Two students in our Transformative Design class came up with a fantastic way to prototype an emergency room situation that they couldn’t test with real users.
Shuqiao Song and Carey Lee were prototyping ways to make people feel less anxious while waiting to be seen in the emergency room. Patients often wait with no idea of how long it will be before they’ll be helped, no information on how many people are ahead of them, or how their wait is being affected by urgent trauma cases that must be bumped to the head of the line. Shuqiao and Carey came up with a chart for waiting patients that showed how many people were ahead of them, and updated as urgent cases reshuffled the queue. They wanted to test two particular aspects of their prototype: “Would knowing your place in line be beneficial (versus not knowing anything at all)?” and “What are the effects of being de-prioritized when someone else has a more urgent situation? (such as the arrival of a prioritized ambulance trauma patient)”.
But they couldn’t test the prototype in a real emergency room without wading through layers and layers of red tape. So instead, they created an analogous situation: they rounded up friends and gave them several glasses of water, then controlled their access to the bathroom as an emergency room might control a sick person’s access to a doctor. Their solution was a success, but it really highlighted the value of an ingenious analogy when testing a prototype. You may not be able to get to actual users, but you can find (or create!) a situation with a similar emotional impact.