The 'who' and 'how' of testing your ideas

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This article is all about user groups, test groups, market groups whatever you want to call them and how to best use them in the innovation of your new product, process or service.

Test groups in short are most often a small representational group that personify some of the key attributes of a potential customer or user of a product, process or service. Test groups/ user groups have been used in a variety of industries and can range from advertising focus groups, entertainment test audiences, user experience test groups, clinical trial groups and product test groups to name a few.


One of the most successful test groups in the world meet in the showers every work day. What on earth does shaving and showers have in common with innovation you might be thinking. A lot in fact. It happens to be the way that Gillette use test groups to test their prototypes of their latest shaving equipment. Employees are encouraged to shower and shave at their workplace (which has specially designed bathrooms to cater for this) in order to gain valuable feedback and ideas on how to improve their shaving equipment. If Gillette can have a great user group, you can too.

Market researchers like to think they have all of this test group stuff sorted and that the only way you can effectively test a new product is by using their very expensive services. Whilst it's true that market researchers are good at what they do, we don't all have to have double psychology degrees or two way mirrored glass in order to start testing out our new innovation.

Here's some simple things to consider when wanting to use a test group to test your latest prototype or potential innovation.

To test your innovation try asking some of the following questions:
What are your intentions are about the product, process or new service?
Who's it intended to be used by?
When is it intended to be used? What time, what day of the week, what season?
Where is it intended to be used? Internally, externally, in an office, on a phone?
How is it intended to be used? Sitting down, standing up, when driving, when on computer?
What happens when it is used? when it isn't being used?

Selecting and recruiting your user/ test group
To find out who to test your innovation on, try considering some of the following questions:  
Do your potential user group represent the typical type of user/ customer?
Does the group cater for a variety of demographics including, sex, age, profession, location, experience?

Does the proposed user group need to have a prior experience with the product, process or service?
Will the user group be biased by prior knowledge or prior experience?
Is familiarity a crucial part to the user group knowing how to use it?

Biases can adversely affect the learnings gained from a user group. Consider whether your user group be likely to behave differently in order to impress, show how smart they are, or any other modified behaviour?

Observer/ observation
Is the use of the product, service or process going to be happening in their typical natural environment?
Are the observers the normal people they would have around them?
Is it possible to have other people who are in their natural environment 'day in day out' do the observation for you?

Do you notice any difficulties that the user might be having with the said innovation? Difficulties in understanding what its used for, how to use it, how to start it, open it, change things, stop it etcetera? 

Questions to ask, topics to address
It's a good idea to work on both open ended questions and closed questions. For example a closed ended question might be "is it easy to use?" Whilst an open ended question you could ask is "what makes it specifically that makes this easy to use?" or "what specifically makes this difficult to work with?"

Ask for a specific response and you'll get what you need, if your question is too general, you'll get a monologue that's interesting but not very useful. Consider asking both quantitative and qualitative questions:

Qualitative questions might be: 
"What did you enjoy most about the service?" or "What would you do to improve the way this functions?" 

Quantitative questions might include:
"Which functions of our program are most important?" or "Which feature is the most appealing?"   

Consider asking questions that will ascertain what might make it more: 
More intuitive

Are there any more needs that the user might have with the product? For example - It needs a handle, or it needs a button, or the new sign up page needs a wizard to help show me how to fill out the form.

Are there any desires that the user would like it to be able to do beyond what already exists. For example "I wish I could hold it in one hand" or "I wish my assistant could fill out this form instead of me".

Are there any elements that annoy the user so much so that they wish it didn't exist or was changed. For example "it's so heavy I can't lift it" or "there's just too many questions and it takes too long".

Where and how are you going to recruit your study group?
Consider recruiting from - Existing clients, colleagues, family friends, suppliers, partners.
Facebook has become one of the simplest and easiest recruiting options that exist to find your user group. There's a wide range for choices that you can select from including demographics such as age, sex, education, career type, geographic location, mother, etcetera. 

It's worth noting that most of the time you can get the user to use their webcam to film and record their interaction with the innovation being tested. This can save you having to have them come in to your testing site.

How big should our test group size be?
When it comes to digital product usability tests the worlds leading UX design firm Nielsen Norman Group suggest that 5 people are enough to ascertain a good sense of usability on a product or process. 

What this means is that you don't have to have thousands of people to recruit, but a small number that over a good cross section will more than often suffice for you.

Tools for assessing
Digital eye tracking technology can help, though it pays to have the psychology of why people are looking at a certain thing sorted. A common mistake is to assume that just because they have been looking at certain part of the screen doesn;t necessarily mean it must be important. It could simply be be that they were looking at that part of the screen because it's so difficult to understand. 

The study group designer and observer need to think and determine"Why are they doing that?" "What's behind their decision and behaviour to do that?" "Can we modify it and do something else?"

The simplest, cheapest and most effective tool by far for surveys is to use - you can do a lot with a free account and you can do even more with the paid account, well worth the investment.

Hopefully by now you've realised that you don't have to be a behaviourist to be market, user group tester for your latest innovation. 

If you still need one more reason to believe that you don't have to be a professional market researcher, here it is. Leggo, one of the worlds most successful toy manufacturers use mothers as their behavioural team. Knowing that observing children in a different environment to their home would skew results, they realised it would be much wearier to study them at home, and even more effective if we just got their mothers to do the observation. That way there would be no external influencers onto the children. Simply a child playing with their toy and a doting mother keeping an eye and asking a question of their child from time to time. 

With the right questions, strategy and thinking anyone can engage their behavioural intelligence to study a user group and formulate ways to improve an innovation to make it world class. 

Good luck becoming that user group behaviouralist.     



Nils Vesk

Founder of Ideas with Legs | Innovation speaker | consultant | author

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