Rapid Prototyping: Gaining insight in order to iterate quickly

Prototyping is a learning activity: it's useless without testing. When we use rapid prototyping and targeted testing, we can de-risk business ideas and make better decisions about growth objectives.

When crafting innovative solutions, it’s very tempting to come up with the most unique, the flashiest, the most attention-grabbing product ideas. Ideating many varieties of solutions is helpful, but when it comes to prototyping that really gets the job done, simpler is better.

Creating low-fidelity prototypes helps us to de-risk the entire process.

We create low-fidelity prototypes in order to learn as much as we can during design thinking. They are not designed to be visually appealing. These quick prototypes are designed to specifically address the needs that we surfaced during ideation.

Prototyping in Design Thinking ensures that we are learning about the user

Prorotyping in Design Thinking: This illustration depicts a product owner who is holding out their hands to visualize a product, while a product team member points to a laptop to show that they understand the vision.

Teams that run lean agile sprints are always working with a bias toward “build”.

But, prioritizing a bias toward “learn” helps us slow down the thinking just enough to be sure we are considering the user throughout each step.

We apply a level of empathetic listening that goes beyond active listening. We structure ideation activities that address the right problem to solve.

This helps us identify opportunities for improvement while still performing necessary builds. We believe in the value of design thinking principles, and our innovation partners benefit from the quick wins that come out of this practice.

Build-Measure-Learn: The Lean Startup principles

Eric Ries pioneered “The Lean Startup” approach to building all sizes of companies, including startups or businesses that have proven their revenue model.

This approach is useful across all types of experiments, including design thinking for enterprise and corporate innovation.

Building something small, challenging a hypothesis, learning from user interaction, and building upon those results is exactly how we achieve user delight through the entire design thinking process.

We instill a prototyping mindset – along with an entrepreneurial mindset – across the Revelry team in order to empower them to experiment often.

Communicating ideas

Prototyping in Design Thinking: We can create clickable prototypes in order to test ideas. This illustration depicts a mobile phone with a landing page sign-up form displayed, and a pair of hands holding the phone are poised to click

Prototyping puts ideas into a tangible form.

The goal for this phase is to simply bring the ideas to life. A prototype doesn’t have to be fully elaborate, fancy, or perfect. Taking the idea from conceptual to tangible allows us to test it.

We turn our ideas into tangible prototypes in the hopes of validating those “How Might We?” questions that we zeroed in on during ideation exercises.

Our research will be proven – or disproven – but most importantly, we’re approaching this phase with empathy on the mind.

Ultimately, the prototype that we move on to build and deliver to the market must prove that with the user in mind, we are truly solving the problem that we surfaced earlier in our product development.

The possibilities are endless

We can’t build on every idea. We must have a proven method to decide which ideas we will pursue.

Rapid prototyping allows us to fail quickly, fail cheaply, and de-risk business ideas without taking a chance with the brand reputation. And when rapid prototyping delivers quick wins, it helps us break down complex problems into smaller elements.

Armed with some form of interaction or clickable prototype, we can set out to get real user feedback before investing heavily on a new product build.

Prototyping in Design Thinking should offer some form of interface for users to explore. This illustration depicts several smartphones lined up next to each other, and each one portrays a different type of mobile web or app experience.

Our prototypes offer some form of an interface for users to explore.

We observe and record all of their expectations, feelings, and actions as they interact with the physical embodiment of our idea.

We are working towards solving the problem statement and always remembering the user experience: Empathy for the problems and challenges the user is facing. 

Design Thinking isn’t meant to happen in a sequential order. We recognize that each phase has its own item of importance and should continually be cross-checked as we continue to work through the methodology. 

Creating prototypes allows us to test and refine the functionality of our designs.

The difference between an MVP and a prototype

Prototyping in Design Thinking: A prototype is not the same thing as an MVP, because a prototype can't be launched into the marketplace. This illustration depicts an arm that has thrown a paper airplane, and the flight path of the airplane indicates that it has performed a loop but is returning back to its source.

A prototype is not viable. That’s the simplest explanation.

An MVP – the Minimum Viable Product – is the simplest form of a solution that can actually be put on the market and get traction. It still has room for improvement, of course. It is not perfect, no.

But it is good enough.

A prototype is notgood enough”.

It cannot be launched to the market. It’s useful only for answering our product development questions.

And, it’s very useful in that way.

The science of Prototyping in Design Thinking

At Revelry, prototyping typically looks like either:

  1. A clickable UI prototype, usually designed in Sketch and imported into Invision
  2. A code prototype used to prove our ability to solve a particular problem with a particular technology

The audience for each of these prototypes is different.

The UI prototype is typically aimed at the end user of the potential feature/product. It may serve one or more of the following learning goals:

  • usability: can the end user effectively accomplish the task(s) they are being presented with?
  • conversion: if given a funnel, does the end user “convert” in the way we are hoping?
  • understanding: can the end user re-articulate what the product is doing, what purpose it is serving, what problem it is solving, and why it is valuable?
Prototyping in Design Thinking should involve intentional experiments. This illustration depicts colored liquid being poured out of a beaker and into a test tube, in order to symbolize an experiment.

Vary your prototypes – Create various prototypes and iterations from the ideas created throughout the ideation. This will help the user also test variations when you get there.

Identify a variable(s) – Your prototype should answer a question you are trying to solve for. Be open to the feedback identified throughout the testing of the variable.

Capture Feedback  – Identifying what it is we want to learn with this prototype sets us up to organize and interpret feedback and user responses.

Plan tests ahead of time.

These prototypes will garner a lot of feedback. The only way to learn from the feedback is to know exactly what we want feedback on, and be disciplined about our testing methods.

Read next: Testing: What works, and what doesn’t