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This Week’s Episode
Are you considering organizing your first pattern test? Even though this topic is aimed at designers, there are many other indie yarn-related businesses that might want to do a market test for a new physical or digital product who might find these tips helpful.
8 Tips for Organizing Your First Pattern Test
- Decide what you want from the pattern test
- Choose the right online or offline setting(s)
- Format your pattern
- Set the guidelines
- Create a survey
- Incentivize your testers.
- Organize and use your feedback
- Track the test
It goes without saying that you’ll need to be available to your testers during a pattern test. In addition, these 8 tips will help you to organize (and enjoy! and get a lot out of!) your first pattern test.
1) Decide what you want from a pattern test
Most designers have several goals in mind when conducting a pattern test. Knowing what’s important to you will help you set the test up in a way that gets you the feedback you want.
Some reasons for testing are:
- Editing – If you’re relying on testers instead of a tech editor, be sure to select testers who have specific skills (e.g., copyeditors, proofreaders, mathematicians, etc.). Of course, having another designer or even a tech editor participate would be ideal. Relying on testers to edit patterns can be tricky, as many people aren’t as detail oriented as a tech editor would be while working on a pattern.
- Market testing – You can find out a lot about how you describe the pattern, your pattern format, and your photography from your testers to make improvements before launch. You may also be targeting a specific market (e.g., beginners) to see if the pattern is written at the right level. You can also use a test to decide what kind of additional resources (such as tutorials) to include based on what your testers struggle with.
- Building buzz – Having completed projects for your pattern when it’s released provide a form of social proof that the pattern “works.” You might also have a pattern that isn’t very successful, and adding more projects can increase the level of interest. Think about how to motivate testers for an existing pattern (especially if it’s available for free). You may want to retool it by offering different sizes, more customization options, or additional tutorials or educational resources, which may motivate people to try an already available pattern.
- More or better pictures – Getting pictures in different sizes or better pictures for your pattern release. Choose testers who have great project photography, bloggers with great pictures, or local testers where you can photograph their samples. Don’t forget to get permission to use their photos BEFORE the test to avoid disappointment.
- Growing or engaging with your community – You can find new fans by allowing them to try out some patterns for free. Existing fans might be excited to be invited to a secret test or to access a new pattern before release. Balance your options for engaging your community – is testing the best way, or should you consider a knit- or crochet-along?
Based on your goals for the test, you can organize it so that you can get what you want from it.
2) Choose the right online or offline setting(s)
Offline testing is a great option if you want to grow your local community of fans or to photograph testers’ samples in different sizes or colors. Some places to recruit offline testers are:
- Local crochet or knitting guilds, such as chapters of the Crochet Guild of America or guilds of The Knitting Guild Association.
- Local meetups, which you can find on MeetUp.com or through location-specific Ravelry groups.
- Crochet/knit night at your local yarn shop.
- Through referrals from existing students or friends/family who crochet or knit.
Online testing can allow you to recruit from a large pool of testers from all over the world! You can find pattern testers online through:
- Posts on your blog, Twitter, Facebook, or Ravelry group.
- Online groups or forums for specialty projects/techniques, including groups on Ravelry, Facebook, Yahoo Groups, and Crochetville and Knitter’s Review forums,
- Ravelry’s many free pattern testing groups. Each has it’s personality and set of guidelines. Some popular groups are Free Pattern Testers, the Happy Hookers’ Hangout (crochet only), and Open for Testing. I use the Testing Pool when I’m looking for new testers. You can also announce tests for blanket designs in this thread on the Afghans & Blankets group.
There are also many places online to host a pattern test. Some options are:
- Your own Ravelry group or one of the Ravelry testing groups listed above – Your own group may be the best place to engage your existing fans, but it can be difficult to publicize if you’re a newer designer or have a small group. Most of the testing groups allow you to host a pattern test in their group (and some require it). Each group has different rules, but there are large pools of testers available. Testing on Ravelry allows your testers to easily link up projects to the pattern, but it also means that feedback and comments about the test will be available to people who search for it.
- Your own Facebook group, or a group that allows pattern tests.
- A Google or Yahoo group.
- Via email – This is usually the most private option and it can be easy to sort and compile feedback, but your testers won’t be able to interact with each other.
3) Format your pattern
You can get great feedback if you share a version that is completely formatted with your testers. Testers may share their thoughts on your font (readability, size, and color), layout, the way you order your information, and other elements of your format.
