Monthly Archives: November 2014

Observational Prototyping

This scenario is a simple but powerful example of the remarkable value of observing user/consumer behavior in a real-world environment. It is an example with a prototype with enough fidelity that is close enough to a finished product (a sliver bracelet) to enable a user to interact and offer accurate feedback on their experience. This took place in a live outdoor exhibit booth in a public setting, was impromptu, and not formally structured.

Observe client learning experience and reactions-I observed a few steps removed from the immediate area, close enough to hear and see, but not influence the dynamics of the one-on-one discussion.

The participants included a prospective client with contextual background and understanding the environment, business, and products. A dialog was conducted with a knowledgeable facilitator explaining the product in greater detail and specifically articulating the unique value of features, construction, materials, design, etc.

What was new that the client had not fully appreciated that I learned through observation?

I observed that the prospective client was fully unaware of the specific differentiating value of the product. At first glance, jewelry is jewelry. But for this product, each and every individual component of the sliver bracelet is hand forged, hammered, drilled, assembled, and silver-soldered. However, there was nothing visible to indicate the bracelet was not simply manufactured from purchased parts. At first glance, prospective customers make false assumptions based on the environment and competitor offerings.

This new insight led directly to both tactical and strategic ideas:

  •  Develop short written descriptions to be placed in front of items on display with detail on the silversmith work that goes into each product for visitors to read on their own.
  • Develop larger general business write-up/poster describing the nature and positioning of the products.

The concept of incremental sales rose dramatically in importance as we became acutely aware that many prospective clients are likely making incorrect assumptions on the relative value of these products vs. other similar jewelry items, and simply walking on without engaging.

Interestingly, this type of information with very clear examples and photos to illustrate is a prominent part of the company website, but this did not transition to the active client-facing selling environment.


Two un-expected outcomes:

  •  The assumption that the standard product display effectively communicated the unique nature of the products and differentiation vs. pervasive category competition was flawed.
  • New insight that many incremental sales opportunities are likely being missed, and that a comprehensive strategy to capture all potential incremental sales should be a fundamental component of the 2015 business plan.

That observational prototyping can make an important contribution not only to product design but to business strategy is a key take away from this example.