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Prototype this

Updated: Sep 17, 2020

“No army can stop an idea whose time has come”.

Victor Hugo

Some of the participants in our Creative Leadership Program created a prototype of a Creative Leader Guide to success.

Each and every one of us can think of at least one person who fits this bizarre description: he dives into new business opportunities headfirst, hoping to gain good profit in a short period of time from creating glamorous new products and services. It doesn’t take long before he realizes that his spectacular vision of the future is about to come crashing down. Make no mistake, the reason for his failure lies within the fact that he did not validate whether his customers need this product. Moreover, it can neither solve their existing problems nor meet their needs. Perhaps you have similar problems and ask yourself how to go through this process of validation as cheaper and painless as possible.

One of the best ways to get feedback from customers in the design process is to make a prototype of the product that you are willing to launch. This way you can make a smaller, cheap version of the product in order to test it with the end-users. The feedback that you can get at this stage of developing the idea is of paramount importance for how the product can be improved. On one hand, this will save you a lot of money because you will not have to launch a product that nobody cares about and does not buy. On the other hand, you will benefit from launching a product that the user has already approved of, and also meets their needs and desires.

In order to illustrate an idea, you can simply sketch it or create a storyboard for it. Plain prototypes help others understand your ideas better, so you can build on them together. In addition, when you pitch the idea to potential investors or partners, you can demonstrate it with something material, tangible. Otherwise, your innovative concept might sound too abstract, which might compromise you getting the funding you need.

One of the most common mistakes people make: accepting that their prototypes should be their best guess on how their product or service should function and look like. So they try to prototype the entire thing instead of asking very specific questions that a prototype can help to answer. They get stuck asking: “Is it working or not?”, says Nathalie Collins, senior designer at IDEO. The more important question is what can we learn from the feedback, and how can it inspire us to improve the product or the service.

Another trap you might fall into is prototyping without having a clear goal. You probably already know that falling in love with your first promising idea is not a good thing. But rushing into creating purposeless prototypes is even worse. They should validate assumptions, test solutions or refine ideas. Otherwise, you may lose focus or get stuck polishing too many details that may not be relevant to the tests.

There is another scenario you should consider. Your teammates who are not quite familiar with the design thinking process might oppose the creation of a prototype for every idea that needs to be validated, considering it to be a waste of time. But the truth is different.

Although prototyping takes time, it actually allows you to move faster in the right direction in the long run. Through prototyping, you can find out whether your ideas will evolve, whether you can improve them, or will have to abandon them when you find out they have no real potential, but just sound good on paper. “They slow us down to speed us up,” says Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO.

Our team created a new system for walking from one platform in the metro station to another.

Act on it

If you have any doubts about what you are trying to achieve, it is best to make a prototype. Creating it will help you think about your idea in a specific way and will give you a chance to improve your concept.

Don’t get emotionally attached

Prototyping should be relatively fast. The longer you spend in building your prototype, the more emotionally attached to your idea you will get, which will prevent you from objectively evaluating its strengths and weaknesses.

Do not forget your goal

All prototypes must have a purpose that they match. What is the question you are looking to give an answer to? Do not forget it, but do not get too attached to it. If other questions arise in the process, do not be afraid to ask them. You can also learn a lot from them.

Learn from the user

Test the prototype and see if it meets the needs of users. Explore their behavior when they are interacting with it. Learn from the gaps in your expectations and improve your ideas.

- Fabrica360


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