methodologies typically used during Human-computer interaction (HCI) and User-centered design (UCD) tests. At the heart of these methods, during the Design Thinking process, there is a need to test out the solutions implemented within the current design. If users experience difficulties, then the design team must revisit their list of potential solutions and strategies in order to establish new ways of solving the same problems. User feedback is priceless; without an understanding of what users need in order to carry out specific activities and tasks, the iterative process will fail. Each stage should provide new insights to inform your understanding and help you define or redefine the various problems that the users might face. Therefore, you must seek feedback whenever possible, use real people for testing purposes, and analyse results in order to determine what is right and what is wrong with the product.

Testing can be undertaken throughout the progress of a Design Thinking project, although it is most commonly undertaken concurrently with the Prototyping stage. Testing, in Design Thinking, involves generating user feedback as related to the prototypes you have developed, as well as gaining a deeper understanding of your users. When undertaken correctly, the Testing stage of the project can often feed into most stages of the Design Thinking process: it allows you to Empathise and gain a better understanding of your users; it may lead to insights that change the way you Define your problem statement; it may generate new ideas in the Ideation stage; and finally, it might lead to an iteration of your Prototype.

The Iterative, Flexible (and Messy) Design Thinking Process

Author/Copyright holder: Teo Yu Siang and Interaction Design Foundation. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

Testing can be undertaken throughout the progress of a Design Thinking project, although it is most commonly undertaken concurrently with the Prototyping stage.

The five stages of Design Thinking — Empathise, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test — are not meant to be sequential steps to be taken as the project progresses. Instead, they are “modes” that you can take on during each phase of your project (sometimes in parallel or in iterative loops), as and when they would facilitate the most learning and value.

For instance, prototyping can be undertaken early on in the project — ahead of ideation — in order to discover more about the users. Simple prototypes can be developed, not just to test ideas, but to understand more about how users operate on a daily basis. For example, the Prototyping stage could feed into the Empathise stage.

Another example relates to the manner in which the Testing stage could feed into the Define stage. For instance, your observations of users in tests may reveal crucial insights that could change the way you frame the problem statement.

Design Thinking is a flexible and iterative process that can be messy and disorienting to those who are unfamiliar. While there are no fixed, sequential steps to follow, there are nonetheless basic building blocks behind each stage that help you build human-centred solutions to the problems your users face.

Conducting a User Test

When conducting a user test on your prototype, it is ideal to utilise a natural setting (i.e., the normal environment in which your users would use the prototype). If testing in a natural setting proves difficult, try to get users to perform a task, or play a role, when testing the prototype. The key is to get users to be using the prototype as they would in real life, as much as possible.

Improve Your Test Results

Conducting a test is not as simple as getting the user and the prototype in the same room and watching what happens. In order to achieve the best learning results from each test, here are some areas of a test that you should take into consideration:

  • The prototype
    Remember that you are testing the prototype, not the user. Your prototype should be designed with a central question in mind — a question that you will put to the test in the testing stage.
  • Context and scenario
    As much as possible, try to recreate the scenario in which your users are most likely to be using the product. This way, you can learn more about the interaction (or disruptions) between the user, the prototype and the environment, as well as how problems might arise as a result of that interaction.
  • How you interact with the user
    Make sure your users know what the prototype and test are about, but do not over-explain how the prototype works.
  • How you observe and capture feedback
    While collecting feedback, make sure you are not disrupting the user’s interaction with the prototype. Find a way to collect feedback in a way that freely allows you to observe what is happening (for example, by having a partner in the test, or by recording an audio or video of the test).

By being deliberate about those four aspects of a test, you will be able to maximise your learning experience. Considering the above points, here are a few things you can do to help you properly plan your tests. We’ve summed these things up in the guidelines outlined below.

