- Step 1: Know what you are testing for
- Step 2: Prototype the "experience"
- What is a prototype?
- How to prototype non-digital things
- Step 3: Divide & conquer
- Prototyping roles
- Prototyping tips
- Additional Resources
Prototyping is a critical component of exploratory experimentation. Think of a cook who is constantly tasting their soup to iterate, or giving a taste to their kids so they can watch reactions and make improvements, that's essentially "prototyping."
Consider testing ideas with things like:
- Designing the 'box' for a Lego set, with images and descriptions of the content, without actually manufacturing the lego pieces yet!
- Creating simple Facebook post promoting a new product (e.g. with an image and a catchy slogan), before you actually build the product.
- Creating the facade of a building on a movie set, where you construct just enough to cover a camera angle.
- Role playing a customer service scenario with real people. You become the prototype!
Check out this 6 min case study video from Nordstrom Innovation Lab showing how they prototyped live with real customers inside a store!
Prototyping is as much about testing what won't work, as it is about finding what will. We take inspiration from Karl Popper's scientific "Falsification Principle" which says innovators must try to prove themselves wrong as quickly as possible.
It's easy to find confirmation of a theory if you're looking for it, but that won't help learn how it can be improved.
A crucial part of the Design Thinking mindset is testing with customers early and often to disconfirm our theories in order to discover our customer's true desires.
A good prototype should be:
- Low effort (if you invest a lot of time you're more likely to be open to disproving your ideas)
- Test the killer questions (if there are any risky assumptions, design your prototype to test them!)
- Simulate the real experience (it doesn't need to be hi-fidelity, but the customer should be able to react as if it were real)
Step 1: Know what you are testing for
- If you have already identified customer's pain points and their challenges (read ) then turn those insights into an opportunityCustomer Empathy
- Now align that opportunity to a moment in customer's experience journey.
Step 2: Prototype the "experience"
When we hear "prototype" our engineering mind immediately jumps to resolve "feasibilities," but that would be the wrong place to start. You want to build 'just enough' to test only the key questions. Verbal feedback is pennies on the dollar but genuine reactions are GOLD🥇 Your prototype should aim to get true reactions from your customer. A concept car at the auto show is just a block of shaved foam but it puts a smile on your face and you can picture yourself driving it!
What is a prototype?
A prototype is a quick way to simulate an experience and get real reactions.
How to prototype non-digital things
A prototype often means a product, what it looks like and feels like, and the experience someone goes through when using it. The same can apply to the experience of a service or a process.
Notice how Uber prototyped a 'Service.' Their mobile page was just a means to simulate the experience of getting to the service. Many times, an app or a website is proposed as a "solve all" solution but you are actually suggesting a SaaS (Software as a Service) solution.
Even when you are prototyping a product, think holistically:
- How would customers discover that your 'new' product exists?
- Think about your customer's environment. Where would it be used?
Before you go down the rabbit hole of software development, think of YOUR customer's experience. That experience can be easily replicated with a role play.
Step 3: Divide & conquer
We usually prototype within a day (or just couple of hours). It's best not to fall in love with your solution but the problem. Don't spend weeks or months building your prototype, or else you'll fall in love with your creation. (Sunk Cost mentality)
Risks with falling in love (with your prototype):
- You can be defensive when customers react negatively
- It becomes harder to pivot and change ideas, or kill the project
Prototyping is a team effort. With clear roles and responsibilities, you can accelerate to realize value.
- Maker/s (create the tangible experience e.g. designs)
- Writer (copywriting in the experience)
- Asset Collectors (collect images, files, etc. to help with building the prototype)
- Stitcher (someone to oversee the progress and stitch pieces together)
- Interviewers (interview potential customers to test)
- Realistic Experience = Realistic Reaction
- Build just enough to learn, but no more
- What is click-dummy prototyping
- What is Wizard of Oz prototyping
- Marvel & InVision (click-dummy tools)
- Design Sprint Day-4 activity: Prototyping