Rapid Prototyping

By Whitney Lewis 

Rapid prototyping is way to save money and time by getting feedback on your design and ideas immediately. Trust me, it’s the way to go and by the end of this article, you’ll be able to incorporate rapid prototyping into your design process.

Rapid Prototyping and Testing

There are a lot of different ways for testing our instruction. We have one-to-one evaluations; formative evaluation; focus groups; user testing; participatory design; and many more. Including the user is at the heart of these testing strategies, which is no different for rapid prototyping.

Rapid prototyping is testing the design or the instruction as soon as possible at the beginning and then throughout the entire production process. To imagine what this looks like, here is a scenario: I’m creating instruction for a software company. The instruction is on how to use a certain program, so I do some initial steps to get an idea of how this instruction will look. At this point, I could begin rapid prototyping with inexpensive tools like pen and paper. I would sketch out the flow and include as much information as I can, so the interaction is as authentic as possible (for a paper prototype). Now, all I need is to gather 4-5 users from my target population and hold a user test.

This might seem a little weird because we are using paper to test an interaction that may be electronic, but the fantastic thing about rapid prototyping is that it doesn’t matter. You will still learn so much from your users before investing a lot of time and money creating the learning product.

At this point, you have gathered some good insights from your first user test with your first paper prototype. Now, you can create an even more informed second prototype. This process can repeat with a version of the final learning product that is bit by bit more completed and effective than the last. Before you know it, you have a final draft and are ready to do a more formal evaluation for a final deliverable.

Challenges

Rapid prototyping is testing with your target population at multiple stages throughout the design process. Because the testing is so frequent, the biggest challenge is finding people in your target population for your tests. Depending on your company and the scope of the project, this can be difficult. Even if the resources or people are not available to test a paper prototype or an initial digital prototype, it can and still should be done with either SMEs, the client (whether internal or external), other instructional designers, or anyone. You will still learn much about your design that can be incorporated into your next prototype.

Benefits

You may have heard the saying, “fail early and fail often”. This seems discouraging, but can be quite liberating when looked at it the right way. So, let’s examine how this aphorism applies to rapid prototyping.

Failing early just means learning that something doesn’t work before a lot of money or time has been invested in it, which is a very good thing. Learning a certain aspect of the instruction won’t work after spending countless hours developing it, can feel like a true failure. But, learning that it won’t work after a low-cost prototype? Well that saves you time, money and effort. The lessons learnt pay rich dividends as they inform the next iteration of the design.

On the flip side, maybe you have an out-of-the-box idea you need to get your manager or client on board with. Testing it early in the process, using low cost materials and without spending a lot of time, could result in finding it is a great way to move forward and now everyone is on board. This is where “fail often” comes into play. Because we are rapidly prototyping without spending a lot of time or money on a prototype, we can try new, creative ideas without the pressure of “I’ve invested so much into this now, it’s got to work!” We can truly participate in the creative process to find ideas that shine.

Overall, rapid prototyping is how we can try out big ideas and, if we are lucky, get the backing for them. Or they can fail: So what? We are still lucky because only a little time and a little money was lost.

How to Start Rapid Prototyping

To start rapid prototyping, you’ll need to know two things: the process and the tools to use.

The Process Tools

 (from low cost/little time to higher cost/more time)

 1. Select the tool for this iteration

2.  Build the prototype as authentic as possible

3.  Test with users

4.  Debrief – understand what was learned and what changes should be made

5.  Repeat the process

  • Paper and pen
  • PowerPoint
  • Wireframing tool (InVision, Axure, Adobe Suite, etc.)
  • Tool used for final product

Videos and Websites on Rapid Prototyping

Here is a list of links to websites and videos with more information on rapid prototyping:

 Websites 

 

Videos 

 

Whitney Lewis is committed to problem solving through design thinking strategies such as empathy, co-design, diverging on problems, and rapid prototyping. She strives to bring these strategies into her educational and professional work by including her audience every step of the way, to gain valuable insights and by starting with low fidelity products before beginning development. During her time at Intuit, Whitney has learned the importance of these strategies as she connects with her customers, to help improve training. She intends to complete her Master's in Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences in May 2018. She aspires to transform online corporate training into seamless and enjoyable experiences.

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