Rapid Prototyping is used for:
1. Gathering feedback from customers.
2. Validating assumptions.
3. Aligning stakeholders and teams.
4. Testing an idea in practice.
Essentially, you’re selling futures to your customers, stakeholders, and team.
Prototyping lets you explore what would be different about the world, if it was changed according to your idea. It says: I know we’re currently ‘here’, but let me take you somewhere ‘else’ for a moment and see what you think.
Rapid Prototyping in Practice.
1. Who are you designing for?
2. What do they need to do?
3. Why do they need to do it?
4. How are they doing it now?
5. Where are they?
6. What’s getting in their way?
It is the foundation of your website, your value proposition, your stakeholder buy-in, your customer conversations, and your fundraising.
How well you understand the story and how well you can tell it are critical to all other prototypes.
What’s the story?
You can start with a simple list.
To begin to tell your story, it’s often important to run an exercise with your team where you just do a massive brain dump.
Starting with your potential customers – list out everything you know about them. Their characteristics, their problem, what they do, why they have the problem, what they want, need, hope for, etc.
Do the same with the problem. What is the problem, why is it a problem, who’s involved, etc etc.
Once you have spent a little bit of time thinking about the people who will use your product or service, the challenges that they face, and the overall problem landscape, you’re ready to start thinking of how to communicate that powerfully.
There’s no single right answer for what makes a good pitch, but there is universal consensus that you need a good pitch.
If you have any hopes of people using your product or service, or hopes of getting people to support your business, you’ll first need to capture their attention and quickly sell them on the idea.
1. Use this template to start brainstorming different ways you can communicate your idea most effectively.
2. Then test out your pitch with relevant audiences.
3. Remember, you might need different pitches to different audiences.
There’s no guarantee that your business will succeed. Which is why it’s important to practice risk management. You need to lay out all of your teams assumptions.
Assumptions are things you believe about your customers or the problem space.
Not all assumptions are equal. You need to ask yourself, which of our assumptions if wrong would mean that our idea can’t work.
Those are the assumptions you should test and prototype first.
1. Gather your team and record all of your teams assumptions.
2. Plot your assumptions on this matrix.
3. Assumptions that are important and unproven (top right) are the critical things to prove before working on anything else.
If you want to convince people to use your product or service, you need to be able to explain it in ways they will understand.
One of the most effective tools for learning how to talk about your product or service comes from SEO and Keyword Research.
Doing basic seo research will not only help you learn about the pains and needs of your customers or users, but it will also show you how they talk about it in their own words.
Once you can speak in the same language, there is a much higher probability that someone will be receptive to your offer.
1. Go to Google and imagine you are someone looking for either a solution to the problem you’re solving, or learning about the problem.
2. Write down the different ways people ask those questions. Use googles ‘auto suggest’, ‘people also ask’, and ‘searches related to’ sections to expand your list.
3. Do similar searches in local search engines or forums related to your product, service, or problem space.
4. Intelligently use those keywords in your interviews, pitches, conversations, and presentations.
Writing good copy is hard. In fact, writing is generally hard.
And although there aren’t many tools that can instantly make you a great copywriter, there are some tools that can at least keep you from being grammatically incorrect, or confusing.
Hemingway app is a brilliant tool that judges the complexity of your text and helps you simplify it. This helps to ensure that at the very least, people will understand what you are writing.
Grammarly is another tool that helps you write better but this one focuses on common grammar, logic, and punctuation issues.
1. Write any messages, pitches, product descriptions, emails, etc, in a word document.
2. Copy your text into Hemingway and edit. It’s important to keep writing and editing as separate activities.
3. Once you have simplified your text in Hemingway, copy it into Grammarly and correct any mistakes you notice.
4. Rinse and Repeat.
The first story is a story that illustrates the problem you are trying to solve and why it is painful.
The second story is the story of a future in which your solution exists and how customers accomplish their goals.
The third story is a story of a customer using your app.
Explaining how to use your product or service step by step in words will help to actually build it properly and uncover many UX issues.
Prototype with stories
These are the foundation
Regardless of what you are prototyping with your service afterwards, these stories and customer insights will serve as the foundation.
Tools and Resources
Miro – Overall Collaboration
Miro is a distributed team’s best friend.
It’s a digital whiteboard and collaboration platform.
The free plan comes with 3 boards, unlimited viewers, and 3 users per board.
Use it for:
2. Create mockups
3. Collect inspiration and references.
4. Kanban Planning
5. Any Team activities.
A tool that records from your webcam and your screen.
The recording is privately uploaded to Looms servers where you can then share it easily with just a link.
Use it for team communication, explainer videos, or for prototyping your product. Many times it’s better than a google hangouts call.
Free to use and tool for creating videos. Intuitive controls, add text, subtitles, music, etc.
