Now you have your prototype and are ready to test it out. How do you do this in an effective way so that you get all the information you need to move on to the next version?

Testing Prototypes

It’s amazing how things you think are obvious crumble in testing.

At some point you will need to start testing with your actual target audience, but for your early prototypes it’s fine to test with whoever you can scrounge up. Your friends and family will give you insight into larger design issues that you didn’t notice yourself. Then you will make changes and test with your target audience to find their unique concerns and dial in even tighter to what is going to work in the final product.

In game design, we call the following processes “play testing”. Since our projects are playing with systems, I will be using that term.

An effective way to get a lot of feedback early is to go with the focus group model of play testing. In this model, you gather a group together in an environment where they can properly focus on what you want them to do. (FYI: it’s good etiquette to feed them). If your prototype is something they can interact with, set it up and let them interact. Resist the urge to interfere or guide them. Answer any questions but otherwise just watch. And take notes. Lots of notes!
* Where did a participant get lost or frustrated?
* Any moments where a participant seemed to have an emotional reaction – a place where they smiled for example or groaned in frustration
* Any surprising interactions where the player did something you didn’t expect, or tried to do something you didn’t plan for

Give everyone a reasonable amount of time to do what you want them to do. Try to keep a feel of the room and stop the play test when people are starting to seem bored or just done. (Usually people will start looking at the clock, or gazing around the room).

Next it is useful to give everyone a quick and easy survey to complete. It should take about 5 minutes to fill out. The survey can be used to ask your participants about specific issues you have been concerned about, such as:
“Could you tell when you were done?”
“Was the text legible?”
“Were there too many kittens onscreen at a time?”

Finally you want to allow for a set amount of time (usually about 30 minutes) for people to have a round table discussion. This is important because people will build on other people’s ideas, and because you will get a better feeling about what ideas are in consensus with each other.

Remember that these people are giving you their time and brain energy and doing you a huge favor. So try to make the whole process fun and efficient. Tell them how long you think it will take ahead of time and then stick to that.

If your project is not an interactive one per se (maybe it is a book or a zine or a video), you can test it by distributing to people to read or view. An online survey with specific as well as more general questions can be very helpful, but it will also be extremely useful for you to have in person or phone interviews about the prototype. For one thing, this ensures that people will actually read/watch it. But also you are likely to get deeper insights into what does and does not work. Have a set of interview questions written up before hand so that the interview stays focused and you make the most of your and the interviewee’s time.

Now, since we’ve been specifically talking about system intervention, let’s make sure to be clear about what the goal is for your project and work that into your testing. What action do you want people to take in response to your project? Or are you trying to inform them of a specific issue? Change their mind about something? Whatever it is you want to happen, make sure you test for that and find out from your participants if it worked for them. The app you are working on might be fun and compelling, but if your testers do not understand what action you want them to take in the world and how they should do that, then your intervention isn’t doing much intervention.

Congratulations! You’ve completed one iteration cycle! Now collect your findings and decide what needs to change. You do not have to respond to every suggestion and bit of criticism, but you should seriously look at changing anything that is in the way of whatever your goal is for the project.

Almost there! Next time: How to know when you’re ready to launch and how design thinking is the key to a better future