Prototyping as an ethos

Prototyping electronic board with some components and wires

When car manufacturers design a new automobile, they develop requirements, conduct research, draw designs, make scale models, test scale models in wind tunnels, computer model their ideas, build full-scale prototypes, test them, and iterate the designs – all of this before putting them into production. What they don’t do is go right from drawing them on a piece of paper or having a pocketful of highly subjective ideas to putting them into production.

So they don’t base their decisions on a paper prototype or a list of personal ideas. Why? Because a car is a 3 dimensional experience. It is an experience of the senses. It is an interactive experience. You really need to understand it before you put it into production. Mistakes carried through into production would be costly.

Most people, if you asked them to draw a picture of a car would do so. And the exercise would result in many different shapes, sizes, features, etc. However, if pressed, most people don’t actually believe they could design a car for production. So why, then, do so many people believe they can design a customer-facing experience?

When done properly, digital experiences go through a process of understanding requirements (those of the business – and the users), which can mean conducting research and workshops with all constituents to understand needs, desires, etc. All of this informs design and function. We sketch, we wireframe, we prototype, we test, we revise, we design, we build, we test, etc. There is a process that we follow, not because we want to be difficult, but because we are often delivering something, that in todays world, can sit at the core of a business’ strategy.

We wouldn’t want to take our responsibility lightly, because to do so could be catastrophic for the companies for whom we work.

So if we take our responsibility seriously, why don’t our clients? Why do they so often try to cut corners, cut out research and prototyping, shudder at the idea of iteration (which will equal cost now but provide potential benefit later), and railroad us down an agile path that promises iteration, but so often delivers linear, scaled-back development with no opportunity to evolve already built functionality? Prototyping and testing gives you a real opportunity to test, iterate and re-test. It allows teams to incorporate learnings (other than their own) so that the end results more closely resemble the type of result that users might actually find useful.

If I could I would present a counter argument to this process to try and give some sense of perspective, but through all of the prototyping and testing I’ve been a part of throughout my career, there have always been a set of beneficial learnings that have come out the other end, and a set of clients (marketers, tech teams, stakeholders) who sit back and think ‘we didn’t know that before’.

I’d love to see more time built into projects for prototyping and testing because I enjoy it when projects are given a chance to be successful and clients are given a chance to shine when their results bear fruit. And isn’t it better when we share our work while it has a chance of being improved than after when it is too late?

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