A rapid prototype can serve to filter out weak ideas
and with many ideas on the table, it is important to know how to prototype fast and economically. It is crucial to fail quickly and at a low cost, and that is why prototypes have built-in ‘low resolution’.
A prototype can be a drawing,
a piece of clay, a diagram on the computer, a dramatized simulation, a mock-up of an environment, an object, a sketch of an interface, even a story.
The detail and effort put into building a prototype depends on the stage of the project. In a first phase, a prototype may take 5 minutes of effort invested in a drawing on paper – whether it is a home, software, a store layout or the flow of a service. In later stages the prototype may take weeks or months to prepare.
With a prototype we can explore our ideas and make them evolve. Rarely are ideas born ready and fully defined. Prototypes help define them, and can take different ideas off in very different directions – which is why a diversity of prototypes is so useful, making the nuanced implications of different ideas easy to see.
Within a team, the discussion becomes more productive and constructive when it is shifted from between people towards the prototype.
Prototypes are often thought of as an intermediate step to test ideas. But they are more than this, creating empathy with the idea and with the problem. They allow us to think through building, and to inspire others as well, be they members of the project team, clients or investors.
Just as a picture is worth a thousand words, a prototype is worth a thousand pictures, allowing us to play, interact, perform tests with the recipients of ideas, or deconstruct a big problem into manageable pieces.
And, last but not least, it allows us to fail quickly and cheaply, and so to learn as much and fast as possible.