TWO PERSPECTIVES ON PROTOTYPING
Chris Milne, prototyper for IDEO, calls prototyping an interview, where the idea must impress you with its application. Or the prototype’s function must impress users when they interact with it. By prototyping, you’re allowing your ideas to interact with your users in a safe place. Let them interrogate each other; learn from the way the two click or don’t click. Take feedback from those sessions and design a better candidate for your user to interview again. This broad viewpoint gives you the incentive to improve the aspects you have control over—the product design, interface, experience, and feel—so that users can find the right fit for their need. You might not be able to control where users interact with your product (on a busy sidewalk or in the quiet of their home), but you’ll have created an intuitive product that they’ll want to use. These broader definitions allow us to apply prototyping to many stages of product development, and to expand the scope of what a prototype can be. Scope means the “extent of the area or subject matter that something deals with or to which it is relevant.”2 When you expand the scope of what you prototype, you’re creating more opportunity areas to test and get feedback. The previous, more specific types of prototypes are each useful at different stages of product development. However, you should consider all of the facets of prototyping before choosing which one is appropriate for your current situation. When you approach prototyping for improving and testing your idea, keep in mind your teammates’ and stakeholders’ expectations for this process, and be ready to explain why you’re prototyping in different ways at every stage. You will be the advocate for prototyping throughout your process, instead of only once or in one specific way. This book will give you confidence so you can stand up for the value of prototyping. What is considered a prototype is often a debated topic for designers, too. The main conflict arises between interactive and static prototypes. Some designers believe a prototype is anything that is testable and improvable, while others believe a prototype is specifically an interactive version of an idea. These two viewpoints are individually valid, but the latter limits how you can test your ideas. If you choose to see everything as a prototype, interactive or static, and use it as an opportunity to test your assumptions through any means possible, you will develop the mindset of incremental improvement and constant feedback that will greatly benefit your product.
Prototyping is not a checkbox that you complete once on the way to finishing a project. It is a mindset where you are comfortable with testing unfinished ideas in order to make the best result possible. It’s embracing the unknown, and testing ideas early and often. It may feel uncomfortable at first to show ugly, unfinished work. I know that when I started testing early prototypes, I felt apprehensive that my work would be judged or deemed unfit to interact with. I would cringe when users struggled to get through the task I set out for them.
Showing unfinished work may feel like it goes against your grain and nature—you may like to display finished, polished, perfect designs. To be successful, you must build comfort with vulnerability and be open to feedback. As you start getting more feedback and incorporating it into your designs, you’ll see the longer-term benefit in the success of your projects. After a while, you’ll thirst for feedback from your users and colleagues. Unfinished work will be hung up all over your workspace with impromptu conversations and formal critique sessions. Each interaction with your work will improve and strengthen your idea and design. To get the most out of prototyping, you must incorporate it into every part of your process, and constantly be looking for feedback. Show your user flows to your business stakeholders to get their perspective that you’re pursuing the proper use cases. Share your wireframes or electrical circuit diagrams with your coworkers to get their critique on the design. User test low- to high-fidelity prototypes with end users to test usability. Everything can be prototyped, and everything is a prototype. There can always be a better, improved version of what you are creating, and it takes time and practice to develop that urge to always be prototyping. The more comfortable you feel in this mindset, as you practice it, the more likely you’ll bring prototyping to the table with your own team. And when your team experiences prototyping and the informed, tested results you deliver, they’ll be more likely to push to create more time for this practice. Soon your business partners and developer colleagues will be asking to see and experience your prototypes and expect it to be part of the project process. Your prototyping and research may even help inform your team’s launch dates and prioritize your backlog of future features. As your prototyping skills become stronger and you develop the ability to quickly build prototypes, you’ll soon be able to conduct more rounds of testing and ensure your users will get the best product possible.