A lesson from digital media prototyping: Don’t get set in your ways

Oct 22 2013

This semester, I’m working with a team of students on a business idea that would connect student freelancers with small media organizations and businesses.

As adequately intelligent college and graduate students, our group went into our research with what we thought were solid ideas. We had talked to people in industry and believed that we knew how things would go when we asked people to test our prototype in user tests.

That’s not to say that we were making assumptions. As my mother would remind me, “you know what happens when you assume.” But we were making educated guesses based on the information we were given. And boy, were we wrong.

We made a paper prototype to test with news editors and small business owners – those we had decided were our target market for our product. The prototype consisted of three different options for our eventual product.

In one option on the prototype, the testers were asked to sort through profiles of students. They would create an organization profile, then sift through students based on skills, rating, portfolio and other items on their profile. They would then contact the student about the job they had in mind. Our assumption educated guess was that this option would be the least liked by editors and business owners. We expected that our users would find it onerous to sort through many profiles.

In a second version of the prototype, we gave the users the option to be connected to a liaison who would select a student for them. We thought this would give the customers a better chance of discussing their project and have more customized selection based on their needs and the skills of the students.

In the third option, the company was given the option to post a job and have students apply directly to that job.

Our results from our initial user tests were all over the board. To our surprise, some people did like the first option of the user test.

“We saw a lot of people wanting to search,” said Anna Starnes, one of our team members. “We were surprised they wanted to put that much time into it.”

We also received good feedback about wording and some of the specifics about the prototype, but were left with big questions about the structure. We went into this step of the research hoping it would give us the answers we were asking for and instead left us scratching our heads, unsure of where to go next.

We decided to put a pause on the user testing and go about the research in a different way. Because the user testing had to be done in person, we had a limited pool of people to test. By creating a survey, we were able to get answers from more people all over the country and begin to narrow down our options.

This whole project in an incredibly iterative process. We have to go through these bumps and growing pains and have our assumptions blown out of the water in order to move forward. Switching gears to a different kind of research gave us more information from a broader set of people. As we begin to cull through the results of the survey and create our second prototype we will remove one of the options and contact more people. We’ll also continue the process of making best guesses with all the information we can have. But remember what happens when you assume …


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