10 principles for prototyping

The bases to build a prototype without falling into the usual mistakes

A prototype is the transformation of the solution idea into a tangible artefact, which allows us to test and talk with our users, in search of feedback to improve our proposal.

When we are facing prototyping for the first time, the aim is to build something that allows us to learn, but without falling into the construction of a crappy version of our solution. How do we do this?

At this point of the design process, we find the 10 principles of prototyping, which serve as a guide to know how to transform our idea into something tangible that allows us to talk to our users, without falling into the most common mistakes.

The principles of prototyping

Here are the main key principles for a good prototype:

  • Principle 1. The objective is to learn from our user.
  • Principle 2. First, define what you want to test.
  • Principle 3. Set expectations.
  • Principle 4. We plan less and prototype more.
  • Principle 5. Start with low fidelity prototypes, iterate and refine.
  • Principle 6. Draw! Learn to think with your hand.
  • Principle 7. We prototype just what we need.
  • Principle 8. We do not fall in love with our first ideas.
  • Principle 9. Calm down! The first prototype is going to be rough.
  • Principle 10. Keep track of what you have learned.

When we prototype, we have a clear principal goal: understand our user. Our purpose is nothing more than an artefact that allows us to generate that dialogue with them, to understand if our solution, as we are building it, fits with their expectations and meets their needs.

It is not enough to do research in a pre-ideation phase to believe that we have all the keys to build our solution. Since when we make our idea tangible, we make small decisions that affect how our solution is used, when or where, among others, and we will need to prove that we have been making the correct decisions.

One of the first steps to be able to understand our users through our prototype, we must know what we want to test with it, what type of dialogue we want to have with our users and about which elements of our solution, in particular, we want to talk.

This is why we must define what we want to test because we cannot do everything at once.

Remember; prototyping and testing is not something we do just once in the solution design process.

Therefore, we will be testing each of our hypotheses or beliefs about our solution with different prototypes. Testing first, if there is a real interest in the concept of our solution, then the user experience and finally which form our solution gets. You don’t have to be in a hurry to build everything at once and want to test everything in a unique test.

One of the most common fears when prototyping is building something that is not that perfect/happy idea that we had in mind about the solution and we fall into such “it is not finished yet”. Prototyping is not about building our idea in a low-cost version. It is an experiment, something we do to learn, not to sell. For this reason, we set expectations well with our users in the testing phase and convey that our goal is to learn from the experiment.

When we prototype, we should not focus so much on planning what we are going to build, but we should focus on building the prototype. Because when building, new questions will appear to which we have to seek answers and we will have to make more decisions about how our solution should be. In this phase of the process, it is about thinking with your hands.

Prototyping becomes one of the best ways to reason about the solution and continue to define our idea.

Hand in hand with the third principle, we should not be perfectionists, but neither should we fall into making a low-cost or crappy version of the idea we have in mind. This is not prototyping. We must understand that to generate this dialogue to learn, we may not need to build beyond than a story transmitted through a storyboard or a customer journey map. We must build lo-fi prototypes first to prove that our concept generates user interest, iterate and keep building.

On many occasions, when prototyping, we want to build something physical, highly developed or with many characteristics and we do not realize that to validate on an initial phase if there is interest in the concept one of the prototypes that we can build are drawings. There are many techniques in which drawings become the best tool to generate a conversation with our user, such as a storyboard or a concept sketch among others.

It is important that we feel comfortable in a liquid state of our prototype.

This is one of the most common mistakes we make when prototyping. We want to include everything into our prototype, to do a test to get feedback of all the characteristics and elements of our solution. We must prototype just what is necessary, focusing on specific aspects to be able to have a valuable conversation with our users about each of those ingredients that constitute our solution.

When it is said that “Man is the only animal that trips twice over the same stone”, they were referring to this stone. It is something very common especially when our idea becomes a more tangible concept and we start building prototypes.

We should not fall in love with our idea.

When we are not open to host feedback from our users, at this point we stop learning, because we want to keep with our version of the story and do not want to hear other ways of seeing it. The best thing that can happen to us with our prototype is that we have to throw it away in the first contact with users. That is what we use it for, learn from it and leave it in the drawer to continue with the next prototype. Why? Because that’s when we’ll be learning.

It is almost impossible that at the first contact with our users our prototypes and solution concepts perfectly match what they are looking for and need. The prototype is going to be rough, so calm down. This is why little by little, we are going to rely on techniques to build our solution.

Learn faster by failing earlier, repeatedly, and investing fewer resources.

Measuring and tracking everything learned is a crucial action in a solution design process. It is important that we collect all the alternatives that have been proposed to us, all the different perceptions about our solution, learnings and insights. This is important because you never know when you are going to have to go back, iterate, and retrieve information that was once not considered. So this follow-up could be useful for later stages of the process.

Conclusions

These 10 principles constitute the bases and serve as a guide to building a prototype without falling into the most common mistakes. These are the keys that we must keep in mind when we are facing this phase of the design process. Remember that the prototype is not a phase to sell ideas but to test ideas, this is the maximum. If you follow these steps we assure you that with very little construction you will get brutal feedback on what the client wants and, most importantly, why?

Do you want to know more about the prototyping phase? We leave you the following video so you can deepen into it.

And finally, remind you that here you will find all the tools of the Building phase of the Design Thinking process, so that you can put these 10 key principles of prototyping into practice.

Published at 29/12/2020

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