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A desirable product that answers real needs and is intuitive to use is likely to generate more revenue for your business. That may seem obvious, but many companies continue to be driven by technology, rather than taking a more holistic approach to product innovation. These businesses typically end up adding more clever gadgets, apps or functionality, rather than focusing on the needs of their potential customers.

Cambridge Design Partnership (CDP) has developed an innovation capability called Potential Realised. This allows new products to be developed through a systematic, evidence based process that considers technology, stakeholders and commercial needs in a balanced way. Just as new technologies are developed through testing and iteration in the lab, so are product concepts developed through market testing.

Development teams must observe potential users and customers interacting with a product or service to gain direct feedback on its potential value and acceptance in the ‘real world’. This is a vital route to understanding what users like, aspects they may not value, things they struggle with, where improvements need to be made and, ultimately, if the proposition is likely to be successful.

Market testing as early as possible in the design process is critical. It means decisions influencing the final design can be made with confidence at the start of the design cycle, when the costs of change are low. However many companies believe this is not possible until fully working prototypes are complete, when it’s often too late to make changes. The result is they struggle to deliver really focused innovation.

Wizard of Oz testing

One of the techniques used by CDP to overcome this paradox is called ‘Wizard of Oz’ testing. If you are basing fundamental design decisions on market and user feedback at an early stage of a project, it is important that your user base gives unbiased and uninfluenced reactions.

However, the Hawthorn Effect says that subjects modify their behaviour when they know they are being tested. One solution is to make it appear as if it’s not a test or to make them unaware of what is being tested.

This is the theory behind Wizard of Oz testing. It’s a methodology for the evaluation of a new product or service, but where the product doesn’t need to work like or even look like the real thing. That said, the experience of interacting with the innovation feels real and less like a test, ultimately eliciting more natural responses.

The technique is named after the novel and classic film, where the Wizard is exposed as a normal man sitting behind a curtain. Wizard of Oz testing sees the experimenter create a realistic illusion of a new product or device to discover how users interact with an idea, to reveal and record genuine and valid responses. For example, users might believe they are communicating with a computer using voice recognition, when the words are being entered manually by the experimenter (the wizard). The goal is to observe how a user interacts with a voice recognition system, rather than measure the effectiveness of the technology.

The method relies on effective interaction prototypes. These ‘acts like’ prototypes don’t need to function as or look like the ‘real thing’; they simply need to work on a level where the concept can be given to target users to study how they behave and interact with the proposed product or service.

The method allows new ideas to be tested with the confidence that reactions are genuine. By testing the product at an early stage, experimenters can identify flaws before money and time is spent on implementation.


Read the full article on the New Electronics website

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