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The #1 way, actually the only way, to start your project — prototyping

Prototyping is one of the core components of Design Thinking.

What is a prototype? Let’s start off with what it’s not:

A prototype is not

  • An MVP (minimum viable product)
  • A POC (proof of concept)
  • An early sprint build

All of these could be prototypes, but they should not be considered that as all require actually building the product, service or thing. Building means money, time and investment. A prototype wants to save all of that.

A prototype is a way to test an idea, get feedback from real users with very little investment

It gives you permission to experiment, test, ideate and explore new concepts, and ultimately validate that what you’re about to build is going to work.

Let me make it really clear — Prototyping has to be on every project.

Research is not enough, user interviews aren’t enough, requirements workshops aren’t enough. Only when someone sees something do they actually know how they feel about it.

I have a 4 bedroom, 1 bathroom house. So do millions of other people. The experience is completely different for each of these, and you can’t decide purely looking at the description of a house how you will feel about it. You have to see what you’re getting.

Prototyping is inspiring — it gives instant feedback on what an idea might look like for a user. Geoff from Accounts will have a much better idea of what he needs from his new timesheeting system when you actually give him a sketch of all the features… not just a spreadsheet listing what it’ll do. The surface where we touch the end user is as important as a stable system build. Just think of a shit app that does what it’s supposed to do, but is a horrible experience.

Some real world examples:

  • Mobile apps prototyping through putting a stack of post-it notes with simple sketches of each screen on top of a mobile device. Then flick through each post-it and get feedback. “this is screen one, this is screen two”
  • Bot prototyping — using https://app.botsociety.io/ you can build a very real representation of a real world bot. I use this for all my bot prototyping to get feedback. The feedback always changes once they see the real product.
  • Salesforce/system prototyping- super large post it notes like below. Sketch what each screen will look like — this will help you get requirements. Leave a space open at the bottom for user feedback.

The most important part of prototyping is getting feedback from real users. Having a list of requirements in a spreadsheet is horrible for everyone. You can’t visualise what you’re getting, and it’s open to interpretation. Testing a post for another day.

Show an example of what the end product looks like, test it, get feedback, try again. 90% of your prototypes SHOULD fail, but at least it has cost you practically nothing.

Once you start building, everyone will know what they’re getting, and you will have a narrative on how you arrived there.

Some great resources — almost all are stolen from the superb book Sprint

Botsociety.io — in love with this app. Try the free version, you’ll get what I mean. If you want to prototype a bot, THIS is the way.

Super sticky wall post-it notes — I literally carry these on the plane with me when I go to clients, I carry them in an art work protector tube. Every customer has said to me “we need to order some of those”.

Marvel — You take screenshots, or photos of your sketches, add hotspots and interactivity to it. Superb.

InVision — I’ve never used this but apparently has tons of prototyping tools

Keynote & Powerpoint— As much as I hate powerpoint, this is something you could use to show facades of apps. I’d still prefer an analogue/sharpie&paper approach though.

Keynotopia — These templates for Keynote and PowerPoint contain dozens of components (things like buttons, icons, and even whole screens) you can copy and paste into your prototype.

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