"Great ideas often receive violent opposition from mediocre minds." - Albert EinsteinClients often ask me if we test designs. I usually say no. This is different than usability testing, which has its merits. Unless we are testing for very specific things...

"Great ideas often receive violent opposition from mediocre minds." - Albert Einstein

Clients often ask me if we test designs. I usually say no. This is different than usability testing, which has its merits. Unless we are testing for very specific things like, "Can you find where the search box is?" or "Where would you expect to find the blog?", then I find testing to be a train wreck of an idea. I react particularly negatively to a client who wants us to put up design comps in front of a group of target audience test subjects and simply get their feedback. Here's why.

If your design (or idea) is really great it will be somewhat unsettling, unusual, different, and predictably cause discomfort with your audience. An "ordinary" audience (being people who are untrained in the art of being uncomfortable for a purpose) will naturally resist something that makes them uncomfortable. That is a reaction at the species level, don't expect to get a different reaction. If you are testing big picture ideas, concepts, designs, etc., you will be hard pressed to get a favorable reaction from an ordinary group of people, unless of course your idea or design is ordinary.

Don't ask ordinary people what they think. Ask experts. If you must ask ordinary people ask them very simple questions that keep them focused. Otherwise they will just get anxious because they are seeing something new. Ordinary people's first reaction to something new is to be skeptical, fearful and otherwise less than pleased. This very human reaction goes back to survival instincts. Different is scary. Ordinary is safe.

As designers and innovators, it is our responsibility to challenge the audience, so long as it suits the long term business objectives of our clients. After all, we aren't creating works for a museum, we are in the marketing business. In marketing, often that which surprises us or shocks us or makes us feel a bit uncomfortable will end up being the thing we remember. Again, it's human biology at work, when we get a bit nervous, our adrenal glands produce more adrenaline which in effect creates more lasting memories in our brains. However, that memory needs to also include the primary messaging points as well!

So if you must test innovative work, make sure you get your big picture reactions from experts, and leave the rudimentary tests for the masses. However, if you are really an expert, you shouldn't need to ask some Joe off the street if they can find the search box.

Share on Twitter or Facebook Published April 15th 2010