Prototype and Test in Design Thinking

1. Prototyping

We have already used the word "prototype" several times in earlier posts. In this step, we’ll describe in more detail the essence of prototyping, why it is not just important, but critical, and how to go about prototyping your ideas and solutions.

So what is a prototype?

Prototyping is a first preliminary model of a new concept made to test other people’s reactions and to help gain insights into what your idea means to your users. Prototype makes things tangible to improve understanding of the applicability in user’s context and identify areas to improve upon. Creating a prototype is a quick way to show how something looks, feels or works. A prototype helps in developing and iterating ideas and can assist you in finding hidden issues with the concept. A prototype also creates a common understanding among stakeholders and aids in redefining the problem.
As the saying goes, “The best way to experience an experience is to experience it...”
In the most simplistic terms, a prototype is a way to convey a new concept and get feedback in solving a problem.
There are three aspects to a prototype.
1. A problem that is being solved
2. A concept to solve the problem
3. A way to get feedback

In the previous step, we created an experience-vision storyboard. This was an example of a prototype as well. As you created the storyboard, you highlighted the problem being solved, an approach to solving the problem to get feedback. This will help you have a better understanding of the aspects of the storyboard that makes sense for the user.
A prototype is not confined to specific forms, some of which are mentioned below.

1. Physical. If you create a model using cardboard boxes, paper, tape, plastic and other material, it is a physical prototype. You may also use newer mechanisms such as 3D printing to create physical prototypes. For example, to see how a new concept of a reception welcome desk might look and feel in a bank, you may use cardboard boxes to craft the new desk style and place it in the bank to get feedback.

2. Handwritten on paper. You may simply use various-sized papers and draw your concepts to create a prototype. In software applications, most often the first version of the prototype is the depiction of the screen using a pen on a piece of paper. These are called wireframes.
For creating a prototype of a new mobile app, you may use 3x5-inch rectangular sticky notes and sketch how the screen might look and how the flow of the screens would be as the user interacts with the mobile app. You may place these sticky notes on a foam board and draw arrows to convey user interactions as well.

3. Slide show. You may use a slide-show software such as Microsoft PowerPoint or Apple Keynote and use native features (such as shapes and lines). Use text and animations to convey your concept and get feedback.

4. Storyboards. As we saw in the previous step, storyboards are one of the most powerful ways to prototype. Humans are hard-wired for stories. Stories evoke emotions and leave a lasting impression. All cultures have sustained their traditions over the course of millennia through the use
of stories which have transcended generations. That’s the main reason why storyboarding an experience-vision concept is one of the most effective ways of prototyping. One of the best storyboarding tools is called Scenes™ by SAP Design AppHaus, which is available at (Every great experience starts with a great story).

5. Role-playing or acting. Most people don’t realize that prototypes do not have to be tangible. Depending on the situation, role-playing or acting could be an effective mechanism for prototyping. One of the most pertinent types of solutions where role-playing has a natural ft is experience design or interaction design. You may also record a video of the role-playing session using a simple smartphone camera to review it later on or show to users to get feedback.

6. Technical Prototypes. These days, most of the solutions involve technology, which is primarily software applications either on desktop computers or mobile devices. If your team has the technical skills, you can also create simple versions of software programs to validate your concepts. These
software-based prototypes need not have all envisioned functionality or actual data. They can have a simple front-end user interface with nonfunctional logic. They may only use some dummy data to convey how the concept would work and get feedback. There are many online tools available to help you in prototyping your software concepts. Some of the most popular ones include Sketch, iRise, Axure, InVision and Flinto ( Check Figures Below).

2 Testing

Whatever type of prototyping you adopt, it is extremely important to show the prototype to the user and obtain feedback in a structured manner.

Before we talk about how to gather the user feedback, there are some critical guidelines for obtaining user feedback.
It is best if you could run the user feedback session in pairs. One team member should drive the feedback session as the session lead, and the other should act as a note taker. This is important because you need to have the feedback session run in a smooth manner without the possibility of key
insights being forgotten after the session.

3 Do’s and Don’ts for Session Lead

Follow the guidelines for user research highlighted in the user research step in Stage 1. In addition, here are some do’s and don’ts about the user feedback session.