Use it for prototypes, marketing vids, problem framing vids, etc.
3. Instagram Stories
Instagram’s story mode lets you record just snippets of video and pieces it together for you. You can then save that to your phone and you have a ready made video.
Useful for narrating a story with changing scenery.
Illustrations and Images
Rapid prototyping is about being fast. Which often means using content and resources that are created by others that can save you time.
The following are all places to get different images, photos, icons, or presentation templates that can help you quickly iterate and make your products and services look beautiful.
Customizeable people illustrations.
A free to use library of people illustrations by Pablo Stanley – he’s amazing. These are all available in vector and can be edited for your needs.
Landing page illustrations
Icons for everything
Digital mockups and assets
UI kits – UI kits are used to create prototypes and visualize how things should look and feel without needing to code them from scratch. Very helpful for quickly bringing an idea to life.
Hatchful – Hatchful uses AI to quickly generate logos and brand imagery. Helpful to quickly mockup a professional looking image without spending any time.
canva.com – presentations are a big part of pitching and selling ideas. Canva is a free to use program that offers a ton of brilliantly designed templates for you to use.
invision.com – an easy and free tool to use for creating quick clickable prototypes that you can then share with people to get some quick testing in.
The main goal of prototyping is learning.
A product or service’s success does not rely only on whether you have a solution to a problem.
It also relies on stakeholders, partners, team members, timing, etc.
Designers learn by making. We create in order to learn more about the problem space, the customers, our stakeholders, and the limitations of what we can achieve.
A tool that came from the movie and comics industry. A storyboard can have words or it can be purely visual, but the main idea is to tell a story using key frames.
Used to illustrate the current experience, the storyboard can highlight current struggles that people experience in a problem space.
Used to illustrate an alternative future, the storyboard can be used to gather feedback from customers on the viability of a design intervention or it can be used to align internal stakeholders on a shared vision of what the team is building and designing.
This is an example of a storyboard that I and my team created when working at MediSolutions. We were exploring different opportunities to create better patient experiences through the use of digital technologies.
We used this storyboard to gather feedback from doctors, their medical staff, and patients to determine the viability of the service and if it solved an important enough problem.
User Journey Map
Highly related to and often used interchangeably with a service blueprint, the user journey map focuses on describing the full end-to-end customer experience. Less emphasis is placed on understanding the backstage interactions that allow a service to be delivered.
This journey map is describing the experience of Sofia, a 6 year old girl who needs to get an MRI done. Doug Dietz from GE healthcare during a visit to the hospital came across Sofia and realized how painful the experience was for young children. Mapping the customer journey, they were able to identify multiple points in the process where they could deliver a better experience.
By mapping out the child’s journey during the hospital experience and emphasizing on what the child was thinking and feeling, they were able to identify the main need of feeling safe. They introduced different fun activities and games to the process and completely redesigned the room and MRI machine exterior to allow kids to come into the experience with joy and a sense of safety and adventure.
Not only did this create better and safer experiences for children, but it also reduced hospital costs associated with sedating kids to be still during scans, and ultimately allowed the hospital to see more kids in a single day leading to more efficient, less costly, and better health care.
Often when you are designing, you will be imagining entirely new futures. Designers often want to understand how people might feel about these new experiences without having to actually create them. A scenario is essentially an illustration of a what if statement.
This Scenario illustration here is a project I worked on exploring social innovation in Manhattans Lower East Side neighborhood. The illustration is exploring the question of – What if the whole neighborhood could function as a senior center? What would that look like? Is it feasible? Is it possible?
Having explored the question through a scenario and using image and storytelling to begin to describe what a neighborhood as a senior center might look like, the next step was getting feedback from the local community residents.
By partnering with a local community center, the design team organized a public participatory gallery show where they invited the local community to come and share in the creative process and provide feedback to the team on the future visions.
Scenarios can be videos too.
Depending on your team’s capabilities and budget, your scenario illustrations can also be truer to life.
In this video illustration, The Connected Places Catapult uses video to explore the question of – What if our cities had entirely different and augmented cycling experiences?
What’s interesting about this video is that it presents a future augmented with technology that would be very expensive to create. And yet, with some video work they are able to visualize this future and start exploring these possibilities with cities, startups, and citizens.
Dropbox Initial Launch.
When Dropbox was first launching, before they even had a fully working product that could scale and support users, founder Drew Houston wanted to see if people even had a problem with file syncing.
He took his beta program and created a video explainer walking people through the product and the problem it solved. He then asked them to sign up for the beta list.
Overnight he went from 5000 to 75,000 signups.
This is similar to the Wizard of Oz Prototype except in this scenario customers aren’t led to believe that the product is automated, technical, or not run by humans.
