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Observe your prototype in action

3-5 stories or quotes about your ideas

DFA UC Davis
May 21
3-5 stories or quotes about your ideas
May 21
Full Debrief
Add documents about your observations here
May 21
Feedback Session
Link to your Loft Feedback Session with your mentor and studio here
May 21


To quickly gain insights into how your solution will be used and the real world context that will help you iterate on your design, particularly useful if your team is planning on having an installation or your solution is a product that people will be expected to use in public places with minimal training or oversight.

A test where you put your prototype(s) in a realistic environment and observe how people interact with it with minimal interference from you or your team.

The number of people your team will observes depends on the type of solution your team is testing. In early stage testing your team can expect to observe from 3-10 people for a product to 20 -100+ people for initial testing of an installation or service.

Hypotheses and expected results
Know what you are looking for, these hypotheses could include:
  • “By placing a red line on the ground on bike paths bikers will be more likely to stop at stop signs.”
  • “By having cafeteria patrons scape their plates before giving them to cafeteria staff the cafeteria will be able to reduce water use.”


Be sure that your prototype will stand up to people using it!
You can’t tell people “Stop! You can’t do that!” If you want to observe 20 or 30 people use your solution make sure that your prototype can handle the use.
  • Hide any weak spots.
  • Pick a location that is representative of your typical use case but not the busiest place you will have.

Pick an hour or time that has a good number of users but isn’t so many that you won’t be able to see what's going on.


1. Identify testing goals 
Your team should have considered this in Build, while you were making your prototype, but you should review the goals before your test.
  1. Discuss your individual goals for the test.
  2. Identify the best place to observe these goals.
  3. Discuss how many people or for how long you want to observe.
Contact anyone you need to get permission from for running your test.
2. Map expected process
This map will help you decide what to observe and sort your notes.
  1. Review (or make) the flow diagram of how you expect your solution to be used. (see flow diagramming)
  2. Identify the areas that you want to collect qualitative data.
  3. Identify the areas that you want to collect quantitative data.
  4. Discuss how you will collect the data you want to collect.
Discuss if you need to prepare people before they begin testing and any exit survey questions you want to ask.
3. Preflight
  1. Identify where you want to observe. You want to be close enough to see, but not out in the open. Aim to not physically alter your environment.
  2. Take note of the flow of people. (You can avoid spots with no action, or identify ideal spots to wait).
  3. Map out your observation.
4. Prepare the testing space
  1. Set up your solution and/or prep area for testing
  2. Position you and your team for observing
5. Observe
QUANTITATIVE DATA: be sure to be attentive so that you don’t miss anything. If you are observing for an extended period of time consider having a team member switch so that people don’t get tired out.
QUALITATIVE DATA: use your outline to sort notes and put things that don’t fit in a separate section. Try to avoid making interpretation during the observation and label any interpretations that you do make somehow in your notes (a different color or a special symbol).
6. Ask follow-up questions
  1. Once users stop interacting with your solution approach them about answering follow up questions.
  2. Record their answers.
  3. Ask for permission for photos or recordings and get signed forms
Thank them for their time.
7. Immediate debrief
After completing your observations, share your notes with your team. This is a good time to fill in gaps in your notes. Filling in your notes is especially crucial if you observed in fast-paced environments in which things are occurring faster than they can be recorded. Sharing with your team and filling in notes can facilitate remembering any overlooked details from your observation.
REMEMBER: Complete the debrief before leaving your observation session.
8. Full debrief
  1. Share all observations.
  2. Identify the most striking things that were recorded.
  3. Cluster your different observations into categories (Age, gender, location, etc.).
  4. Write down any new questions or assumptions.
  5. Compile all observations for future reference. 
9. Identify opportunity gaps & next steps
  1. Review your observations, and update your team’s Design Canvas.
  2. Start a loft crit to get mentor feedback!

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