5 Guidelines when Planning a Test

  • 1.Let your users compare alternatives
    Create multiple prototypes, each with a change in variable, so that your users can compare prototypes and tell you which they prefer (and which they don’t). Users often find it easier to elucidate what they like and dislike about prototypes when they can compare, rather than if there was only one to interact with.
  • 2.Show, don’t tell: let your users experience the prototype
    Avoid over-explaining how your prototype works, or how it is supposed to solve your user’s problems. Let the users’ experience in using the prototype speak for itself, and observe their reactions.
  • 3.Ask users to talk through their experience
    When users are exploring and using the prototype, ask them to tell you what they’re thinking. This may take some getting used to for most users, so it may be a good idea to chat about an unrelated topic, and then prompt them by asking them questions such as, “What are you thinking right now as you are doing this?”
  • 4.Observe
    Observe how your users use — either “correctly” or “incorrectly” — your prototype, and try to resist the urge to correct them when they misinterpret how it’s supposed to be used. User mistakes are valuable learning opportunities. Remember that you are testing the prototype, not the user.
  • 5.Ask follow up questions
    Always follow up with questions, even if you think you know what the user means. Ask questions such as, “What do you mean when you say ___?”, “How did that make you feel?”, and most importantly, “Why?”

Remember that you are testing the prototype, not the user. Your prototype should be designed with a central question in mind — a question that you will put to the test during the testing stage. Make sure your users know what the prototype and test is about, but do not over-explain how the prototype works.

Negative Feedback is Your Way to Learn and Improve

If users experience difficulties, the design team must revisit their list of potential solutions and strategies in order to establish new ways to solve the same problems. Testing can also help identify previously unconsidered problems. Testing sessions are most fruitful when they are carefully planned and organized. The users’ feedback is priceless; without an understanding of what users need in order to carry out their activities and tasks, the iterative design process and solution will fail. As with each stage in a Design Thinking process, testing should provide new insights to inform your understanding and to help you define or redefine the various problems that the users might face. Therefore, you must seek feedback wherever possible, conduct tests using real people, and analyse the results to determine what is working well and what is causing problems. And always remember that:

Author/Copyright holder: Teo Yu Siang and Interaction Design Foundation. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

The End Goal: Desirable, Feasible, and Viable Solutions

Author/Copyright holder: Teo Yu Siang and Interaction Design Foundation. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

Design Thinking is a human-centred design process that may not have a fixed sequence of steps, but will certainly have an ideal end point. The end goal of every Design Thinking project is to design a solution that satisfies the tests of desirability, feasibility, and viability.

  • Desirability relates to the focus on people; it’s what puts the “human” in human-centred design. If a solution is to be desirable, it has to appeal to the needs, emotions, and behaviours of the people we are designing for.
  • Feasibility is about technology. Is your design solution technically possible, or does it depend on a technology that’s yet to be invented (or good enough for regular use)? While we should never base designs on technical specifications, our design solutions need to be practical and implementable without incurring huge costs.
  • The last test is (commercial) viability: will your design solution work as a business? Is there an appropriate business model behind your solution, or would it collapse after a few years without investor or donor contributions? Design Thinking is not about making a profit, but good design solutions should always be self-sustaining — Design Thinking is a long-term process that should ideally continue supporting and improving itself way beyond the project deadline.

When you are able to create a prototype (or finished product or service) that satisfies the desirability, feasibility, and viability tests, pat yourself on the back, congratulate your team, or even do a small dance if you like: you’ve designed a solution that will impact people around you for the better, and one that will continue to improve lives in the years to come.

The Take Away

Testing is the fifth stage in the five-stage Design Thinking process. Testing is often undertaken concurrently with Prototyping, and performed well, it can provide many learning opportunities to help you learn more about the user, and opportunities to refine your prototype and even the problem statement. When conducting tests, you should pay attention to the prototype, the context and scenario in which you are testing, how you interact with the user, and how you observe and collect feedback. To help you plan a test, there are a number of guidelines you can follow:

  1. Let your users compare alternatives
  2. Show, don’t tell: let your users experience the prototype
  3. Ask users to talk through their experience
  4. Observe
  5. Ask follow up questions

And finally, the Design Thinking process is fluid, iterative and flexible: the different stages often feed into one another and form iterative loops, and don’t necessarily follow any sequence in a project. That said, the ideal end point of Design Thinking (when you know you’ve done a great job) is when the product or service satisfies the three tests of desirability, feasibility, and viability.

References & Where to Learn More

d.school Bootcamp Bootleg, 2013: http://dschool.stanford.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/METHODCARDS-v3-slim.pdf

IDEO: Human-Centered Design Toolkit, 2009: https://www.ideo.com/work/human-centered-design-toolkit/

John Caroll, Human Computer Interaction, https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/book...

Hero Image: Author/Copyright holder: Loy9. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY 2.0

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