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Validating digital product ideas: Navigating the journey from concept to creation

Nathan Hulsey
Nathan Hulsey
Senior Product Strategist
7 min read
29 August 2023

In the dynamic, innovation-driven world of digital product development, steering ideas from inception to reality demands strategic finesse and a keen understanding of market currents and evolving user needs and expectations. We’ve previously walked you through the processes of generating product ideas and strategically prioritizing your top concepts to determine which should be prototyped. 

Now, we’re delving into the exercise of validating product ideas — a pivotal phase in the digital product development journey that ensures top-priority concepts are not only aligned with customer needs and business goals but are also positioned for success in a competitive landscape. 

Too often, we see scenarios where this stage is handled haphazardly or even neglected by product managers. Why? After all the research and idea refinement up until this point, it’s not uncommon for a product manager or their stakeholders to think they have a validated, market-ready idea. But until it’s truly been put to the test by end-users, it’s critical to challenge your team’s assumptions that a product is ready.

You need to prove that it is. 

By leading and engaging in defined, unbiased product validation exercises, product leaders can avoid the risk of their teams moving too quickly on an idea based on a hunch, and keep customer-driven data at the root of their decisions — potentially avoiding costly mistakes, wasted time, and depleted resources down the line. 

Testing the waters

Much like a ship’s navigation requires precise adjustments to the sail’s angles, product validation entails careful calibration of concepts to ensure they capture the market’s momentum. This stage involves gauging how well your product teams’ ideas resonate with your business’s target audience and whether they possess the potential to deliver tangible value.

During this process, product teams should focus on gathering as much relevant feedback on their prototype and/or minimum viable product (MVP) as possible through interviews and realistic usability testing with their target audiences. Now’s the time for everyone to set aside personal ego and preconceived notions about how they predict users will react and interact with your product, and be open to making adaptations based on user commentary, criticisms, and observations. 

The bottom line: The more information and feedback you can generate from this stage, the stronger position everyone will be in to iterate on your prototype and develop a final product that is poised to perform for your customers and your business. 

Refining ideas with lean validation

At DEPT®, our product experts encourage the use of lean validation techniques while we work with client teams to efficiently and effectively refine their ideas. This methodology aims to mitigate risk and reduce resource waste as you test, iterate, and prepare to build your final product. By introducing your product to a select audience, teams can gather authentic feedback and insights, which in turn inform improvements or strategic pivots for the next round of validation. 

Think of your product managers, developers, and designers like experienced sailors who regularly shift their vessel’s alignment ever so slightly to catch the changing winds. Teams that employ a lean product development approach set short, achievable milestones that they continually validate and iterate upon. This should help you feel confident that with each iteration, your brand’s product is moving in the right direction.

Three methods for product validation

Chart out the customer experience

Creating prototypes or mockups of the product idea and testing them with potential users provides invaluable insights into the product’s usability and functionality. To gain the most relevant and useful feedback from a usability study, create realistic scenarios that allow your test users to interact with your prototype in an as-close-to-real-world manner. Observe while they complete specific tasks and highlight any usability issues, confusion, or challenges users encounter. You might also incorporate A/B testing to compare variations of certain features or designs to determine which resonates better with users.

Using this — or any — type of validation technique that involves soliciting feedback from users, it’s important to be wary of falling into the trap of “leading the witness.” We often see clients set up testing scenarios that are designed to elicit an ideal reaction from users, rather than draw out their unbiased opinion of the product. When setting up these test situations, we encourage clients to create scenarios that make users react, rather than simply complete easy tasks or test functions you know will run smoothly. 

Find your North Star with customer feedback

No feedback is more critical than what your current or potential users have to say, which makes surveys and interviews two of the simplest and most effective tools for collecting insight on your product. At this stage in the product development process, your team has likely already gathered input on user needs, pain points, preferences, and expectations. Now is the time to dig deeper into how that audience actually feels about the usability of your product. 

Conduct one-on-one interviews with a select group of potential users in your target market — ideally, include interviews with people you’ve spoken with throughout the process. For the most authentic feedback, avoid asking questions that lead the interviewee to feel pressure to be agreeable. For example, you’ll gather far more meaningful responses asking open-ended queries, such as “how do you imagine this [app] improving your workflow?” versus leading questions like “do you like this?” or “would you buy this?”

Use the responses to discover trends and themes in the qualitative data that can help validate or refine product concepts for the next round of testing. 

Set sail with an MVP

After testing your product prototype with a select group of users and refining it (potentially more than once) based on feedback, consider releasing an MVP to gather real-world usage data and feedback from early adopters. This method is particularly effective for validating assumptions and understanding which features are truly valuable to users. By closely monitoring user engagement, behavior, and feedback, your team can make informed decisions about future feature development and improvements. This iterative approach helps ensure that the product evolves in line with user needs and market demand.

Anchoring victory with a validated launch

Just as sailors adapt during turbulent storms, validating product ideas requires adaptability and resilience. The journey to a proven product idea is rarely smooth, but with strategic testing that produces a variety of qualitative and quantitative data around your product’s effectiveness and user sentiment, teams can refine and iterate their concepts into a viable, market-ready product. 

Learn more about how DEPT’s experts can help your business design and build your next innovative digital product.

product vision meeting


How to generate product ideas

Get your copy of our latest longread for a look into DEPT®’s Discovery Sprint process. Plus, explore five idea generation exercises and see them in action with a real DEPT® client.



Senior Product Strategist

Nathan Hulsey