The one thing you can’t fake in rapid prototyping

Rapid prototyping on real users is an incredibly effective way to search solution space for product configurations that will actually resonate with users. But there’s one critical mistake that I see rookie user testers making on the regular. If you do this, your test is fucked, and if you believe the results of the test, your product might be fucked too.

You can ask a user to fake lots of things. Pretend you’re at home. Pretend I’m not here. Pretend you’re 16 again. Pretend you’re a mother. All those things are actually fine, if you give the user the opportunity to really embody the mindset.

But there’s one thing you cannot ask the user to fake: motivation. The moment you ask a user to pretend he’s interested, or pretend he wants some outcome that your product is trying to deliver, the test is a charade. The user is now simulating. He’s running an algorithm that’s something like this:

In his head: “Okay, she said I want to get the cookie. So how do I get the cookie.? Okay, I guess this is what I have to do.”

Aloud: “I click this button.”

No! Bullshit! In the wild, the key question is whether the user cares. As soon as you ask him to fake it, you might as well just tell him to go home, because you can sit in your armchair and speculate about what he would do just as well as he can. You are no longer learning about the critical question: what do people care about? What gets them excited?

So, never ask users to pretend about motivation.

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