Image Source: 20th Century Fox

The film Ford v Ferrari delighted me for a number of reasons. Raised in the Motor City and a descendant of three generations of longtime Ford employees on both sides, car love and a lead foot are in my DNA. I love a hot pass and any movie featuring rumbling motors and gorgeous cars driving very fast. (I’m certain I’m a racecar driver in an alternate universe somewhere.) But beyond this film’s amazing race sequences and Oscar-winning sound editing (those ENGINES!) there are two related scenes that have fastened themselves to my researcher brain: 

Scene A: American automobile designer Carroll Shelby (portrayed by Matt Damon) and his team of engineers are building a Ford race car to beat the best in the world, Ferrari, in the 24 Hours of Le Mans race. The process requires building prototype race cars and then testing them on a track, where gifted (but pain-in-the-A$$) British race car driver Ken Miles (played by Christian Bale) takes over. During the test drives, he pushes the machine to its absolute limits, executing incredible maneuvers at top speeds. When Miles returns, he is barely out of the car before he sounds off. “BLOODY TERRIBLE!” he rants with a laundry list of issues – drag, torque, pedal position, delayed response, wheel sensitivity – each demanding immediate attention. Highest standards. Every time. 

Scene B: Same test track. Same team. Different driver. This driver takes a new prototype car out and runs some speed and maneuver tests. When he returns to the team, he gets out grinning. “That was great!” 

So which kind of feedback makes a better car? 

My favorite research project to-date at the Phoenix Raceway. I’m smiling so hard. 

The point of testing is not to affirm. It is TO TEST. 

And that can feel scary. I watch clients grapple with testing routinely. Creation is personal. And bringing something precious that you have created to strangers – and letting them explore freely and share their honest thoughts – can garner tough feedback that may be difficult to hear.  

But this feedback is essential to your success. If you don’t have people who will use your product, what is your product? If your product doesn’t fit your user’s needs, what does it do? And so, you must be strong. You must view feedback as an opportunity for growth, change, and improvement. Better to know what you need to improve in testing than after launch. 

In any introduction to a testing session, I explicitly tell the test participants, “I did not build this. So please know that you cannot hurt my feelings. Any feedback you provide today can only help our end product so please be open with your honest thoughts.” This gives them permission to speak freely – good or bad – and give us insights that have the power to push the design forward. 

“This is great, I would totally use this” provides a nice marketing reel but nowhere else to go. 

“I like this, but this part here doesn’t make sense to me” provides specificity and a focus to further explore to better meet user needs. 

Maybe the testers hate it. Thank goodness you did testing early so you didn’t burn a pile of money and months of time and labor. This is why we utilize design sprints – to align, test, and learn quickly so we can pivot if needed. 

And maybe they do love what you made! In which case you have a leg up – for the moment. But design is a living thing and, much like a person, there is no final “perfect.” In this case, you can use testing to dig deeper and uncover where you might go next now that you have their attention! How might you grow and expand to further delight your users in their journey with your amazing product? 

So let your friends and happy clients pat you on the back and tell you how much they love your what you made. But first, let your users really test drive it and speak frankly about where it needs work. If you set aside your ego and fix the drag, you could win the race. Even beat Ferrari.