By: Executive Education

The difficulty with many new ideas is that they’re hard to empirically prove, leaving key decision makers no basis for comparison. The good news is, designers can create data through simple prototyping. If you’re struggling to get buy-in from key stakeholders due to lack of hard data, consider building an empathetic data set, derived from real user prototype testing.

How to gather empathetic data:

Take your prototype (it doesn’t need to be perfect, just usable) and place it in a context where your users currently experience your product or service. Bonus points if you can find a setting that allows users to test the current offering and the new offering. Extra bonus points if that setting is low pressure, so customers feel comfortable giving open and honest feedback. During your test, capture usage counts, quotes, and reactions via notes or video. Create a sizable data sample to support and refine your prototype.

Pro tip: bring your decision makers along to watch and interact with users.

Real-world application example:

Rough prototype

Rough prototype

Bill Pacheco, Design Thinking Bootcamp alum, didn’t quite see eye to eye with his management team at Cybex, a manufacturer of premium exercise equipment. Having learned the value of empathizing with real customers, Bill routinely visited gyms to observe and talk to people. He focused on older exercisers using their treadmills, and was surprised how they held onto the machines, grasping anywhere they could for support, as they gained speed. But, when he came back to Cybex with exciting insights and equipment mockups, his management team saw too many aesthetic and cost challenges and wasn’t as enthusiastic and disregarded the changes.

Final product

Final product

Because of the care built up through empathy, Bill and his design team persevered and hacked into existing treadmills extra support handles and placed them in a small hotel gym with an aim to collect data for his management team. Within minutes of their install, people gravitated to those machines over the existing models. When asked why they stated, "because they feel safer" and became their favorite machines to use. With the data to back up his findings, management gave Bill the green light to go to market with the new treadmills. The design team ended up solving the form versus function and the treadmills were a big hit increasing sales by 20% in the first two years. 


Written by Sarah Holcomb & Kathryn Segovia 

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