3.1 Do’s

◾ Do plan ahead to meet with the user at a time that is convenient for the user and when the user is least distracted due to work or personal commitments.
◾ Do inform the user about the purpose and duration of the session and highlight why it is important for the user to provide open and honest feedback. The way you position the session has a direct impact on the quality of the feedback. Reiterate that the reason for the session is to devise a solution to solve a particular problem for the user. Mention that this is an initial concept that you want to show
to the user and obtain his/her open and candid feedback. Also, convey that the input from the user will be used for improving upon the prototype. The duration of the session is dependent on the type and complexity of the solution as well as the available time with the user.
Generally, one user feedback session lasts anywhere from 30 minutes to 90 minutes.
◾ Do turn all your phones off and encourage the user to also avoid any potential distractions for the duration of the session.
◾ Do make the user at ease at the beginning of the session and highlight that it is not a test of their abilities but a test to see the intuitiveness of the user experience, the relevance to the topic and the functional correctness.
◾ Do explain the scenario in which the user is likely to be using the prototyped solution. However, do confirm whether they agree to the scenario in which they will be using the solution. Do ask if there are any other contexts in which the user will be using the solution.
◾ Do ask the user to state their thoughts, feelings, needs and challenges during the session.
◾ Do keep your words to a bare minimum during the session. You are interested in getting the user’s feedback.
◾ Do observe intently where the user is facing difficulties or is pleased.
◾ Do write down the user’s challenges.
◾ Do write down the user’s moments of delight.
Do clarify any questions that the user asks; try to answer only in the form of open-ended questions.
◾ Do note down all the questions the user asks. Questions from the user is an indicator of lack of clarity of the prototype.
◾ Do act as a facilitator only; nothing more.
◾ Do ask for suggestions for improvement at the end of the session. It is likely that the user will be giving you feedback and suggestions for improvement throughout the session, but it is important to give the user another opportunity to provide any further suggestions to improve the
prototyped solution. You may go back to some of the issues highlighted during the session and ask the user for any suggestions for improvement. You have to be mindful of the tone in which you ask for ideas.
Your tone must not convey any kind of sarcasm or insult.
◾ Do ask if there will be other users who could give valuable feedback at the end of the session.

3.2 Don’ts

◾ Don’t help the user in any way. We have a tendency to be emotionally attached to the amazing experience vision that we have prototyped. However, when the user actually reviews it, he/she inevitably finds some aspects challenging, out of place or totally unusable. At this point, we are naturally inclined to help the user get over the obstacle. This urge must be controlled. The purpose of the session is
to intently observe the user as he/she is having these challenges so that you could improve upon the prototype, not to convince the user of its remarkableness.
◾ Don’t lead the user in any way. Similar to the above point, do not lead the user in any way. We are naturally inclined toward helping others.
However, this is not the time to help the user, even when the intensity of this urge increases. Observe intently and let the user figure the prototype out.
◾ Don’t give any tips.
◾ Don’t give your preference. Remember that it is not about you or your prototype; it is about the user, his/her problem and getting feedback on the prototype for the solution that you have created. So refrain from sharing any preferences.
◾ Don’t judge or belittle the user. This is a grave sin which a lot of first-timers commit. If you do this, you’ll lose any opportunity to gain any valuable feedback from the user in this session or in the future. In fact, doing this will likely help you lose this user forever. It is likely that the
user will stumble on several steps while going through the process and using the prototype. Remember, it is not the user’s fault or stupidity. It is the prototype that is not meeting the user’s needs.
◾Don’t give explanations. When your beloved prototype is being evaluated, you are likely to fall into the mind-set of defensiveness. We have to admit that we don’t like it when anyone calls our baby ugly. We fall into the habit of justifying the shortcomings of our prototype. This must
be avoided at all costs. In fact, you must continue to thank the user for their valuable feedback.
◾ Don’t interrupt. Do not think of this session as a regular conversation, even if the user is an acquaintance. So interrupting the user is never a good idea. However, there is an exception, which is when the user goes away from the task at hand and goes off on a tangent. If that should happen, politely remind the user of the purpose of the session and encourage him/her to continue working with the prototype and giving feedback.
◾ Don’t laugh at the user. This is absolutely forbidden. It is in the same category as belittling and insulting the user. Remember that the user is doing you a favour by spending his/her valuable time helping you by reviewing and giving feedback to you on your prototype.
◾ Don’t ask any questions during the session. Although some clarification questions are okay, you should refrain from asking questions during the session. If you feel the urge to ask a question, note the topic and ask that question at the end of the session.
◾ Don’t offer approval or disapproval with words, facial expressions or body language. Remember that you are not judging the user at all. Your main goal is to observe the user and get the feedback on the prototype. Staying neutral is very important throughout the session for gaining effective feedback.

