This style of testing is often called Wizard of Oz testing, after the scene in The Wizard of Oz in which we're asked to “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain." You'll be surprised how quickly users tune out the person moving paper around to simulate the software behavior and instead focus on achieving their goal with the software.
Figure 3: Paper prototyping in progress
For more on paper prototyping to test and iterate software design, see my StickyMinds.com article "Test Software Before You Code." I've also written a handy reference on building and testing paper prototypes called "Paper Prototyping and Lightweight Usability Testing."
Plan and Execute Your Solution, Continuing Validation as You Go
Once we've iteratively tested a prototype of your solution, we'll reach a point where we've learned as much as we can without actually implementing the solution. It's important to recognize that, even if we do implement it, it's not guaranteed to work. Our execution plan needs to have time built in to continue validating the solution as it's built and to respond to what we learn when we do.
Those are the four basic characteristics of design thinking. It seems dead obvious to not try to solve a problem you don't understand. It makes sense to consider multiple solutions and then iteratively test solution candidates to refine them. But, in software development, we often jump right to building our first idea and then grumble that great products never seem to emerge.
Try injecting a little bit of design thinking into your next project. Be prepared for a bit of pushback from folks who say that there's not enough time to ideate and iterate. It will require a small leap of faith, but you'll quickly become addicted to the better results you get.
|Design Studio Recipe
Jeff White and Jim Ungar's design studio is a quick way to get a whole team involved in brainstorming multiple product ideas. Use design studio to kick off a product design process.
Figure 4: Design studio results: hand-drawn screens and sticky notes marking the best ideas
Design Thinking Concept and Practice Guide
Ideate Collaboratively Using Design Studio