Prototyping 101

Prototyping 101

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What is this for? Once an idea moves from the phase of customer Empathy to Creativity, prototyping and testing is critical. Mindset and core principles Paper prototyping and click-dummy prototyping are very useful here. Sometimes even just a description of the product can trigger a reaction. Consider testing ideas with things like: a new Star Wars Lego set 'box', with images and descriptions of the content, without actually manufacturing the lego yet! Think Facebook banner ad with an image and a catchy slogan. Think of spaghetti western facades, where you build just enough to cover a camera angle. If you are proposing a hypothetical situation, you can role-play as well. Following Karl Popper's True Scientific method, we test with customers early and often as possible to disconfirm, in order to address customer's true desire. It's easy to find confirmation of a theory if you're looking for it.

Overview

We often think of a 'prototype' like the diagram on the left but what we want to test is the right. Minimum Viable Prototype that is realistic enough to get true reactions, good or bad.
We often think of a 'prototype' like the diagram on the left but what we want to test is the right. Minimum Viable Prototype that is realistic enough to get true reactions, good or bad.

Step 1: Know what you are testing for

  • If you have already identified customer's pain points and their challenges (read
    Customer Empathy
    ) then turn those insights into an opportunity
  • Now align that opportunity to a moment in customer's experience journey.
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Uber focused on 2 key moments of taxi rider's journey. Now those 2 moments equal to a $96B company. 1. Hailing a cab (imagine yourself in New York, late night and its raining) 2. Nearing end of ride and paying ('do i have enough money?' & 'how much do I tip?')

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.

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Uber devised a simple prototype using Wizard of Oz prototyping. They built a simple mobile page and cars waiting around a corner. 1. When the test customers clicked on the mobile page, a car magically showed up. 2. Arriving at a destination, the passenger simply got out and the mobile page showed that their ride was paid. Magic! This allowed them to test how people reacted to new ideas before spending a lot of time and money developing a real mobile app.

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Wizard of Oz prototyping tests functionalities before they exist. The customer experiences a simulation of the actual functionality. While the tester pulls the strings manually in the background (like the wizard behind the curtain). Read more about Wizard of Oz prototyping

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.

INVISTA Procurement role playing their new
INVISTA Procurement role playing their new Commodity Manger Onboarding concept.

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.

Prototyping roles

  • 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)

Prototyping tips

  • Realistic Experience = Realistic Reaction
  • Build just enough to learn, but no more

Team storyboarding the experience a customer would go through in their prototype
Team storyboarding the experience a customer would go through in their prototype

SRG testing their prototype, a new key role that will bridge their complicated Launch Process.
SRG testing their prototype, a new key role that will bridge their complicated Launch Process.

Additional Resources

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Recommended reading

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Additional Resources

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