For our first user test, we wanted to do an experience prototype that laid out the customer experience from beginning to end. To achieve this, Audrey created a digital UI mockup of the ordering process, focusing on the following questions:
- Could users understand our purchasing model? Licensing ideas for a certain price and then purchasing the customization options through a maker?
- How much customization did users want to have? What UI choices could support these customization options?
- Did users enjoy the process of receiving their design and assembling it? Would they want to order this way again, supposing a lower price point?
- Did users understand our short pitch/explanation of the platform and would they want to use it?
Preparing for the User Tests
Taking Apart the Planter
As I mentioned earlier, we decided to split up the tasks and Audrey worked on the digital UI mockups while I worked to get the physical pieces ready for the prototype.
I began by taking an assembled planter she had made and taking it apart piece by piece, photographing each piece, measuring them, and laying them out for reassembly. I then put the planter back together one piece at a time and wrote down written instructions for how I did so.
Finally, I created a mixed visual/written instruction packet for users to follow when assembling the piece. I learned very quickly that instructions can be quite difficult to create, and noted that this could be an unnecessary burden if we decided as a company to create unique instructions for each product. There will have to be a process where designers can send in instructions or perhaps create a short video showing them assembling the piece.
Laser Cut Party
Next, I took Audrey’s design files and headed over to the laser lab at Parsons E4. At first, I tried to buy plywood to keep the prototypes cheap, but the maker center was out of thicker wood and the 1/8′ plywood I did find was way too thin when cut out (and took forever to do so, almost 2 hours!)
A bit frustrated at how much time was being spent, I sucked it up and bought a big sheet of 3/16′ white acrylic, enough to cut out 3 full planters (for only $11.00!). The files themselves had some extensive etching included that I didn’t realize at first, which is what had made the cutting process take so long, I decided to delete the pattern for time, but since anything could be quickly added – the beauty of digital fabrication – I quickly found Audrey’s logo and a little circuit symbol to mimic how a real product might look with the designer information included. She also totally deserved the credit.
The laser cutting went much faster after switching to the acrylic and a new machine that was a bit more powerful. After only 30 minutes all the pieces were ready and I was off to Michael’s to buy new paracord for the string.
The next day I received Audrey’s digital UI files and uploaded them to Marvel to make a quick interactive click-through prototype.
You can take a look at the digital UI here.
I setup all the planters pieces (so 3 could be made at a time), laid out instructions, cut the paracord to the correct length and burned the edges to seal the cuts (with many blisters, and perhaps not quite well thought out, since some then couldn’t fit through the planter holes). Finally, I placed everything at the station and got ready for user testing!
User Testing and Feedback
The user tests went awesome and we received some great feedback from participants. But the most exciting feedback we received was that people really liked our platform and thought it was a great idea. Granted, it has lots of bugs to work out, but overall they said it really helped them to rethink value in terms of licensing a designers idea and paying for custom builds at local maker spaces.
Here is a link to our user test questions.
Some of the other key pieces of feedback we received are below:
What part of the UI ordering platform did you find most confusing or worrying and what would you want to change?
- I wouldn’t feel comfortable exchanging currency for in-app tokens. If there isn’t a fixed exchange rate I wouldn’t know the value of what you are giving me. I’d feel better if it was pegged to a certain currency, although it might be weird for that only to be USD.
- I already trade money for tokens on a lot of game platforms and other services, so if it’s a one-to-one exchange it would be better. I find it annoying when you buy more than yo need and have some leftover.
- It would be nice to see how the customization options change the design, even if just with a graphic sketch (vs a photo). Check out the dominoes ordering experience for reference.
Did the ordering experience help you understand value in new ways?
- Yes. I see the platform as a way to honor the design and the person who thought it up, giving them the credit. But it is really cool that you can collaborate with them in some fashion and customize the design yourself.
- It did help me think about it in new ways. I honestly haven’t really thought about this kind of thing before, but now I see it.
- It wasn’t clear just from doing the test with no background, but from the explanation I understand. I never thought about designs this way before, at all for consumer goods, I just thought of them as something you get. It’s cool to think about it in a different way.
Other Feedback and Suggestions
- You need to think of a better term for tokens than CNS. It’s confusing, maybe an icon could be better.
- Since the CNS was so close to the stars and other UI elements I recognize from product site, I didn’t notice it and thought it was part of the description. Didn’t make it clear I was spending money.
- I like the customization options and it wasn’t hard from the UI to see what the options were (thought the test was limited to one choice).
- The term IP for the license isn’t helpful, you need to think of a new way to express this so people understand its more like a license.
- It shouldn’t take 1-2 days to get a confirmation from the maker center. I just spent money and it makes me feel uncomfortable that I don’t know what is happening with it for a couple of days.
