Learn about prototyping

Innovation

Learn about prototyping

Learn the art of prototyping

YOU WILL LEARN

  • What prototyping is
  • Key methods used in prototyping
  • Questions to ask yourself before you start
Start this project Takes up to 15 minutes
Beginner
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Introduction

Prototyping is used as one of the key tools within innovation to get a realistic picture of how an idea might work in practice. It enables you to fail, learn and adjust quickly before you put lots of resource into it.

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“If a picture is worth 1000 words, a prototype is worth 1000 meetings.”

International design and consulting firm

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What is prototyping?

Prototyping (or lean rapid prototyping) is used to test and try a new design early on by using a physical/tangible sample or model. It’s a great way of quickly learning how something might work for your users in practice.

It can help you get a better idea of how something will be used within a real, working system, rather than a theoretical one.

Prototyping is used a lot in the process of innovation, along with other tools and principles. Check out the Principles of innovation and Learn about co-design projects to find out more.

“Don’t write the strategy down, make prototypes!”

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Prototyping and ROI

One of the key things about measuring the return on investment (ROI) for any new idea or innovation, is that you need a way to quickly test your idea for effectiveness before big marketing dollars are put behind it.

One of the biggest challenges of marketing in particular, is that it can cost a lot of money to implement an idea before you know whether it will generate a positive ROI.

That’s where prototyping comes in - it’s a quick and efficient way to test your idea before putting large budgets behind it.

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Key elements of prototyping

There are a number of key elements to prototyping which can help steer you on the way to testing out your ideas quickly and cheaply, before you jump into anything bigger.

It’s important to keep in mind that prototyping is different to piloting. By the time you get to piloting a service or programme, you should be pretty sure about it – and hopefully have gone through a range of cycles of prototyping to get there.

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Rough and quick

Prototyping is rough. It’s not about building some big, perfect thing. It’s about finding something quick and simple that gets you closer to the experience you want to create. 

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“Consider spending less time talking, and more time prototyping - especially if you’re not very good at talking.”

Computer programmer and entrepreneur

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Cheap and easy

Prototyping is also about using materials that move as fast as you can think.  A lot of times it’s just a piece of paper and a pen, Post-it notes and a marker.

Some examples of prototyping might be drawing pictures on a piece of paper, creating a cardboard model of something. It could even be a room that is made up to look like, for example, a student support centre - where you literally simulate an experience for a user.

Ultimately, you want to find tools that are cheap, move quickly and that you can test in seconds.

Check out this video about the rapid prototyping of Google Glass by Tom Chi (8min 8sec)

In the video, you’ll see that they used hair ties, paper clips, and chopsticks in their prototype. They didn’t use a computer model to simulate the experience as the first step. Why? Because a computer model doesn’t allow an actual person to feel the experience of using Google Glass. That is the frame of mind you want to be in when you think about what your prototype will be.

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Reduced risk

Prototyping helps to reduce the risk of jumping into something big too quickly. It’s about embracing failure, but in a smaller way than if you try and plan too much before you test and launch. If you prototype early and often, you’ll have small failures that you can learn from and adjust to. It’s all about iteration.

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Linking to your end users

Making sure your end users are involved in the prototyping phase of your idea or design development is vital.

To link up what you’re doing, you could also integrate other principles of innovation in your idea development, including co-design.

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Questions to ask yourself before you start

Before you start playing with prototyping an idea, it’s important to know what your end goal is.

Some questions to help get you get focused could include:

  • What do you want to learn through the prototyping process?
  • What are the questions that need to be answered?
  • What are the embedded assumptions with your idea that need to be tested?
  • What aspects need further thinking and exploration?
  • What aspects need to be communicated to enable feedback from the user?

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“Prototyping is the conversation you have with your ideas.”

Author and editor of several books, a Fellow at Autodesk and an adjunct professor at Singularity University.

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Some ideas for putting prototyping into action

Prototyping is a great way to test ideas on your current or potential international students, and other stakeholders.

For example, you may have an idea for a new marketing tool that you want to test, such as an app. With prototyping, you can run through scenarios with students to see how a new tool might be used in practice.

Prototyping even works for more large-scale, ‘real world’ scenarios. For example, say you have some novel ideas for changing how you set up a connection point/desk at education fairs that you’re interested in testing. You could quickly set up a mock prototype of how you want your event space to look in a spare room and get students to come in and test it. You can then observe how people walk around the space, how the signage works (or doesn’t work), or other key aspects of your idea.

Remember, your prototypes don’t need to be flash - you’re looking for cheap, rough and ready ways to test your ideas quickly.

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