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Blog

Why You Should Start Prototyping—Right Now

Sep 20 2017

For a recent design project, we decided to try something new. We were tasked with rebuilding a product experience, but instead of starting with our usual process where we gather inspiration, we thought: What if we share a prototype we are really excited about with the client right away? Just jump in.

With this in mind, we selected key interaction moments from our client's current product. Then we prototyped three distinct new directions—usability experiences we were excited to bring to their industry. These experiments, we hoped, would spark an early conversation that was less about “we need to do this” and more about “what if we do that?”

Kickoff day arrived and we shared the prototypes with the client. 

Cue uncomfortable silence. 

Then, finally, one of the executives exclaimed, “This is mind blowing! This could be the future of our product.” He was not applauding the user interface or visual style we used to illustrate our idea, but the essence of what the experience did for him. An excited conversation followed and he wanted to share his own design ideas. 

It doesn't always go this way. Early prototyping entails plenty of risk, too. What if you've been blind to user needs? What if the client just doesn't see the magic?

Prototyping Tips 2

Here are 4 steps you should consider when creating early prototypes:

1. Take advantage of your fresh perspective 

Before diving into industry or product constraints, take a step back and imagine if there were no limits to what you could design. What would that look like?

Prototyping Tips 3

2. Identify what excites you and the team

What personally inspires you to be on this project and how can that be translated into the experience? Don't over think it. Take one key interaction from the current experience and add something unexpected to it. This is an opportunity to test initial assumptions with a beginner’s mind and generate radically new ideas.

Prototyping Tips 4

3. Translate your excitement into prototypes (with content your client understands)

Use your client's current product content as a starting point. Having something they can easily recognize and understand is a great way to bring them into a design conversation. Don't think about creating long flows at this early stage. Imagine your prototype as a teaser to a product that is about to come to life and focus on key interaction moments.

Prototyping Tips 5

4. Highlight where your client sees design opportunities 

Quick prototypes are a great way to tackle hopes and fears and learn, from a usability point of view, where your client sees design opportunities at a very early stage of the project—so you don't head off in the wrong direction. 

And above all, remember: A sense of excitement and momentum shared by you and the client on the very first day gives your team an important confidence boost. It helps set expectations, and gets everyone inspired to push to a new level.

  • Pedro Andrade

    Interaction Designer, IDEO San Francisco
    Pedro Andrade is an interaction designer who likes to make ideas tangible. At IDEO, he explores ways to make project concepts visible—helping clients to better understand where their organization can be by creating and bringing to life enhanced experiences for users.

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