Product and brand marketers rely on mature, statistical techniques like conjoint analysis to evaluate important decisions related to late-stage product launches, such as feature bundling or pricing. On the other hand, product managers and UX researchers, who work on the earlier stage of the product life-cycle, face similar questions related to prioritizing consumer trade-offs but have no go-to, structured research method to use in their practice.
One such technique that I have recently revisited in my research work and found to be incredibly productive is the “walk-through gallery.” Although it shares the same objective as the conjoint approach, i.e. to help converge on a single, consumer-validated direction, walk-through galleries are more generative and qualitative in nature. Chances are if you’re on a product or UX research team, you’ve likely implemented many elements of this underrated technique. That said, to get the most optimal results from this method in your early-stage build process, it’s worth learning how to implement it in its most structured form.
What Is a Walk-Through Gallery?
What Is a Walk-Through Gallery?
A walk-through gallery is a particular form of qualitative concept testing used by product teams to help make data-driven development decisions. Just like any other qualitative concept testing method, walk-through galleries help generate consumer feedback on which of multiple potential product paths forward to pursue. However, what separates a walk-through gallery from other forms of concept testing is its more structured approach. There is a nuance to the presentation and facilitation of potential concepts in walk-through galleries that isn’t characteristic of other similar techniques.
A walk-through gallery is most helpful in the middle stage of product development — once the product team has completed its initial discovery stage and right before they deep-dive into any particular concepts with their first few design sprints.
Because the aim at this stage is to invalidate potential pathways and lend more focus to your design efforts, it’s important that before engaging in a walk-through gallery, you’ve had a chance to build empathy for your customer and a strong understanding of their context and problem space. Tactically speaking, a prerequisite to pursuing a walk-through gallery is developing a set of core hypotheses or simply a generative list of potential paths you are actively considering.
At the same time, it’s important to note that these ideas also ought not to be too fleshed out. While the technique can definitely be used to validate more high-fidelity design mockups, walk-through galleries, in their original form, are most valuable when used prior to designing anything — while the concepts being considered are still half-baked.
Introducing half-baked concepts to consumers is actually helpful because it invites the users to help build on the ideas and refine them through this process. Unlike quantitative concept testing, this process is run like a fusion of a discovery interview and a usability test, in that the user is invited to participate in an active discussion about their preferences and dislikes rather than simply selecting one option over another. The concepts presented are meant to be jumping-off points for deeper insight and generation rather than purely numerical data points.
Preparing a Walk-Through Gallery Concept
Firstly, you need to determine what your testing objective is. Walk-through galleries can be used to provide clarity and prioritization on any the following:
Walk-Through Galleries Can Be Used To Pinpoint:
- Potential pain points to solve
- Product ideas being explored
- Potential messaging alternatives for a product
Once you've decided on one of the above categories, you will generate several competing variations of the concept within your chosen category. You don’t want to present users with too few options nor do you want to overwhelm them with too many; creating three or four separate concepts is the sweet spot. And “separate” being the operative word here — all concepts must be mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive (MECE). The concepts should not overlap in any way and should be distinct from one another while still representing all possible paths. The walk-through gallery process will help build conviction on one of these paths to pursue further.
The MECE (Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive) Principle:
- Mutually exclusive (ME): This means that each group is completely distinct and there’s no overlap between groups.
- Collectively exhaustive (CE): This means that the sum of all your groups covers all possible options.
As the name suggests, the aim of this exercise is to create a gallery of concept ideas to present to your potential audience. Each concept should stand on its own, and product owners should avoid giving users any kind of context or prompt. Participants should “enter the gallery” and be encouraged to explore on their own.
Some key principles to keep in mind when planning your next walk-through gallery:
Keep it simple. As the research lead, you should ensure that you’re communicating the crux of the concept and nothing more. If presenting a concept using only text, make sure you use objectively descriptive phrasing and keep adjective use to a bare minimum. If using visuals to enhance a concept, opt for simple sketches rather than high-fidelity designs that might distract the participant from the core idea.
Keep it consistent. Whatever format or structure you use must be consistent across the board for all concepts, in terms of style, length, positioning, etc.
A Practical Example
Our team implemented a walk-through gallery to help prioritize the next steps for a project in the consumer packaged goods product sampling space. We focused our gallery on pain points to solve. We came out of discovery with multiple potential brand manager challenges to address but no clear sense of which was the most acute. So we noted a list of hypothesized pain point statements that we brought as concepts into our gallery research. In terms of presentation, we decided to create “concept cards” featuring a two-to-three word title and a one- or two-line description for each concept.
Examples of the pain point concepts we tested:
Product Trials: I need help generating product trials at scale.
Purchase Conversions: I need help generating conversions.
Consumer Insights: I need help collecting consumer feedback and insights.
Ratings & Reviews: I need help generating online ratings and reviews.
After concept development is accounted for, the research team needs to organize participant recruitment. Fortunately, walk-through galleries don’t have statistical significance stipulations that would necessitate large participant numbers. You only really need between four and eight participants for a single study. The most crucial piece is that the recruits should be as reflective of the target user as possible. This will go a long way toward getting the design project on the right trajectory.
Once the participants are on board, they’ll need direction. Prepare a detailed interview guide containing key questions and time allocations for considering each concept so that each is given equal consideration. Planning out your session is also the most effective way to use your limited interview time.
How to Conduct a Walk-Through Gallery
It’s natural for people to operate within their own subtle, often unconscious biases, and product owners are no exception. When conducting a walk-through gallery, they must reflect on their biases to suspend those. Not doing so risks tainting the responses.
Here are a few tips to help get the most organic feedback from your gallery interviews:
Prompt and Pause
In any good user interview, the facilitator must focus on listening intently to their subject. The best way to do this is to start by asking the user to take a few minutes to review each of the concepts. Start by encouraging the participant to share any and all unfiltered reactions, questions, or comments that come to mind. Taking a slow approach where you’re pausing for several seconds and then asking the user, “What thoughts do you have?” or “Any reaction here?” is always a useful technique to ensure you get the most out of the participant.
Rating the Concepts
While it’s a qualitative interview, it’s still valuable to solicit some quantitative feedback. Having users rate the concepts forces them to draw conclusions and demonstrate their preferences without being nudged in any one direction. You can do this by going through each concept one at a time and getting the user to rate them on a predetermined scale. For example, one to five, where five is “extremely valuable,” and one is “not at all valuable.”
Rank the Concepts
Another alternative to providing quantitative feedback is presenting the concepts in an open forum style, all visible to the user simultaneously. After the discussion portion of the interview has concluded, ask the user to rank all of the concepts in order of utility or preference, for example, putting the concepts in order from most to least valuable.
Drawing Conclusions From Your Walk-Through Gallery
Once all of your users have been interviewed and the data tallied up, patterns will emerge. It will become apparent that some of the concepts have been received better than others. The results will help light the product team’s path, what they should be focusing on, and how to address the concerns that users feel around certain concepts.
Even if no clear winning concept emerges, that in itself is a valuable insight. It reveals that the concepts need to be more defined — taken back to the drawing board or discarded entirely — before the product team can progress to the design sprint. In this case, it may be best to go through another walk-through gallery exercise so that before you invest more resources into your product direction you arrive on a concept that you have higher conviction in.