The Innovative Power of Rapid Prototyping
As part of our ongoing webinar series on innovation, Rightpoint senior group experience, creative director, Jon Green, teamed up with Pablo Stanley—a design lead at our partner, InVision—to present on the concept of rapid prototyping. Their presentation format was a bit of a departure from your standard webinar; they illustrated the presentation in real time using Freehand, one of InVision’s collaborative design tools.
Jon opened with a quick overview on the topic, “Rapid prototyping allows us to iterate quickly and collaboratively on the work we’re doing so we can validate our ideas and approaches with the least amount of effort and investment.” In other words, rapid prototyping is a very effective and efficient way to prove (or disprove) whatever it is you’re trying to prove.
“It’s about validating work through qualitative and quantitative research in order to verify the direction you should be heading,” Jon said. “To facilitate rapid prototyping we create a layer of communication and open collaboration that includes all our teams at all levels. This allows us to drive toward a goal together, fail early and often, and always keep learning.”
Ultimately, Jon explains, rapid prototyping saves time, money, and effort by ensuring that a team is on the right path before they’ve gone too far. And if the webinar is any indication, rapid prototyping can also be a lot of fun.
Five Rapid Prototyping Techniques
Jon shared five different rapid prototyping techniques, which use a variety of creative strategies and tools.
On the low-tech end of the scale, the “Crazy Eights” exercise starts with giving everyone on the team a sheet of paper that’s been divided into eight sections. Each person then quickly sketches out eight different ideas—one in each section on the page. Each individual then presents their ideas (sometimes all of them, sometimes just their top three), and after that everyone votes (often using stickers) to identify the best ideas. The process involves iterative rounds, each one honing in a little more—narrowing down the options and going into more detail on the remaining ideas until you have a clear direction. It’s a super lightweight way to uncover good ideas and increase set fidelity over time.
Always a favorite, Post-it Notes are another lightweight tool that are perfect for card-sorting exercises, building out a taxonomy, and many other prototyping tasks. As Jon points out, they work really well in combination with a whiteboard that allows you to draw different views from websites and connect various notes together to kind of build out what might be an opportunity for your product.
Knocking It Out in Code
Depending on how mature your design system is, you might have a library of assets that allow you to quickly knock something out in code and test your idea that way.
If you’re doing physical products, 3D printing makes it quite easy to quickly mock up different concepts and ideas in order to get feedback. This is kind of where the whole rapid prototyping concept started—in manufacturing.
Tools Like InVision
And then there are tools like InVision, which allow you to easily go from Post-it Notes or wireframe sketches on a whiteboard to rich, interactive digital prototypes that you can connect up for user testing. As Pablo explained, InVision not only allows you to connect different screens and states to tell a story following a flow, it also allows you to invite colleagues to collaborate on the prototype—giving you a centralized way to collect comments from your entire team.
Rapid Prototyping Best Practices
In addition to walking through different prototyping techniques, Jon also outlined a few key best practices to keep in mind regardless of which techniques and tools you use.
Use the fidelity you need to validate the assumptions you have.
Adopt a good, better, best mentality, while keeping in mind that the goal is to be as lean as possible. If you can get the answers you need using just a whiteboard or Post-it Notes, use those. If you need to do full deck wireframes, do that. It’s all about doing what will empower you to make decisions.
Reduce the scope and only test what you need to.
Don’t test the entire app if you don’t need to. Just test the features and functionality that you’re working on.
Collaborate openly and constantly.
Use the communication tools at your disposal—InVision, Slack, etc.—to keep everyone informed about what’s going on. The more informed your teams are, the better you’ll do
Don’t be afraid to fail.
Above all else, don’t be afraid to make so-called mistakes. You’re not going to get better at these things if you don’t just go for it. Give it a shot. The whole point of rapid prototyping is to create the space and freedom to work through different ideas in a low-stakes way so you don’t need to worry about any heavy consequences.
Rapid Prototyping – Test, Validate, and Iterate Your Way to Innovative Solutions
As Jon and Pablo demonstrated with their non-traditional, real-time visual presentation of the webinar, there’s a lot to be said for just jumping in with both feet and trying something new. As the old saying goes, perfect is the enemy of progress. Rapid prototyping gives innovators permission to let their creativity loose. It provides a valuable opportunity to test, validate, and iterate on ideas in a low-risk way that can save your team time, money, and heartache down the road.
To further illustrate the value of rapid prototyping as a tool for innovation, Jon also shared a behind-the-scenes look at how Rightpoint developed a vital micro-navigation solution for Perkins School for the Blind, helping users with visual impairments locate MBTA bus stops with accuracy and ease. If you’d like to hear more about that project and other rapid prototyping tips, be sure to check out the Vimeo recording of the webinar that inspired this post.
You can also read about some of the other topics in our series including an overview of exactly what innovation means, the power of adjacency, innovation through implicit design, and the importance of cultivating a culture of change.
And, as always, if you’d like to learn more about Rightpoint’s digital capabilities and how they can help you drive innovation in your world, we’re always here to talk.