- I didn’t realize I was paying additional money when checking out the custom build and buying the license. You should make it so that the first option is just to keep going forward with the build and pay at the end, with a sub-option to buy the license and save the buildout
- I think that you should have fewer customization options, usually, three is enough. Any more and it could get overwhelming.
- Users were split between wanting a very custom (made to fit) design versus standard sizing. The user who was an architect wanted the ability to have it made to fit because they understood the process, but admitted certain sizes could be better for less-skilled or concerned users.
- I want to see the full price range up front. You could always list a base price with a + sign to show the customization options will change it.
- It would be interesting to have seasonal materials available for a special order that cost a bit more.
- I always look at catalogs and the colors and materials catch my eye. I would look at the Nike and Adidas customization pages for some references. I always go on there and spend hours just playing with the custom designs but can never afford to buy them.
- It is really cool that I can customize things but I don’t want it to be way too much more money to do so or the whole thing kind of loses its purpose.
- I think that the success of this platform comes down to the design itself. I wouldn’t go out of my way to use it, so I need something that makes me feel it’s really different from just going to IKEA. But if I saw cool custom designs that I really like, I would definitely be interested.
Observations on User Testing Process
- There was confusion over the build instructions. It was relayed to me that having a full diagram of the finished product on the first page (like IKEA) would help this process a lot.
- Use the term “thread” instead of “put” when referring to passing the cord through the shelf.
- Users mostly ignored the words and just tried to follow the pictures.
- Try to combine multiple steps on the same diagram if they are just repeating with different cords.
- The icons in the provided materials are a bit confusing, try to be more representative of the actual materials (referring to the different sizes of cords)
- Measure out where the knots on the cords need to be ahead of time and mark them with something. This wouldn’t be an unreasonable ask on makers if they are already cutting and measuring the cord for the products.
- Change “You Must Provide” to “Tools Needed” on the instructions
- Consider listing the dimensions of each piece next to the materials.
- Assume that the users have never built anything before and try to be explicit as possible when creating the instructions. When you define things like a knot, say which knot. If you say the ‘end’ of a cord, explain what end you are talking about.
- Include tips that help people keep the shelves level. Either tell them to use a level and suggest they download a level app for their phone if you can’t provide one with the kit.
- Consider creating a short video of the product being made to help the instructions along. This could also be something designers could easily be required to provide.
- Try to show more of an ‘axiometric’ (3/4 side view) when creating the diagram. It makes it clearer where things go.
- Consider how you could standardize the instruction submission process. Could there be a template or instructions for how they should submit them?
- Consider the material options more closely both from a customer experience point of view and a maker feasibility point of view.
- Knots are a very hard thing to do right. Could the ropes be crimped or could we use washers or something else to hold the shelves?
Suggestions on Further Resources
- The founder of Etsy left to build a maker center in the Catskills. That would be a great place to check out.
- You should look upstate, they have a real need for new manufacturing processes and have a lot of innovative stuff going on.
- Try to look at communities this could make a real economic impact on and connect with people in those spaces.
- Check out Lauren Slowik’s thesis piece on 3D printing custom mods for IKEA furniture as a reference.
- This is a great way to “Make the US great again” (lol) but really, it connects to a lot of initiatives to reinvigorate American manufacturing and keep jobs local.
- Check out apartment therapy and sites like that to see what types of products they list. Think more about who the customer is and what types of needs and challenges they have in the space they live (tiny windows need special planters etc.)
- Consider what other markets could be served by this, especially commercial ones. Could restaurants buy these in bulk for an opening? Could schools buy them as design projects for students?
- Keep thinking about the community aspect and how you can explain different connections that would be good for grant support and other public money. Could it be pitched as educational? Job training? Economic development?
- Think about how you can familiarize people with the makers and make it feel more personal than going to a regular store. Perhaps do a video tour of the maker center, or try to encourage people to pick up designs and check out further educational resources.
With lots of great feedback, we are ready to keep pushing forward. The next steps will be to host another brainstorming meeting where we lay out all the interviews we need to get done and research to find that will help us really define our target stakeholders and what they need, what they want, and what their current pain points are. We are working on a list of designers, makers, and potential customers to interview and will work to develop robust personas moving forward by mapping common behavioral variables. I am also working on developing a business model framework
Audrey has already interviewed a student in Product Design for designer/maker portion and received great feedback that will help us to better define our designer audience and the pitch we use. In addition, it will help us think through the customization process and how to ensure a standardization of materials across maker center partners.I am also working on developing a business model framework
I am also working on developing a business model framework that starts to map out some of these questions and have begun researching competitors, design precedents, and economic trends that can help us define our market.
Finally, I am writing up a detailed production cost breakdown so we can start to understand what our minimum pricing could look like with a couple of assumptions about labor costs and build time. This will help us to better identify the income range and preferences of potential customers.
More to come soon, so get excited!