Testing Techniques Part 10: Design the Box

Six doodles stand around a table covered with art supplies. One doodle says "Mmhm...nice..." while looking at another doodle's box. That doodle is holding the box — complete with muscle arms, a unicorn, and the word "rad" — above its head, yelling "This is the ultimate box!" Other doodles stare at it and say "Wooow..." and "GASP!"

Is your team lost in the product development process? Do you want to see how someone else might envision this thing you’re making? Maybe you’re interested in getting at the je ne sais quoi of a successful product? Never fear, dear readers! Our latest installment on testing techniques is about “design the box,” a research activity that asks participants to decorate a physical box representing a (digital or tangible) product.

The goal of design the box is for participants to capture the product’s most important qualities and visually represent how they could be displayed — and how they might interact with each other. Folks can do this by writing words on the box, gluing magazine pictures to it, or any other crafty approach they please.

To prepare, you’ll need to gather supplies — including, of course, boxes (shoeboxes work great). You’ll also want to provide things like markers, scissors, tape, magazines…you get the idea. Then divide participants into teams. We find that teams of 3 to 6 people work well, but if you have fewer people, you can also have people work in pairs.

Now it’s time for participants to channel their creativity! Ask them to imagine that the box is the package for the product in question — and their job is to design it in a way that helps sell the product. For example, if you’re working on a new app for tracking physical activity, you can tell participants to think about things like:

  • Who is the app designed for?
  • What’s important to that audience?
  • What will make them want to buy and use the app?
  • What makes this app different from other, similar apps?

Give teams a set amount of time to design their box — say, 30 minutes — and ask them to prepare some talking points about why they designed the box the way they did. When time’s up, have each group present their creation. Then facilitate a sure-to-be enlightening discussion about participants’ choices and their vision for the product.

Keep in mind that participants can be either internal stakeholders or end users of the future product. Each of these groups represents a unique perspective. If you can, do 2 separate sessions with both types of participants!

The bottom line: Design the box taps into creativity, collaboration, and fresh perspectives for product development. It might just be exactly what your research process needs.