Intentional flaws: using the sacrificial concepts to create Product Principles

Rara Anzani
Oct 28, 2019 · 5 min read

I’m one of four researchers for Mitra Bukalapak, a Bukalapak sub-product whose objective is to help mom-and-pop stores (warung) run the business with technology. Through Mitra Bukalapak apps, warung owners are able to buy groceries online, accept digital payment from their customers, and even have access to funding. In this article, I want to share one of our foundational research project in which we use the sacrificial concepts method to create product principles for building a new product for Mitra.

When we first heard that our stakeholders plan to put more focus into one type of Mitra (this is what we usually call our user), we were pretty excited because we have never done specific research for this user group. Not only because the number is quite huge, but the stakeholders also have a hypothesis that with the right product, this user group has great potential for our business. Therefore, we planned to do one-month foundational research to understand better about this user group. Our objective was to find out what kind of suitable product for users to help them grow their business. In research planning, we decided to add activity at the end of the interview session called the sacrificial concepts.

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Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Created by IDEO, sacrificial concepts or conversation starters refers to the early ideas that we show to people to spark their reactions. These ideas must be around a central theme but as they are totally sacrificial, we don’t have to worry if people don’t buy into the idea. Click here if you are curious about how IDEO and Wellcome Trust using the sacrificial concept in their fieldwork in Kenya and India for Project Marvelous.

We used sacrificial concepts because we wanted to quickly test some product ideas without having to spend too much time on developing the idea itself.

Furthermore, as this activity usually use purposefully extreme concepts, it is potentially easier to create a reaction from the user. We also aimed to use sacrificial concepts to create product principles. The product principles can be used as the direction when the stakeholders are planning to develop a new product.

Even though we realized that the sacrificial concept is about the early ideas that will be sacrificed, we did a lot of discussions on the concepts itself because it was our first time doing the sacrificial concept with Mitra. From our experiences conducting research with Mitra, we knew that it would be challenging to get them verbalize their thoughts.

Here is what we did when preparing the sacrificial concept for Mitra:

#1. Decide the instruments we want to include in the product principles.

In our case, the objective was to help Mitra in their income-earning activity with our products. So we made the income-earning activity as the central theme in this sacrificial concepts. After that, we picked some instruments related to the theme such as the preferred payment scheme, incentive scheme, and mobility preferences and added these instruments to each concept. Later in the synthesis phase, we used users’ reactions to the instruments to formulate product principles.

#2. Prepare the concepts.

After sharpening our focus on the instrument, we looked for the potential concepts to be tested. It doesn’t have to be a new idea. It can be an existing concept from other businesses or even your competitors. For example, for the mobility preferences instrument, we showed participants two concepts: one that requires them to commute and one that allows them to get additional income without having to go anywhere.

#3. Reframe the concepts.

The essence of the sacrificial concepts is to collect feedback and opinions from the user. We reframed the concept by adding extreme elements so that it triggers Mitra to assess the loss and benefit of each concept. In one of the concepts, we wrote Mitra has to acquire 50 new customers in a day to get a certain benefit. Given the extreme number, they can easily decide that the task is not worth doing. What we need to do afterwards is to find out the “why”.

#4. Pay attention to words and pictures.

To make the concept easily understood by Mitra, we put more attention to the word selection for each concept. We even did a lot of alterations on the copywriting before showing it to Mitra. We also added a picture to help Mitra understand the context.

#5. Create follow-up questions.

After finishing the concepts, my team and I discussed the expected data from the sacrificial concepts and prepare the follow-up questions. Since people’s feedback and opinions might be varied, the follow-up question becomes a guide to make sure all team members have the same output when conducting the sacrificial concepts.

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Photo by Hannah Olinger on Unsplash

Even when we had all preparations, it doesn’t mean we did the sacrificial concepts flawlessly. We got some lessons especially from the challenges in the fieldwork.

  • Pilot research is a must

Even though we let the participants took as much as their time to read the concepts, oftentimes we need to explain it repeatedly to get Mitra to understand. This shows the importance of having pilot research before the actual one to make sure your concepts are easily understood. If you have enough time, you might be able to test the concepts to more than one user prior to the fieldwork.

  • Always be prepared for the user’s reaction

Another challenge that we found is getting Mitra to think-aloud. While conducting the sacrificial concept, we found them repeatedly responding yes or no to the concepts but finding it hard to explain the reason behind their response. Fortunately, we prepared the follow-up questions to help Mitra explain their opinion further. With these questions, we were able to dig deeper into what they think and feel about the concepts.

When we finished the fieldwork, we managed to do the sacrificial concepts with 14 participants. From the sacrificial concept, we found out what users say about income-earning activities, particularly whose various payment scheme, incentive scheme, and mobility preferences. In the end, we synthesized these findings and then distilled it into 5 product principles that can be used as a guideline when building and launching a new product for Mitra.

As product designers, oftentimes we are required to be able to provide a solution in a short time to support the organisation’s business. However, given the limited time doesn’t mean we can sacrifice user needs. From my experience, the sacrificial concepts method allows us to be explorative in creating product ideas but at the same time helps us quickly get feedback from users.

I would like to thank Cinintya Putri for introducing me to the sacrificial concepts and giving her input to this article.

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