A Guide to Co-Creator Experiments

In earlier posts, we addressed the importance of co-creation and tapping into alpha consumers to build a solid co-creation program. Co-creation is an upfront investment that will carry you through your product development cycle. When launching incremental products into known markets, traditional, quantitative-driven market research approaches are the right tool for the job, tending to be applied on the front end and back end of the product development cycle, which in this case, tends to follow a predictable, linear plan to market. When launching new-to-world, innovative products into relatively unknown markets, the traditional market research approaches are a poor fit and highly risky, because they are designed to deal with available data and certainty—not lack of data and uncertainty.

Co-creation helps bridge the gap that currently exists with applying traditional market research in highly iterative, non-linear product development cycles—it allows the venture or product development team to collect qualitative yet rich, continuous feedback from its target market, specifically its early adopters, in order to: properly scope new business ideas, develop risk-appropriate Minimum Viable Products (MVP) through evidence-based iteration and validate business models and go-to-market strategy.


Successful co-creation is largely dependent on how effectively you engage and learn from alpha consumers. Here, we will help you design appropriate experiments to connect deeply with your co-creators, learn from their experiences, understand their perspectives and feedback, and enable them to create value for you.

Co-creation experiments should be crafted with agility to test and refine your evolving business model hypotheses driving your project from ideation to concept development to solution design and business model validation. Here is a non-exhaustive list of co-creation experiments that we have used across a variety of projects to develop a wearable technology business, design a smart kitchen platform, create a wellness solution for diabetics and tackle indoor air quality concerns.

Co-creation Experiments to Help Scope New Business Ideas
Initial co-creation experiments are about testing your early ideas by understanding baseline alpha consumer behavior and habits, studying products used and solutions built by them and validating consumer unmet needs and pain points. Such insights are critical to scoping out an area of interest, identifying opportunities for and challenges to business/product innovation, assessing market potential, and ultimately selecting a high potential business/product idea to pursue.

Consumer Conversations Get to know your co-creator. Build personal relationships. Probe their needs, experiences and emotions.
Observation in-situ Observe your co-creator in the context that is of interest. Analyze what co-creators do vs. what they say. Observe their environment, examine the artifacts they have. Get them to show AND tell products/solutions that they use. Discover key problems to solve and pain points.
Product tests Get co-creators to test existing and analogous solutions. Record use experiences and get feedback. Discover gaps in competitor product offerings and opportunities to innovate.
Habit change experiments Establish baseline co-creator habits and behaviors. Introduce saturation, deprivation and substitution experiments to disrupt their routines and habits. Identify habit triggers, cues, barriers and biases.
Elicitation exercises Explore and probe co-creators’ conscious and unconscious thoughts and feelings to uncover ideas that people cannot readily articulate and which are typically excluded from everyday consciousness.
Shadowing/journey mapping Shadow and observe how co-creators interact with the world around them. Identify influencers and demand spaces. Observe how the co-creator shops/engages/interacts with a product or service physically and emotionally. Understand the holistic consumer experience.
Experience Sampling Track co-creator experiences and needs evolving over time by sampling in-the-moment via online diaries or mobile apps.

Co-creation Experiments to Help Develop Minimum Viable Products
After narrowing down and selecting a top idea(s), the next challenge is to make your idea real and viable. When you’re ready to build and develop a new solution, alpha consumers can help co-design, build and refine a series of prototypes leading to a market-ready, minimal viable product (or service) that was guided by evidence of customer demand and not simply technology readiness, i.e., the smallest possible group of critical features and benefits that will work as a stand-alone product (or service) while solving the core consumer problem.

Concierge tests Manually providing the service to test if consumers value the end result. Use insights and feedback to refine prototype, features and business models.
Wizard of Oz Tests Use the ‘fake it till you make it’ technique where the UI front end seems real, but the back end technology or infrastructure may not be ready. Test key engagement hypotheses around user experience, repeat usage, critical features, etc.
Experience prototyping Simulate and test the solution experience with co-creators. Use feedback and insights to refine the real product experience.
Hackathons/Designathons Groups of co-creators work in teams to ‘hack’ your prototype, refine the product design and identify next-gen features to go into your product roadmap.
Feature prioritization Test virtual or lo-fi prototypes with co-creators to prioritize critical product features and understand important feature-value-price trade-offs to refine your business model.
Prototype testing and refinement Test and refine generations of prototypes (med-fi, hi-fi, looks-like, works-like, fully functional) with co-creators.

Co-creation Experiments to Help Validate Business Models and Go-To-Market Strategy
Now that you’ve developed your minimum viable product that solves for an unmet need, are consumers willing to purchase at desired pricing? Will consumers use and adopt the product into their lives over the long run or will the shine wear-off? Does your business idea deserve larger commitment of time, people and resources? Is your business model and profit formula sustainable and scalable? Execute rapid learning experiments with both alpha consumers and with the general public in small test markets to address these critical hypotheses. Often, a new or larger group of alpha consumers might be needed to understand purchase and MVP product use behavior. Further, while qualitative research is still critical to understand drivers of product trial, adoption and consumption, it is also important to gather quantitative, statistically significant data from the target market for realistic business modeling.

Trial selling in test markets/Learning launches Conduct small-scale mock or real trial selling events in appropriate environments (pop-up stores, product stalls, on-the-shelf display, online transaction site, etc). Test early adopter needs, willingness to purchase minimum viable product, product-market fit, positioning and communication. Understand critical risks for market launch and assess scalability, commercial viability and go-to-market strategy.
Crowdfunding campaigns Test market potential, target consumer segment, consumer needs and willingness to purchase through online crowdfunding experiment. Build early adopter base to test product with and get feedback from.
In-use habit formation and adoption tracking Observe product use and adoption by purchasers. Identify habit formation and consumption triggers and barriers. Track the long-term user experience and engagement with product. Refine product and business model.

Design and execute co-creation experiments based on the stage you are at in your innovation process. The probability of getting authentic feedback leading to breakthrough insights goes up when your experiments simulate or play out in real-life situations. When your co-creators feel as if they are part of your product development team, you will get to the finish line quickly while minimizing risk.

Mekhala Raghavan, PhD

Senior Associate

Diane Prickel