Following the example set by many start-ups, larger companies are now also trying to change their approach to developing new products and services. Instead of using slow methods such as the Traditional Waterfall, it’s all about being lean now, about using Design Thinking, or Agile Scrum. Some companies successfully adapt, some struggle. At Ink Strategy, we believe in Design Thinking and have successfully helped companies integrate this approach. Let us share our experience on adopting Design Thinking and particularly a central element to this approach: prototyping.
What is prototyping?
Instead of following a rigid step-by-step approach to develop the perfect product, Design Thinking is all about working in a continuous feedback loop; trying, failing, learning and trying again. Creating rapid prototypes and experimenting to gather feedback as early as possible are key.
The steps of a typical Design Thinking process would be: (1) hypothesis, (2) develop a minimal viable product (MVP) i.e. a prototype, (3) test it with end users and customers and (4) collect feedback and use that knowledge to build something better.
So, what is prototyping? Our definition is: “An early tool, sample, sketch, model, or release of a product/functionality (MVP) created to test a concept or process, or to act as a thing to be replicated or learned from”. Willemien Brand identifies seven different forms of prototyping for developing a MVP in her book, Visual Thinking (2017):
– The Stripped Tease: create a low-fidelity version of your product with minimal function to test customer reactions.
– The Fundraiser: make a short video of your product idea to spark the interest of potential customers and start crowdfunding.
– The Hotel Concierge: give potential customers who show interest in the concept a full ‘manual’ treatment of services that represent the exact same steps the customer would go through for the actual product.
– The Pinocchio: create a non-usable version of your product to get feedback on form, shape and usability.
– Flintstone: design a front-end webpage that looks like a fully functioning product, while in reality your services are being done manually.
– The Fake Door: offer a new product without actually having it, simply to check if any customers are interested.
– The Re-label: re-brand an existing product to test if customers are interested.
How Ink Strategy helps companies adopt Design Thinking
Let’s zoom in now on a three day project we completed with one of our clients. They hired us to help develop a new three year strategy for their different communications teams.
First, we designed a three year vision and developed a visual road map together. Guiding the teams though action planning workshops, we identified contributing goals and respective actions. These were then broken down into KPIs, accountable people were appointed and a meeting rhythm discussed.
But how do you know if the envisioned path will actually lead to where you want to go? That’s where we come back to prototyping.
How to facilitate prototyping?
First off, a good way to prepare for a prototyping session is to do the marshmallow challenge. In a fun and effective way, the challenge illustrates the importance of prototyping while energising participants and creating the right mindset for a day of interactive prototyping. Once complete, we challenged the teams to build MVPs for the conceptual ideas developed from the road-map, and test this with end-users and clients to gather feedback.
One team conceptualized a digital 360 degree environment in an app and then visualised their idea; this was step 1 in the Design Thinking process. Then, instead of hiring an expensive tech company, they started building straight away using a free app from the app store (step 2). We encouraged the teams to go out on the streets and ask people for direct feedback on their prototypes (step 3). Presenting an unfinished product to potential customers can feel very daunting, but their feedback is invaluable. The team became energised and enthusiastic when they realized how much value was gained through the public’s feedback (step 4). This Stripped Tease version of prototyping proved worthwhile for the team and the process as a whole (Brand, 2017).
Another team came up with the idea to use funny videos for an internal marketing strategy. However, instead of spending hours creating traditional story-boards, the team re-branded an existing video format they knew to be very successful from YouTube. They took out their cellphones and made a movie (step 2), edited it with iMovie, and put it directly online for testing and feedback (step 3). Additionally they showed it to random people on the street and used their feedback to improve the concept (step 4). This was a great example of using the Re-label approach to prototyping (Brand, 2017).
Both teams used the Design Thinking approach to visualising throughout the process of creating these prototype MVPs. They gained valuable insights into how to combine existing and future plans to constantly reshape the company’s path to success.