Are you under estimating prototyping?

We all know prototyping is a great tool for developing user interfaces. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. They have so much more potential.

I love prototyping. It is a big part of my work. But I find that when I talk about it, people have a much narrower view of its role than I do.

I don’t see prototyping as a tool that can just help design better interfaces. I believe that like so many parts of design thinking, it can have benefits to all areas of business.

They solve business problems

You can prototype a lot more than an interface. In fact you can prototype pretty much anything. Anything from a customer service interaction to streamlining a factory line process.

Here are just a few ways prototyping could improve the user experience.

  • Map out a better method for answering support calls.
  • Defining how and when your organisation sends emails to customers.
  • Storyboard users moving from social media to the website.
  • Prototyping the layout of a store or office.
  • Trialling improvements to backend systems such as picking and distribution.

The list could go on. Disney even built a prototype showing how a Magicband could improve the experience in their parks. A prototype that led to their executive green lighting over $1 billions in renovations.

Disney created a prototype of their new Magic Band experience to convince the executive to invest $1 billion.

They encourage collaboration

You should not build prototypes alone. They are a great collaboration tool. Instead of having endless meetings to ‘discuss’ an idea, get people together to build it.

If you haven’t already read The Sprint by Google Ventures. This book shows how you can get a group of stakeholders building a testable prototype in only a week.

They validate ideas

That is the great thing about prototypes. They give you something tangible to test. This means you know whether an idea will work, before investing time and money into building the final version.

They resolve conflict

By testing a prototype you can also avoid disagreements over the best approach. We waste too much time debating details when a quick prototype and some ad-hoc testing could resolve the issue.

They create a common vision

In my opinion building a prototype is much more effective than a specification document. We can misinterpret words. A prototype clarifies what the final deliverable will be.

We can misinterpret words. A prototype clarifies what the final deliverable will be. Tweet this

For example, if I told you to imagine a checkout process on an ecommerce site, the picture in your head could be different to mine. A prototype shows how it would work and removes the ambiguity.

They are a powerful sales tool

One of the biggest reasons I am such a fan of prototypes is because they are an amazing sales tool. As UX professionals we are always trying to persuade our bosses to let us improve the experience. But our bosses can’t see why things need changing because they cannot imagine a better way. All they can see is the cost of the change.

So instead of trying to persuade them with presentations and business cases, build a prototype. Don’t tell them about a better user experience, show them it.

A waste of time and money?

Many feel a pressure to skip the prototyping phase because it is an unnecessary and expensive luxury. But in truth the benefits outweigh the costs.

In fact I would go as far as saying that the idea prototypes are a cost is a fantasy. The cost is more than covered by the time saved with endless discussions. Not to mention stopping us from building functionality no user cares about.

What challenge is your boss facing

So I end with this question — what challenge is your boss facing right now? It might be to increase sales, reduce costs, grab market share. It doesn’t matter. Whatever the challenge consider using prototyping as a way of exploring solutions.

Google Ventures provides a step by step guide to a week of collaborative prototyping.

If you feel you need help prototyping, check out the Sprint book I mentioned earlier. That or the guide to design sprints on the Google Ventures website.

Or if all else fails, find out how I can help you prototype!

Originally published at on September 6, 2016.

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