6 tips for design tests with (large) prototypes

Image of Anne Sophie Zurwellen
Anne Sophie Zurwellen

In new and on-going product development, it is not just the development of the product itself alone that is important, but also the design of the product. Design tests help us to define how the design is perceived, what associations it evokes, whether they fit the target group and brand positioning. Design tests provide information on how to optimize the design.

Associate Director Anne Hoffmann and Managing Director Joachim Haag from isi offer six valuable tips in this blog post on how to optimally implement a design test - specifically when it comes to larger prototypes such as household appliances.


1.Consider all relevant target values of a good design - not just the aesthetics

First, Joachim Haag introduces the dimensions that a design should address. "When developing a good design, the focus should not rest solely on its aesthetics. The target dimensions of functionality and symbolism along the entire Sensory Consumer Journey must also be considered," he explains.


In order to assess this functionality of the product, your design test examines the functionality of your prototype in realistic usage situations - if necessary, the anticipated handling of the product will be built into the design test when the realistic usage situation is not otherwise available. Think about aspects such as cleaning the product and replacement and refilling of consumables. Other questions about functionality might include consideration of the space requirements for the appliance or whether and how the appliance could be integrated into the kitchen in a meaningful way.

A higher level of importance should be attached to the area of symbolism. "Product designs are carriers of meaning. They are perhaps the most powerful instrument for making brand positioning tangible for consumers," explains Haag. Therefore, make sure that the test subjects come into contact with the device with as many senses as possible - because not only visual impressions, but also the haptics, acoustics. The manner in which the device is grasped and the way one interacts with it trigger implicit associations. On the basis of these associations consumers form an opinion about the device. Tools such as implicit association tests or the method of thinking aloud provide valuable insights.

2. Extra attention for a perfect product presentation

Design prototypes - especially for large appliances such as refrigerators, ovens or extractor hoods - require a lot of space for an optimal presentation. "In tests with 10-12 washing machines, the test room quickly turns into a bottleneck factor," says Anne Hoffmann. She advises clarifying this in advance of the test in order to avoid unpleasant surprises later. But the size of the room is not the only decisive factor: the lighting should be uniform. Disturbing stimuli such as pictures or intense wall colors in the room should be avoided. The flow of the test persons' routes should be planned precisely so that the participants do not get in each other's way. Should the devices be evaluated in On-Mode? If so, then make certain ahead of time that there are enough power connections.


How do you find the right test studio for your design test quickly and efficiently? Take a look at the new isi Test Studio Finder and experience how easy it can be to book a test studio! There are several filters available to help you find the test studio that meets your requirements - easy, transparent and worldwide.


3.Resolve the trade-off conflict between an undisturbed design evaluation or more efficient in-the field testing - with the Classroom Setup

"Especially with large devices, there is usually only one set of the prototypes available. Consumers should have ample space to use the devices. Consumers require a bit of peace and quiet for a good design evaluation. And at the same time, field work with large sample sizes cannot extend over several weeks," says Hoffmann from her experiences.


To resolve this trade-off, she often uses the so-called classroom setup: she places 3-4 respondents in the testing room at the same time. They make their assessments using online questionnaires on tablets which allows them to move freely around the room. A facilitator is also in the room and ensures that there is no exchange or mutual influence between the participants. With an average session length of 45-60 minutes, this approach allows for 100-120 high-quality interviews per field location and working week.


4. Think of serial position side effects - despite fixed product positions

In other product test situations, a good practice is to avoid serial position side effects by using a randomized or rotating order in the product presentation. In the experience of Haag and Hoffmann, however, moving large devices between test sessions proves to be impractical. A sensible solution is to give the respondents different evaluation sequences via the questionnaire control. This means that each respondent is given a different route through the test room. As a result, each respondent evaluates the devices in a different order. An unambiguous coding of the prototypes is helpful here. "To avoid confusion, the design of the device should also be visually identifiable in the online questionnaire," Haag adds - even if the test person is supposed to concentrate on the physical device in front of him.

5. Logistics planning and delivery should be planned down to the tiniest detail


It is not only the size of the test room itself that is important - the logistics route for the prototypes should also be planned precisel

Haag and Hoffmann ask themselves the following questions before each test: Is the test studio easily accessed by a forwarding agent or is it located in a pedestrian zone? Are all doors wide and high enough for the delivery of the prototypes? Is there accessibility or is a sufficiently large elevator available with the appropriate load capacity? Delivery and pickup should be planned precisely and coordinated with the studio management - the test studios usually do not have the capacity to store products of this size over a long period of time.

6. Let your stakeholders participate in the test

"Whether a customer or an internal stakeholder - trust and involvement in the test approach increase dramatically if the relevant people get a chance to experience the test first-hand," Hoffmann concludes. However, often tests with large devices present difficulties that results in neither the normal view from the observation room providing sufficient insights nor a conventional live stream. If that is the case, she recommends creative technical solutions: Try to transfer the screen activity and the respondents' activities directly from their tablet to the observation room. Or use video cameras from different perspectives or a mobile cameraman to best capture the consumers' impressions and the strengths of the test.

With these six tips, practically nothing stands in the way of a successful design test with valuable insights and enthusiastic stakeholders.


Are you more interested in product tests? Take a look at our blog post with the six steps to a successful product test!


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Photos: isi Archiv

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