The purpose of the concierge mvp test is to replace a technical or more difficult solution with something done by humans. This isn’t scalable but it tests the need. It’s easier to automate and scale something people already do, than it is to get them to do something new.
Before Rent the Runway fully launched their service, they needed to test if women were even willing to rent clothes instead of buying them. So they trialed with local colleges to validate. Once they saw evidence fo the behaviour they needed, they then went on to build out their business and think about scaling.
Testing with Ads
A lot of the time in the early stages of your idea, you need to very quickly understand if your product or service is something that people want or need.
Conducting interviews and doing other design research activities will help you figure this out to an extent, but you want to also capture real behavior.
Testing your value proposition through an Google or Facebook ad campaign won’t give you a ton of data as search marketing is highly competitive, but when done right, it can easily tell you if you are on the right track.
Link Tracking, Coming Soon, and 404 Testing.
A variation to testing with ads is testing with social media links. Using a tracker like Bit.ly or setting up campaigns in Google, you can create links to landing pages, coming soon pages, or error pages.
The analytics can help you trial and prototype different value propositions, keywords, descriptions, or even check for customer intent to see how many people even click through.
Wizard of OZ Scenarios
Sometimes you’ll want to test out a business idea with a scenario that requires the illusion of full reality.
What if this really existed – would people actually pay for it?
One tool that is commonly used is the Wizard of OZ MVP. In this tool, you simulate a fully working business or service that happens automatically, but in reality, you have people doing everything behind the scenes. Customers believe things are happening automatically and thus act as they would in real life.
The classic example is the online shoe retailer Zappos. When it was first started, they had no inventory and walked around photographing shoes from local stores. When they received orders, they would run and buy the shoes and ship everything. Once they reached $2000 worth of orders a week, they realized that their idea was validated and they proceeded to actually develop the business.
Scenarios can be text as well.
At different stages of your design and research process, you’ll also benefit from using maps and prototypes of differing fidelity.
In the exploration and the discovery phase, you’ll want to aim for low fidelity. What’s important is learning about the space and if you have understood the needs correctly. Later on in the process, you’ll need higher fidelity prototypes because the illusion of reality will be much more important.
In this scenario, only words were used to explore – what if we had this book on field research, what would be most interesting to you? Readers were invited to highlight and comment on the sections that they thought were most relevant. This helped the author know which parts of the book he needed to work on most.
Sometimes you’ll want to prototype app or service ideas. At some stage of the process you’ll definitely want to have high fidelity prototypes and actually have things committed to code or even designed digitally. But at the very early stages, you are just exploring a story.
What if this kind of app existed?
For that kind of storytelling and exploration, paper, pen, and voice are usually enough to start a conversation and begin to uncover needs and opportunities within the problem space.
People are very good at imagining and we are naturally gifted at filling in the blanks and telling stories. When shown something rough like this prototype, people will talk to you about the idea, the problem, the vision. When shown something that looks finished and real, people will often tell you they don’t think those colors are good and that maybe your font size is too large.
At every stage, you need to think what questions you want answers to and pick the appropriate tool.
Source: Global Govjam
One thing that is at the heart of all of many mapping methods is story telling. Much of a design teams work is telling stories. Whether these are stories to describe the current situation or whether these are stories that are describing new and alternative futures, they are still stories.
From that perspective, it’s not important what map you choose to make or even if you make a map at all. Sometimes all you need to do is tell the story really well. You can do this through words, through videos, through storyboards and imagery, or even through role playing exercises.
These videos are from the Global GovJam 2014 in Fukuoka, Japan. The videos don’t have any words and are made with a simple camera and minimal tools. But the story that is being told is an evocative one and we viewers immediately begin to fill in the blanks with our own past experiences.
Videos like this are especially useful as an exploratory research method because they can be used as prompts to start conversations and uncover people’s mental models and beliefs.
An important part of the design process is problem framing. In the beginning when design teams are out doing research, they are often working in teams targeting different areas of exploration. Effectively sharing what the teams are learning to one another is an important part of the process as it allows teams to better understand the space and also gives an opportunity for stakeholders to stay involved in the process. Often teams will create artifacts that share what has been discovered about the problem space. Spending time on this allows for a more solid foundation in the later design phases and ensures everyone on the team is on the same page.
Earlier I showed the scenario illustration reimagining the neighborhood as a senior center. This was the problem framing video that we created before beginning to work on new future visions.
Another Problem Framing video with no words. Other than some music and putting together different clips, this video is entirely possible to create in very little time using freely available tools on the Apple iPhone.
Although nothing is being said in this video, the viewer can easily understand the problem that is being described.
Using a video like this before a joint team brainstorming session is especially powerful as it primes the teams mind to have a very clear view of the problem and allows for easier communication and more powerful ideas.
And That’s Rapid Prototyping.
Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions or want to connect for other reasons.
“Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones.”