Part 1: Why is a Raven Like a Writing Desk? PrD and Concept Testing

by Leo Frishberg.

Tenniel drawing of Alice with Hatter and Hare

As you may recognize, this entry’s title is a reference to Lewis Carroll’s Mad Tea Party scene in which the Hatter poses the riddle to Alice and then ultimately refuses to answer it. By Carroll’s own admission, he never intended to provide an answer, but that didn’t stop the world from coming up with dozens.

We’re not going to get into that controversy. Recently, though, we have been asked a corollary: “Why isn’t Presumptive Design like                                  ?” Depending on who is asking, we hear different forms of the question. Unlike Carroll, we’ll offer answers to the question and sort out the differences between Presumptive Design and other types of research activities.

Here are some of the comparisons we’ve heard:

We’ve posted a blog about each. In this entry we discuss concept testing.

Why PrD is not like Concept Testing

Before we can describe how PrD differs from concept testing, we have to agree on the definition of concept testing. A quick search reveals an almost complete lack of agreement on the term. Qualtrics (and Wikipedia) defines it as:

[T]he process of evaluating consumer response to an idea before introducing a product to market. Concept testing identifies perceptions, wants and needs of a product or service. (, an online resource of market research techniques defines it as:

Concept testing generally involves creating concept boards, which explain the new product to consumers, giving them enough information so that they can have a meaningful reaction when asked if they will or will not buy it. (

The Business Dictionary defines it as:

Stage in product development process where a detailed description of a product (and of its attributes and benefits) is presented to prospective customers or users, to assess their attitudes and intentions toward the product. (

On the surface, PrD looks very similar to concept testing: both focus on reducing the risk of an early stage idea. In both methods, researchers work directly with customers and both are iterative. But these shared attributes belie important differences:

Concept TestingPresumptive Design
Explains the conceptOffers an artifact
Presents the conceptUsers an artifact
Describes the conceptRepresents a problem
Evaluates responses to conceptProvokes reactions to assumptions
Quantitative (conjoint) analysisQualitative analysis
Questionnaire basedInterview based
Focus groupOne-on-one
Focus is on buying or desirabilityFocus is on user engagement

But perhaps the biggest difference between the two is the intended outcome. Market researchers use concept testing to refine a product offering based on customer reaction. UX design-researchers use PrD to refine the internal team’s assumptions about their target audience’s unprompted needs.

Is your group looking at early stage concepts? Contact us to learn how Presumptive Design raises your organization’s confidence in its early stage ideas, or buy the book!