Idea Validation: Product


Create a fake artifact as a proxy for a real product

Illustration of Pinocchio
Run a Pinocchio play

Difficulty: Intermediate

Evidence strength

Relevant metrics: Customer feedback

Validates: Feasibility

How: Create a non-functional version of your product and use your imagination to pretend it's functional to test if, how, and when you would use it.

Why: A Pinocchio prototype can help test the physical form factor of a product. As it is in fact a dumb prototype, it works best to convince yourself and your team, not others, that your idea is on the right track.

This experiment is part of the Validation Patterns printed card deck

A collection of 60 product experiments that will validate your idea in a matter of days, not months. They are regularly used by product builders at companies like Google, Facebook, Dropbox, and Amazon.

Get your deck!

Before the experiment

The first thing to do when planning any kind of test or experiment, is to figure out what you want to test. To make critical assumptions explicit, fill out an experiment sheet as you prepare your test. We created a sample sheet for you to get started. Download the Experiment Sheet.

Simulate real-life situations

The primary goal of the “Pinocchio” experiment is to validate whether a product idea should be pursued further. It helps in understanding if there is a genuine market need for the product and how potential customers might interact with it. This approach is particularly beneficial for avoiding the costly mistake of developing a product that no one wants.

A Pinocchio prototype is best suited to test in contexts in which feasibility features such as size, shape, weight, and portability are crucial for product success. Upon successful validation, experimentation should move into more sophisticated experiements testing the actual interaction with the product.

A Pinocchio prototype does not need to be functional. It can be as simple as a physical model, a mock-up, or even a detailed drawing. The key is that it should be able to convey the concept of the product sufficiently to elicit useful feedback from potential users. This feedback can then inform whether the product idea has merit and is worth investing in further.

This approach saves time and resources as it avoids the full-scale development of a product that might not have a viable market. By presenting a non-functional or simplified version of the product to potential customers, companies can gather valuable data on customer interest and usage scenarios without the need for a large investment.

Origin of experiment

This pretotyping technique was inspired by the creation of the original Palm Pilot prototype cut out in wood by Jeff Hawkins. It is named by the wood puppet Pinocchio who, after being visited by the Blue Fairy, becomes a real boy.

The “Pinocchio” experiment involves creating a simplified or non-functional version of a product - much like a wooden puppet - to gauge consumer interest and validate the product concept. This method is part of a broader set of strategies known as pretotyping, a term coined by Alberto Savoia, which focuses on testing the initial appeal and actual usage of a potential new product.

As a Pinocchio prototype is not functional, the feedback obtained might be limited to the product’s concept rather than its actual usability or functionality. Similarly, the success of this method depends heavily on the quality of the prototype and the ability to effectively communicate the product idea to potential users.

After the experiment

To make sure you move forward, it is a good idea to systematically record your the insights you learned and what actions or decisions follow. We created a sample Learning Sheet, that will help you capture insights in the process of turning your product ideas successful. Download the Learning Sheet.


Palm Pilot

Jeff Hawkins created a wood model of the Palm Pilot by taking a piece of wood, plastic, and a chopstick to give himself a sense of what the product would be like.

Source: Pretotyping: Techniques for Building the Right Product

121Gym App on Pebble Watch

Leslie Barry, who, before the advent of the Apple Watch, aimed to develop an app for the Pebble Watch to track exercises and workouts in the gym. Instead of jumping straight into technical development, Barry and his colleague created a mock-up of the watch interface on paper and attached it to the watch. They then ‘used’ this rudimentary prototype during workouts. This experiment highlighted practical issues with their initial concept, such as the difficulty of interacting with the watch while holding weights, which were not obvious during the brainstorming phase. Although the project, known as 121Gym, eventually did not proceed due to the arrival of Apple in the market, the exercise provided valuable insights into the product’s design and usability.

Source: The Pinocchio Method

This experiment is part of the Validation Patterns printed card deck

A collection of 60 product experiments that will validate your idea in a matter of days, not months. They are regularly used by product builders at companies like Google, Facebook, Dropbox, and Amazon.

Get your deck!

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Broaden knowledge or insight regarding the behavior or situation to inform decisions.


Show practical examples or models of the desired behavior for clear guidance.


Highlight current actions and their reasons, bringing unconscious habits to awareness.


Develop necessary skills and competencies to enable effective action.

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