Testing Physical Products in a Digital Age: Sometimes you have to get creative

User experience research encompasses all aspects of design and human interactions, yet it seems that the bulk of work being done these days is digital. So what do you do when you aren’t testing a webpage or an app? What happens when you need to actually test a physical prototype?

Admittedly, testing a physical prototype has its challenges. While all prototypes take time to create, high fidelity physical models take the cake. The logistics of testing a physical model can be a deal breaker if time and budget are not on your side and, lets face it, they rarely are.

This is where creativity and your inner MacGyver kick in.

Before committing to a full-scale prototype, first determine what the prototype needs to accomplish and what aspects of the prototype you need to test.

Here at User Insight, we were recently tasked with testing concept appliance interfaces. We were provided high quality digital renderings that looked great when viewed on a monitor during our dry runs, but we felt that it created a disconnect between the User and its intended function. After a brief brainstorming session, we decided that mocking up the interfaces using full-scale print outs would better bridge the gap between the User and the interface.

High quality print outs mounted to a foam core support provided a realistic and cost effective solution. Mounted at the same height as the actual appliances, Users were interviewed and allowed to “interact” with the mockups as they would a real appliance. By having the User stand and reach to engage with the interface, valuable insights such as font size, color, button location, and overall look and feel were gathered using this low-fi solution.


While this approach is not ideal for every product-testing scenario, it is just one example of the creative approaches we employ at User Insight to enable Users to provided honest, actionable, realistic feedback.