{Tester Series} When Is it Worth it?

The tester series continues! I've interviewed designers and testers, read every comment on every thread, and worked diligently to sort my own feelings from those of the "masses." So today, I report some of the tester's poll results, and comment on them. A combination of what we DO expect - and what we SHOULD expect - in exchange for this "free" service we offer designers. 

Photographed above is my latest testing project - the Liana Jeans from Itch to Stitch.

Photographed above is my latest testing project - the Liana Jeans from Itch to Stitch.

I'll own up to a little bias here. I have NEVER understood the appeal of pattern testing. My very first "gig' in the world of online sewing was exchanging product photography for a sewing friend of mine. I'd hear her describe sewing the multiple revisions, the feedback forms, and the trouble she went to to meet with me for photos. It felt like SO MUCH WORK. Especially since it meant she worked for hours, and donated multiple yards of material.... for free.  

And yet, people do it. Not just reluctantly or out of the goodness of their heart. They eagerly respond to designers' testing calls. 

Don't get me wrong - I'm not "anti-testing" - I do plenty of it myself. In fact, I'm both PRO TESTER and PRO DESIGNER. I think this social contract can be smart business for all involved, but in order for that to happen testers need to understand the potential value of this "free service", and designers need to recognize the tester's expectations.

When is Pattern Testing "Worth It"?

1. The pattern is something you need. 

And no, I'm not talking about the same kind of "need" that filled your closet with ballet flats of every color (Ah-hem, SELF.). I'm talking "this pattern fills a real void in my stash, and I would otherwise spend $8-15 to get such a pattern in the very near future." (Why do you test? Free Pattern - 61.7%) Speaking of the very near future...

2. You need the resulting garment in your very near future. 

In many cases, testers'll get a 2-3 week lead on a pattern release. If you need the resulting garment in that time frame, or require the deadline/commitment to get it sewn in that time frame... submit that tester application, my friend. (Why do you test? The Motivating Deadline - 50.4%) 

3. You'll learn a new skill.

Signing up to test a garment that exceeds your present skill level is a little like getting a free online sewing class. You'll have a teacher (the designer), homework (the test garment), and a group of eager peers working along side you to ask the questions and offer their own suggestions. (Why do you test? The Challenge - 71.3%)

Now, in the indie market, you will often have  24/7 post-pattern-release support from the designer's following in their facebook groups. This may or may not be helpful, as you can't guarantee the accuracy/credibility of that (albeit well-intentioned) advice. The phrase, "too many chefs in the kitchen" comes to mind.

4. You can recoup your (material and time) costs.

Shop owners may be especially incented to partake if testing helps them build shop inventory. Folks with a flare for marketing stand to benefit from cold hard cash, too, if the designer they're working with has an affiliate program. But less conventional "compensation" exists for those with a blog or brand who stand to gain new readers or followers by churning out relevant content - and having the inside scoop of a new pattern release most certainly qualifies as such! 

5. You want to build a sewing network.

Tester groups become like family - especially since many testers have worked together before.  There's great opportunity for women new to the sewing community to get to develop (friendly or professional) relationships with the designer, other makers, and their connections. 
(Why do you test? Community Building - 47%; Designer Networking - 45.2%)

6. You're invested in the resulting pattern.

Maybe you are petitioning for expanded sizes on the indie pattern market. Maybe you have strong opinions on what a "complete" pattern includes. Whatever your agenda - you need to get in on the pattern's development phase to have any influence over the final product. (Why do you test? Ensuring Pattern Quality - 58.3%) 

7. The designer values your time, materials, and talents.

You can stand to gain every benefit laid out above, and STILL lose out in the end if the designer isn't dedicated to making this a successful arrangement for you, too. Now - there's no testing "standard" - but maybe the voices of over 100 testers can help clarify their expectations. Designers can respect the generosity of their testers' by ...

  • Pretesting the pattern. 36% and 21% of testers thought a "Designer's test-sew", and a "Modeled, Successful Pre-test" were necessary before a pattern hit testing. (Frankly, these numbers are lower than I expected them to be.)
  • Being responsive. When asked to respond to the statement "Designers inform me whether I was selected to test, or not." , 49.6% said this was "sometimes true". Just sometimes?! And a whopping 23.4% said it was rarely or never true. Heavens to Betsy. That number should be zero.
  • Limiting the number of revisions. (Addressing drafting changes in bulk, vs releasing new drafts for minor changes) 47.8% of testers said their ideal number of pattern revisions is 1-3. 
  • Minimizing the tester's time commitment. 79.1% of testers said their ideal testing timeline is 1-2 weeks. 
  • Minimizing the tester's material commitment. 40.4% of testers (the largest consensus by far) felt their testing commitment obligated them to sew just two versions of the pattern; 1 muslin and 1 final product.
  • Being engaged. When asked how they felt about designers sewing their own pattern drafts, 40.4% said "Their product, they should sew each version, too." 
  • Being appreciative. This means different things to different people - but the majority of testers said....

"Testers: What Compensation do you require?"

Top 3 recorded responses, listed by percentage.

So there's part 1 of the Tester Survey reveal! There's so much data left to sift through, and I'll have a finished downloadable file of the survey results once I sort through some of the essay responses a bit. Those are a treasure trove of tester insights!

BUT - How do you feel about the data above? What surprises you the most? How do you justify the expenses of pattern testing? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!  Also, I love to give credit where it's due. Please feel free to leave a shout out to designers that make YOU feel like a valued part of the pattern production process!