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The best kinds of failures are quick, cheap, and early, leaving plenty of time and resources to learn from the experiment and iterate ideas.

In their article, ‘Why Designers Should Never Go to a Meeting Without a Prototype‘, IDEO’s Tom and David Kelley, explain the reason for prototyping is experimentation. The act of creating forces you to ask questions and make choices, and gives you something to show to and talk about with other people.

The benefits of prototyping include:

  • Getting attention; if you show up at a meeting with an interesting prototype while others bring only a laptop or a pad, people are more likely to center on your ideas
  • Getting approval; prototypes can help convince bosses or key stakeholders when words alone won’t do
  • Learning and experimentation; the act of creating forces you to ask questions and make choices
  • Cost reduction; the best kinds of failures are quick, cheap, and early, leaving you plenty of time and resources to learn from the experiment and iterate your ideas
  • Reducing risk; prototyping allows you to keep multiple concepts alive longer, instead of making a big bet on one approach, you can develop and test multiple ideas
  • Better feedback; multiple alternatives encourage good, honest feedback about your ideas, with multiple prototypes, you can have a frank discussion about the relative strengths and weaknesses of each

How long does it take to make a prototype? The article talks about an example when, an hour before a conference call with Sesame Workshop, an IDEO team decided to prototype a mobile app feature with whatever materials they had on hand. Working quickly, Adam printed out an oversized image of his iPhone using a giant plotter. He then stood behind the “phone” so his body appeared in the “screen.”  While recording the video, Coe Leta moved her hand into the scene, using her finger to simulate how children would interact with the app—like touching Adam on the nose to make him start dancing. From the point of view of the webcam, the iPhone looked almost real, and Adam danced and reacted as he envisioned Elmo would. A single take, a quick edit, and the video clip was sent off to the Sesame Workshop team members just a few minutes before their meeting.

Adam and Coe Leta’s quick video was fun and endearing. It was also much more persuasive than just talking about their ideas would have been. Today, if you download Elmo’s Monster Maker from the iTunes store, you’ll see the feature they prototyped in an hour that morning. By acting quickly, they won the team over with their creative idea.

Photo by Adrian Dore