If you use pattern testing in conjunction with tech editing, there are different view points on whether you should test before or after it is tech edited. Tech editing first can provide your testers with a clearer and more technically correct pattern. Tech editing after the test can potentially save you some money on editing if testers find some errors that you correct before sending it to your tech editor. At minimum, check your pattern over before sending it out to testers. Even if you are looking for editing feedback, you don’t want to leave the impression that you are sloppy and careless with your patterns.
Decide whether or not to share project pictures. It can generate excitement for the test, but it can also allow testers to read the stitches and use the picture as a guide. This may reduce the amount of feedback you get about problems in the pattern. Without pictures, you’re likely to have to answer more questions since people aren’t sure what the finished project will look likely.
4) Set the guidelines
Your testing guidelines set the parameters for your test and let testers know what to expect from you. You may want to address:
- Yarn – Do testers need to use the same yarn you did? What types of substitutions are acceptable? Will you need to approve substitutions before a testers stars the pattern?
- Gauge – Is the pattern gauge dependent? Is a gauge swatch required? Many crocheters and knitters don’t check their gauge, so think about how to emphasize gauge if it is important for the successful completion of the project.
- Deadlines – Be considerate of your testers. Think about the size and complexity of the final project when setting a deadline.
- Testing setting – Share a link to the test thread if it’s online.
- Communication – When do you expect to hear from testers – at regular intervals or only when they have a question or finish the project? If you’re holding the test in a testing group, follow their established guidelines for best results.
- Sharing pictures – Can testers share pictures online during the test, after the test, or only after publication?
- Survey – Are there specific questions you need the testers to answer about the pattern?
- Photographs – If you will use testers’ photographs, ask for permission up front and indicate where the pictures will be used (e.g., on your website, Ravelry, Etsy, etc.) and ask how each tester would like to be credited (by name, by Ravelry name, by Twitter handle, etc.)
You can download a text file with sample pattern test announcement here. Change the information in all caps to meet your needs.
5) Create a survey
Add a few simple questions to the email or post where you share the pattern with testers. Think about why are you doing the test when deciding what questions to include. Some sample questions are:
- Was the pattern clear/correct/understandable?
- Do you have any feedback on the format (font, layout, etc.)
- What type of yarn did you use? How much did you use?
- What size hook/needles did you use? What was the size of your finished project?
- Approximately how long did it take you to finish the project?
- Do you have any other feedback to share?
Including open ended questions allows you to get great “sound bites” that you might want to use for marketing your patterns.
6) Incentivize your testers
The issue of compensating pattern testers is a bit controversial. Many people feel you should pay your testers since too many crocheters and knitters “work for free.” I don’t rely on my testers for editing and so I feel comfortable about not paying them. However, I do include some incentives.
- Free copy of pattern when it’s complete and incorporates all the feedback.
- I mail a small token gift with a thank you card to my first time testers. I use a giveaway that I already use for my business.
- I often host giveaways (for stash yarn, books I’ve received from publishers for review, or free copies of my PDF patterns) specifically for pattern testers.
Other designers may provide a tester with a complete ebook even if the tester has only tested one of the ebook patterns. At minimum, send a personal thank you to your testers, via messaging, email, or snail mail.
7) Organize and use your feedback
Unless you’re testing only to add more photographs, you probably want feedback on your pattern. While you may not make changes based on every piece of feedback, you will still consider each comment that you get from testers. Some tips for organizing the feedback are:
- Create a document where you cut and paste all the feedback you’ve received.
- Highlight and group similar comments.
- Save the document near the pattern so that you can find it later when updating your pattern.
Once you have the feedback organized, decide what feedback is relevant and should be included/addressed in the final/updated version. Look for marketing ideas in the comments. These can be used in the pattern description or when you are promoting the pattern.
8) Track the test
Keep track of each tester. This can help you to recruit (or avoid) testers in the future. Some information you may want to track:
- Contact information (email and/or snail mail),
- User names on the sites where you recruit or hold tests,
- The name of the test(s) the tester is currently participating in or has already completed, and
- Notes on the type of feedback the tester provided, their timeliness, or other information.
I also periodically send out a survey to my former testers to ask about their preferences in terms of project types and contact.
Other Things to Consider For Future Tests
- Think about when it’s time to bring in fresh eyes. It can be easier to recruit from your existing testers, but they may not provide the most objective feedback.
- Reward your longtime testers when appropriate with random acts of kindness.
Those are my 8 tips for organizing your first pattern test. What suggestions do you have for organizing a pattern test? What do you/would you do differently? Leave a comment below, Tweet me at @cyeshow, or leave a message at 646-713-8973. (You can call me for free through the Contact page.)
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