Why validate concepts? Ask the Wonderful Wizard of Oz

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, written in 1900 and adapted into the well-known film, is a fantasy story that culminates with the revelation that the almighty wizard is in fact just an old man, who has been creating an illusion that he is a great and powerful force. All of the other characters in the story believe he is a wizard, and so their reactions to him – up until the point that the truth is revealed – are genuine and valid, psychologically, anthropologically, and sociologically.

It’s not just wizards that can make illusions, and produce genuine responses in people. ‘Wizard of Oz’ testing is a design methodology wherein an experimenter simulates the behaviour of a new product, device, service or business proposition. Particularly effective for this are what’s known as ‘acts like’ prototypes – which are created to act or behave as though they are the real product without having to look like or function like the real thing. These ‘Wizard of Oz’ prototypes allow innovative organisations to discover how users interact with a product, device or service that doesn’t yet exist. Sometimes this is done with the participant’s prior knowledge, as is common during the piloting of new websites or business ideas online, and sometimes it’s done with a degree of secrecy to manage participant expectations and encourage natural behaviours.

The aim of Wizard of Oz testing is to validate concepts so that organisations can prove their potential and learn enough to maximise potential at an early stage of development. Potential RealisedTM, Cambridge Design Partnership’s end to end innovation capability, aims to maximise the return on investment in product innovation. A key step in delivering this outcome is optimising the product or service concept through user and stakeholder research and concept validation.  Wizard of Oz testing is a key tool to achieve this.

Why validate concepts?

Get in early
Through the development process the cost to make changes increases exponentially, resulting in delays to your development should you discover anything you wish to change later down the line. And if you haven’t shared interaction realistic models with users and key stakeholders early, any problems associated with how users interact with a solution won’t be apparent until it is too costly to change them. Development resources are expensive to squander on ideas and interactions which are not right.

In addition to this, as the risks and costs of change increases, so does your team’s aversion to risk.  And so, the only opportunity to innovate through interaction effectively is during early stages in development.

Create facts and evidence
Designers are not users; neither are marketing departments, engineers or human factors specialists. In order to generate facts about what users really want and need, not what development teams think they might need, evidence from primary research with users should be prioritised over opinions from everyone else.

In a recent project Cambridge Design Partnership worked with a surgical device manufacturer to put non-functional handling models in front of surgeons early in the design process. Requirements based on the assumptions of the development team were eliminated and new, more important features were added, from identifying actual user interface requirements. This was done in parallel with technical R&D work prior to formal design control so didn’t add to the timeline of the project and created traceable evidence for user interface requirements and customer requirements, focusing the development resources.

Allow people to interact with, and contribute to, your vision
Users might not be designers, but by allowing them to interact and contribute to your ideas within the context of a well-designed research programme they can contribute to your vision. People can’t ask for what they don’t know is possible, their imaginations and desires are bound by their experience, so they accept inadequacies and deficiencies in their environment as normal, unless they know that an alternative could be available.

Create a shared vision
Clearer device visions save time and money through predictable and timely development programmes. Arm your teams with all they need to get the device designed and built in the right way first time by taking a lead from primary stakeholder and end users to create clearly defined requirements and a collective vision.

Release the true value in your usability team
The stick, rather than the carrot, has driven an increase in usability practice within medical device companies, under the watchful eye and even direction of the compliance team. For consumer product organisations usability testing often comes too late in the development process to explore game changing yet potentially risky interaction approaches – and it is often too late for even minor changes in direction should interaction issues be uncovered.

But there is opportunity to get more than regulatory compliance and minor tweaks from usability processes and methodologies and these opportunities can only be realised if usability and interaction design teams are involved in concept creation. The benefits include delightful user experiences that improve brand loyalty, user centred devices and services which improve outcomes and empower patients and carers, and a reduction in training and support costs.

Read more about our Potential Realised innovation process.

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Lucy Sheldon

Human Centred Design Consultant