innovation toolkit | rapid prototyping
Experience prototype: AM/PM fueling station Experience prototype: purchasing eye-glasses online
Rapid Prototyping is a method and a mindset. It embodies several key fundamentals of design
thinking: getting physical, having a bias toward action, and being user centered.
Prototypes can be used as a means to communicate a potential solution or even to discover a
new aspect of a problem. The act of prototyping generates insight because as you translate
your idea into a new medium, you are forced to consider issues you had not previously
questioned. Prototypes do not have to by physical artifacts. Protytypes can be experiences like
services, flavors, etc.
Most companies and organizations delay the creation of a physical prototype until the final
stages of a project. The tendency to make a single, “perfect” prototype is very strong, but must
be avoided! Prototyping is a constant throughout the process: you make many lower resolution
prototypes at the beginning that drive key decisions, and fewer higher resolution prototypes later
on to validate those decisions.
Prototyping is a very effective tool to engage large teams in the design process. Ideas on paper
may be agreed to but implementing those ideas and making them real (rather then talking about
implementing) drives faster, more definitive communication. ‘Let’s build it and see,’ also focuses
team effort on testing the hypothesis rather then speculating on potential outcomes.
Finally, prototyping allows you to engage your users in a conversation about potential solutions
before you deliver something fully formed and hope that the new product or service is
successful. You gain more insight into what your users care about by showing them prototypes
then by asking abstract questions: your users may not be able to solve their problems on their
own, but they can certainly tell you if your ideas adequately meet their needs by reacting to your
prototypes. Users are almost always willing to suspend disbelief and give high-quality feedback
even to very rough prototypes. Trust them.
Five Things You Can Do to be a Rapid Prototyper:
1. Remember that the important thing is not ‘the prototype;’ it is the act of prototyping and the
conversation that ensues.
2. Believe that Speed and Quantity are more important then finish and resolution.
3. Embrace Failure. Prototypes that don’t work or create arguments are the good ones.
Reward your staff for “most spectacular prototype failure.”
4. Go Shopping. Stock your work environment with inexpensive supplies and use lots of
recycled and found materials.
5. Make prototyping infectious. Require that everyone come to your next meeting with a
physical prototype (or just bring yours and see how easy it is to monopolize the discussion)!