The definition of "prototyping" often varies for different categories, industries, or even phases of the development process. The starting point is most often an idea or concept—be it consumer-generated or internally created. From there, pathways diverge based on what's needed next—or who's doing the evaluations. But in the end, it's all about giving an idea a little more detail/structure to get a good read on whether it's commercially viable, fulfills an end-user need, or can even be engineered as-stated.
Creative Process Designers and Facilitators Dina Pancoast and Greg Cobb sat down (over Zoom) with Jeni Ellick, Founder of Artisan Row—a food design and strategy company—and Joey Baggett, Senior UI Product Designer at DocuSign, to talk about prototyping.
Here are 3 key takeaways from the interview:
1. Specificity Matters. When you have a "paper" idea or concept, there's a lot of room for interpretation. As Jeni Ellick articulated in the interview, "When I say 'spicy' it means something totally different than when you say 'spicy.'" The sooner you can add detail, without distracting from the main idea, the sooner your team can be aligned on what it is you're creating—and the sooner you can take it to testing to help refine it enough to bring it to life.
2. Recognize What's Ideal vs. What's Possible. Prototyping helps narrow the gap between what's ideal and what's possible. In the very front-end of idea development, Ideas To Go's Creative Consumers® associates are adept at wishing for a product/service with benefits that ladder all the way up to "world peace." By ideating that far out into product perfection, facilitators can then help clients reign it back in so they can work on what's realistic. That is the "sweet spot" that testing and refining prototypes can get to so, as Jeni puts it, "You start to understand the gap analysis between what's perfect and what's acceptable."
3. Test and Refine Before You Go Straight-To-Market. As Joey Baggett says, "It helps the company, truthfully, save money. And it helps us remain competitive in the marketplace." Sadly, some solutions, ideas and concepts that are loved internally may not be as competitive or as valuable to customers. Validating through research keeps you from going back to "fix" something to make it stronger or more end-user friendly. By prototyping before a product is solidified, you give yourself time to make changes and get feedback that improve the product, without getting too expensive too quickly. The biggest watch out, however, is testing too early. When an idea is still in its early development stage, it may not be fully formed enough to start prototyping. Jeni Ellick says, "I'm not a big fan of a lot of testing and iteration in the middle [of development] when it's not really representative of what you can do in the marketplace."
One last bit of advice: The best first pass at a prototype starts with a written concept or document. Helpful elements to get the whole team on the same page, at the same time, include:
A well-constructed concept, although basic in terms, is essential in practice. Even if the idea is still in its infancy, by articulating it clearly from the get-go, you can test, tighten up, and refine from a good starting point.
Ideas To Go is an innovation agency that leads start-ups to Fortune 500 companies through insights exploration, ideation, and idea and concept development while incorporating the voice of the consumer.