4 Do’s and Don’ts for Note Taker

As a note taker, your primary purpose is to write down all the observations and feedback from the user. These include the user’s thoughts, feelings, body language, quotes, needs, challenges, moments of delight, moments of difficulty and ideas. Here are some guidelines for the note taker.

4.1 Do’s

◾ Do keep quiet during the session. You’ll feel the urge to speak, suggest or ask questions during the session. Remind yourself of your role during the session and continue writing down the feedback and observations.
◾ Do record the session, with user’s permission. You could do a video recording or an audio recording. These recordings can provide valuable
feedback later on. If doing a video recording, bring a tripod stand for your video recorder or smartphone.
◾ Do observe intently where the user is facing difficulties.
◾ Do write down user challenges. Challenges may include the user getting confused on how to use the solution, the user finding it difficult to use the prototype or the user becoming uninterested.
◾ Do write down the user’s moments of delight.
◾ Do remind the session lead about his/her role if the lead does not adhere to the guidelines.
◾ Do write down any further feedback, needs or comments that the user shares.
◾ Do ask any key questions that were not answered during the session and were not asked by the session lead toward the end of the session.

4.2 Don’ts

◾ Don’t help the user in any way.
◾ Don’t lead the user in any way.
◾ Don’t give any tips.
◾ Don’t give your preferences.
◾ Don’t judge or belittle the user.
◾ Don’t give explanations.
◾ Don’t interrupt the user.
◾ Don’t laugh at the user.
◾ Don’t ask any questions during the session.
◾ Don’t offer approval or disapproval with words, facial expressions or body language.

Diversity of user feedback
It’s important to get feedback not from just one but from many users. Having feedback with many users reduces the bias from individual users and helps you see patterns across a wide range of users. This affords you a better chance of meeting the needs of more users. As you get feedback from several users, it is helpful to alternate roles between session lead and note taker in your team.

5 User Feedback Template

During the user feedback session, the note taker should take the Use Feedback Template with him/her to record what the user liked, what the user didn’t like or faced challenges with, what are the questions that user asked or that emerged as part of the feedback session and if any new ideas were either shared by the user or emerged during the session. Please note that you may also take the templates for empathy map with you during these feedback sessions. However, I have noticed that having a complex template is not the most effective way to record feedback. You may update your empathy map as a result of the feedback session later on.

User Feedback Template
User Feedback Template

6 Example

Here is an example from a user feedback session:

User Feedback Example

7 Guidance

Session Lead
Draw this template on a whiteboard and select sticky notes of different colours for each user. This will help you later in tracing specific feedback to specific users.
Select the first user and review the notes of the feedback session. As you go through the notes, write down key points on sticky notes and place them in the appropriate quadrant of the feedback template. It is very important to discuss key insights and not just get hung up on the mechanics of the process. Also, discuss how best to incorporate the feedback into the next iteration of the prototype.
Repeat this for all the other users.

Once you have all the feedback gathered on the template, start reviewing the combined feedback in each quadrant: Like, dislike, questions and ideas. You’ll see themes emerging in every quadrant. Cluster those insights and plan on incorporating those insights into the next iteration of the prototype.

7.1 Document Assumptions

After the session, the session lead should ask the team to write down all the assumptions made and record those assumptions in assumptions template in
Stage 4.

7.2 Review Prior Steps

Review the prior steps and adjust as needed with the consensus of the team.