Prototype like a Pro

A tale about small group training for designers

Leigh-Ann Bartsch
Nov 1, 2019 · 6 min read

Over my 5 year tenure at Hudl, I was blessed to spend my last year there as a senior design manager. I set aside working as an individual contributor and made management and process my full-time gig. During my tenure as a full time manager I worked closely alongside the design director, Kelsey Janda (now VP of Design), who led creative direction and strategy. We worked with a group of 5 designers on the Analysis tribe, focused on impacting our users everywhere data is present throughout the Hudl product.

Part of this new role meant that I was in charge of recognizing areas where the team could improve and subsequently building plans to attack them. If a lack of skill set was inhibiting our team of designers from doing their best work, it was my job to find solutions that would positively impact the customer and business value. Kelsey and I noticed a gap in skillset amongst the team when it came to prototyping. We were quick to execute on one solution to a problem instead of exploring multiple possibilities.

What are prototypes, anyway?

Historically, we’d considered prototypes as high visual and content fidelity functioning mockups (we recently shifted to Figma and it’s fantastic for this!) that could be tested with users. In reality, prototyping is way more than that. Kathryn McElroy, who wrote the book Prototyping for Designers, defines a prototype as a manifestation of an idea into a format that communicates the idea to others or is tested with others. Prototypes can be messy. They can be low visual fidelity, high content fidelity, and medium breadth fidelity. They can be whatever we need them to be for the situations we’re in.

Through Kathryn’s definition, a prototype can be anything that helps you communicate an idea. This was a new concept to us and Kelsey and I knew we didn’t have the right tools to teach our team deeper facets of prototyping. Through a twist of fate, Kelsey had recently attended a Within retreat and met Kathryn. We got in touch with her to see if she’d be willing to work with us.

I put together a few different proposals for how the training could work: a seminar type class with the entire design chapter, small group training with a specific design team, and a training specifically for design leaders, who would be expected to then train our entire design team. With 18 designers in our design chapter, we didn’t feel that a big group training would be as effective. Having only the leaders take the class didn’t seem quite right, but we liked the idea of teaching the rest of the chapter what we learned after the training. Several iterations of the plan later, we signed Kathryn on to do small group training for the Analysis designers.

Putting it to practice

Every other week over the course of 12 weeks, Kathryn met with the 5 Analysis designers, Kelsey, and me remotely. We structured the training as 6 separate workshops focused on specific chapters of the book we were to read the week prior. For roughly the first 30 minutes of a 60 minute session, Kathryn would give us examples of prototypes she worked on in the past that were based around the subject of the reading. We were encouraged to ask questions when we had them and she’d save at least the last 30 minutes of each session for our team to review prototypes we had created.

An analysis designer presenting his work while Kathryn listens in and provides critique.

Kathryn was able to give direct and relevant feedback to each designer’s work. Week over week our team improved and started to influence change within the product team. For the final session, each designer put together a case study of a prototype they had worked on and presented it to the group. It was clear after this training with Kathryn that we were using prototypes more effectively to get to the right problems and solutions faster.

In 3 months time, the Analysis tribe’s designers, engineers, product managers, and quality analysts created roughly 80 prototypes. Of those 80 prototypes, about 60 were tested with internal and external users. Thanks to Kathryn’s knowledge and willingness to teach us, our team felt more prepared and confident in their ability to not only prototype, but to present their prototypes to others.

Time (and money) well spent

The reception of this training course was well accepted by our team of designers. It was a good way to not only get everyone on the same page about prototyping, but to learn directly from an expert. Our work improved, but more importantly, our mindset changed.

Better understanding what a prototype is and how it should be applied has helped me communicate more effectively with my team and pushed us to the best next steps forward faster.

One designer spent almost the entire 12 weeks prototyping and testing experiments for incorporating machine learning into one of our products. He specifically mentioned how he, “felt more confident in our decisions because of the tests that we ran.”

Another designer—working on a tricky, cross-product integration product for our enterprise users—appreciated how prototyping was helping her communicate more effectively with her team, saying, “better understanding what a prototype is and how it should be applied has helped me communicate more effectively with my team and pushed us to the best next steps forward faster.”

Through sketching and putting down multiple ideas and workflows one designer was able to save 2 sprints of time.

And it didn’t only benefit us.

Kathryn’s tweet after we wrapped up our final session. Follow her for more awesomeness.

Becoming change agents

Our next step after this training is to influence change within the rest of the design and product teams. As I mentioned before, part of the deal to run the training with only Analysis designers is that we would share our new knowledge. We’ll do a few things to spread our knowledge about prototyping throughout Hudl.

  • Integrate an Analysis designer within another tribe. One of our designers is moving to a different tribe to help work on our Hudl Focus product, and she’s the perfect candidate to run a mini version of this training with the rest of the designers on the Capture and Watch tribe.
  • Pair Analysis designers with other designers in the chapter. Similar to what we’ll do with tribe integration, Analysis designers will coach the rest of the designers about prototyping in a 1:1 environment.
  • Present the outcomes and successes of the training to our product leadership team. It’ll be important to share what we learned with our leaders. I believe small group training can be an effective way to learn a skill or discipline at a low cost. Our sessions with Kathryn prove that.

Throughout 12 weeks and six 1-hour sessions, the Analysis designers learned a valuable skill that will continue to help them during their career. Better yet, we did it together, as a team.


Want to learn more? Leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.

Love what you read and want to hire Kathryn for your team? Send her a message.

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In The Hudl

Behind the scenes of life at Hudl

Leigh-Ann Bartsch

Written by

Creative thinker. Designer. Drummer.

In The Hudl

Behind the scenes of life at Hudl

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