Prototyping: Play With Your Ideas

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Whether its Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo, or Kishore Biyani of Future Group or Nisa Godrej of Godrej Industries all corporate leaders today are banking on Design Thinking to connect with there client at the emotional level to see results in innovation, growth and profitability. With start-ups and entrepreneurship growth all around, leaders of established organizations are increasingly making Design Thinking as a part of the core strategy.

Design Thinking has a human centered approach, yet ensuring business value and technology to be part of the solution. I did share my thoughts around Design Thinking in my earlier blog ( Design Thinking – The New Innovation Strategy), today I am sharing critical element of Design Thinking – Prototype. So let’s see the What, Why, When, Where and how of Prototype?

People try shoes, clothes before they buy or test-drive cars or even see the model houses, then why not test your idea before you develop it?  Prototype is nothing more than user interacting with your idea. There are several reasons why it’s so crucial to design thinking:

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  • To problem-solve – the teams have to build or create something
  • To communicate ideas – showing is always better than telling
  • To test various options & possibilities – in low resources – less time and money
  • To connect with end-users – helps elicit feedback and what they think after seeing your idea
  • To get investments – generates interests and investment in your idea
  • Better design faster with shared common understanding

Things we conceptualize in our heads that seem awesome sometimes can turn out to be terrible ideas when we put them in a more concrete, visual medium such as a piece of paper or a computer screen.  It can be anything from a post-it note, or role-play activity or gadget or wireframe or storyboard or interactive simulation Its all about user experiencing your solution – role-play to make them physically go through the environment, or storyboard to walk through the scenario or creating some samples to experience it, but all this to bring out the responses and feedback from the users.

So what exactly should a prototype look like?

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First it depends on your idea and second on your budget and objectives. I would say pick a pen and a paper and draw. Don’t worry you don’t have to be an artist to do that. If you need a nudge to start sketching, try Dan Roam’s book The Back of the Napkin. It’s ideal during brainstorming and conceptualization and can be done alone in a cubicle with a sketchbook or in a group with a flip chart (or whiteboard) and markers. Doing this rapidly and iteratively generates feedback early and often in the process, improving the final design and reducing the need for changes during development.

Just think of your business model like a story. A story how your enterprise will create, deliver and capture value. You can start with what most people are fixated upon- the value proposition. Then decide whom you can sell it to. Sketch in how you can get it to them and how that will generate revenue. You figure out the key resources like a reliable website or brand recognition. The key responsibility of each partner, and the finally from your cost will come from – sales, marketing, platform development. All that will cost you. And there you go, you first model is ready. But don’t expect a middle of a breakthrough. Predictable models can work but can rarely give you advantage. So don’t fall in love with your first idea. To compete in the world where the best model wins, you need to think harder and explore alternatives. You might not find it realistic but exploring it will force you to think hard about potential alternatives.

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There’s no right or wrong way to do it. Just some simple rules

  1. Establish a clear purpose for each prototype:It allows you to take risk or try something new. We all know that markets aren’t stable, technology changes incredibly quickly and customers can be confused – so you’ve got to pursue innovation to create something which user need or want.
  2. Build with the user in mind. What do you hope to test with the user? What sorts of behavior do you expect? Answering these questions will help focus your prototyping and help you receive meaningful feedback in the testing phase. Convert the users’ description of the solution into mock-ups, factoring in user experience standards and best practices.
  3. Share the prototype with users and evaluate whether it meets their needs and expectations.Your interactions with users are often richer when centered around a conversation piece. A prototype is an opportunity to have another, directed conversation with a user.

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Experience is king – pictures speak thousand words, prototype is thousand words. Let people interact with your idea, and then they’ll be better able to understand it.  But don’t be a perfectionist – prototyping does not have to be 100% perfect, just good enough to give everyone a common understanding. So go ahead and start…play with your ideas first before you axe it.