Designer | Strategist


Building a Prototype

Building a Physical Prototype – IDEO CoLab Fellowship 2018

Building a Physical Prototype – IDEO CoLab Fellowship 2018

Building an Idea

When building a prototype, I don't start with an answer. I start with questions. "What do I want to learn?", "What are my assumptions?" and what are the ways I can get from "I don't know" to "Here is what I know now". When I prototype, I'm building a story and then inviting people into that story to reshape it. "Imagine that you are looking for..." "How does that make you feel?" "Do you feel like you're in the right place?" "What would you like to see?" It's a form of improv because you don't know what the person who is testing your prototype might say or how they might react. Inviting people to interact and help create is where the magic happens.

Depending on the need and context, sometimes these prototypes are digital, result in an experience that depends on a physical space or are a mix of both. I start with pen and paper. I like to sketch and talk out ideas with a teammate. I discuss what language and visuals would be needed at a point in a customer’s journey. Working off a journey, I storyboard what are the steps in the experience we are building. Then I start building out concepts.

For the prototypes to be effective they must be informed by and evaluated by those will use it. It is an opportunity to build a language not only visually but also with copy or within space. For every prototype, context matters. Where could someone be when using your product or service? Consider what is the best way that you can help people know where they are and where they can go next.

Craigslist Prototype Image – IDEO CoLab 2018

Craigslist Prototype Image – IDEO CoLab 2018

Low-fidelity vs. High-fidelity

There's freedom in building in low-fidelity prototypes and flexibility. For example, the copy doesn't work. Try new copy. With low-fidelity prototypes, the people who you are testing with are more likely to give you honest feedback.

For high fidelity, ideally you've tested your idea as a low-fidelity or multiple low-fidelity prototypes before coming to this stage. By now, you should have a better idea of what your refined product or service will be. If you are sharing high fidelity digital prototypes, through testing I’ve learned that people tend to focus on copy and while they give feedback on experience, they might get hung on color too. So, when testing high-fidelity prototypes be sure to consider what you questions you need answered and facilitate your sessions accordingly. For context on how to facilitate sessions, I’ve found Neilsen Norman to contain helpful resources and the IDEO little book of design research ethics to be helpful as well.

It’s important to build early and share often. By doing these things, you can create products and services that can make a positive difference in a person’s life.