Why do building, sharing, and testing a work in progress help you get to a good solution?
Some designers have a mantra: whoever brings a prototype to a meeting gets all the attention. But why is this? And just how does prototyping add so much value?
Sadly, ambitious projects can still end up with conventional solutions for many reasons: like failing to explore enough diverging concepts or risk-averse decision-making, among others. Building prototypes helps you explore how an idea might actually work, gets your team aligned around a concept, and can reassure skeptics that your bold idea has merit. Early feedback can even predict an idea's potential for success. Most surprisingly, research indicates that prototyping has important psychological effects on the creator's own self-efficacy and satisfaction. More of that please!
A scholar’s perspective
Parallel prototyping leads to better design results, more divergence, and increased self-efficacy
Steven P. Dow, Alana Glassco, Jonathan Kass, Melissa Schwarz, Daniel L. Schwartz, and Scott R. Klemmer in ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction
Why you should make more than one thing at a time
Participants made prototypes of graphic web ads in two ways: parallel (at the same time) and serial order (one after the other). Based on clickthrough data and expert ratings, parallel prototypes are not only more diverse, but outperform serial prototypes. Parallel prototypes shone in other ways, too: they helped increase creator “task-specific confidence” and prompted more authentic and diverse feedback applicable beyond one specific prototype.
The Importance of the Raw Idea in Innovation: Testing the Sow's Ear Hypothesis
Laura Kornish and Karl T Ulrich in Journal of Marketing Research, 2014.
Early feedback on the quality of an idea can predict its ultimate success
This study suggests that by getting early feedback on an idea, we may be able to find out sooner, rather than later, if the idea has promise. Using an online platform, researchers analyzed raw idea descriptions, evaluations by consumer and expert panels, resulting designs, and final sales data. The findings suggest that consumer ratings beat out expert ratings, and that raw idea ratings strongly predict purchase intent and final sales.
Why we Prototype! An International Comparison of the Linkage between Embedded Knowledge and Objective Learning
Anders Berglund, Larry Leifer in Engineering Education, 2015.
Prototypes as conversation starters
There are three ways we can consider prototypes: tangible, analytic, and behavioral prototypes. The authors illuminate the roles of prototypes: they mark milestones, elicit associative thinking, and perhaps most of all, serve as a form of communication. Prototypes sit at the intersection of internal and external thinking, requiring makers to integrate and represent their knowledge, and invite discussion and improvement.
The Psychological Experience of Prototyping
Liz Gerber in Design Studies, 2011
Prototyping can affect both what you produce and how you feel during the creative process
This study examines low-fidelity (read: rough!) prototyping and how it can shape feelings and experiences related to creative production in the design process. Employees at a high tech company made many unrefined prototypes, sketching and sharing them often. This practice helped generate feedback and focus on idea generation. But even better is how they felt: they reported feelings of forward momentum, communicated more quickly, and more readily accepted failure—all of which boosted their sense of creative ability.
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Commentary from the d.school
One of the most effective strategies we teach our students is to embody ideas quickly and get feedback right away. It works for a simple reason: making ideas tangible and testing them with others exposes assumptions while there is still time to do something about it.