You’ve had a brilliant idea. You’ve imagined a product that you think will change people’s lives, solving problems they didn’t know could be solved (and some problems they didn’t even know they had). You’ve sketched the idea, thrown out drafts, started from scratch, and refined that idea. You’ve gotten partners onboard to help you, you’ve thrown out more drafts, and you’ve finally arrived at a design that you think is ready to go.
Time to start manufacturing, right?
At Beyond Design, we’re here to tell you that the next step might just be the single most important step after that first spark of creativity that launched your product. It’s called user validation, and it’s the only way to ensure that your product will actually be the beloved solution you hope it will be for users.
User validation is the process of getting some form of your product into the hands of actual users, allowing them to test it, use it, and identify what they like and don’t like about it.
It seems simple, but it can actually be one of the most difficult stages of your design and production process. It doesn’t have to be. By taking the right approach to user validation, you can help ensure that your product not only delivers great user experiences, but is primed to succeed in the market as it actually exists— not the ideal version in your mind.
Why is it important to validate your product with users?
When you first start designing a product that hasn’t previously existed, you’re operating based on a lot of assumptions. You’re assuming that people will want to use your product, that they have a need for it in their lives. You’re also assuming that the features you’re giving them will be important to them, and that the design of your product will be user-friendly in real-world applications.
These assumptions may be based on research and even direct insights from customers. Still, none of your customers will have actually used your product until it exists in the real world. Research shows that the average customer is actually not great at knowing what they want or need until they see it.
When you validate a product with real end users, you ensure that you can avoid the biggest mistake a product design team can make— creating something that no one wants or needs. This isn’t just frustrating, but it will result in a failed product and countless wasted hours and dollars.
Early user validation also makes course correction much easier than later down the road. Pivoting once you’re deep into your manufacturing process is much more difficult and costly than making a few changes when all you have is a prototype.
No one wants to go to market with question marks hanging over your product. The more user validation you complete, the more confident you’ll be that your product will be useful and successful, and that people will actually pay to buy it.
What is the process for validating a product?
The process of validating a product usually comes in two phases.
First, you have to validate that there is in fact a problem and demand for a solution to that problem. You need to find out whether the problem you want your product to solve is actually something felt deeply by customers, and whether they feel that problem enough that they’ll be willing to pay money for your product to solve it.
This phase will also help you determine your full market potential— just how many people have the problem your product will solve, and how much of the market can you capture with your product?
Next, it’s time to validate your product as a solution. This involves creating a prototype. Some prototypes are fully functional and robust, while others are simply nonworking physical manifestations of what the product will look like. Obviously, fully functioning prototypes will result in more effective user validation, but that also makes them more costly.
The type of prototype you create will be based largely on your type of product, industry, and end users. That said, the more like a finished product your prototype is, the better you’ll be able to validate it with users.
Now it’s time to watch your users interact with the prototype. The more open-ended this validation period, the better. You don’t want to lead users down specific avenues for analysis— simply give them some basic instructions about how the product works, and let them go.
You might also want to consider watching your users interact with other, competing products. They may identify problems in these that you can fill with your product.
Remember— there’s no limit to how many prototypes you can create and prototype. Hopefully, each one will come closer to being a perfect product that your users love.
What do you do with the data you gather from users?
Once you have data compiled from user validation, it’s time to compile and analyze it. Don’t get hung up on the one user who said they wished your product had X or Y. Look at the whole of your validation data to identify trends.
It’s absolutely vital here that you are willing to accept whatever the result of the user validation testing may tell you. Too many companies and products fail because they insist, even after user validation tells them otherwise, that their original vision is flawless and perfect. You have to be prepared to be unhappy with the results of user validation. You must be ready to accept that you might need to go back to the drawing board. If you’re lucky, you’ll only need a few tweaks— but that isn’t always the case.
Once you have your user validation data, it’s time to create a new iteration, prototype that iteration, and then validate it again with users. After a few rounds of this process, you’ll begin to come closer to a game-changing product.