Design thinking helps solve complex problems through a non-linear process that is based on understanding of customers or empathy, further used to question assumptions, reframe the problem, and then generate an innovative solution, validated with users.
Design thinking is actually more than just thinking, it is also doing. Solving complex, unknown problems requires more than what’s known, something new has to be tried, something new has to be built and validated with users as soon as possible
Prototyping, transforming an immaterial idea into something tangible (only very quickly, much, much faster than it would take to produce complete solution) allows for the idea to be tried, tested and that way quickly validated if it is any good, or it would need some improvements through the next iteration.
A prototype can be anything tangible or visible that can be demonstrated, experienced and as such it can provide user’s feedback. It may be a wall with post-it notes that describe the use of product or service, it can be a role-playing activity that depicts the experience of using the product or service, a model of the future product of a lower or higher fidelity, even an interactive model, or a storyboard.
The main goal of the prototype is to secure validation of the solution idea and do that as quickly as possible. That is why it is important not to lose too much time on creating a prototype, especially in the early stages of the project. Cheap prototypes can be tested and improved in several iterations, each time providing new insights. Rule of thumb is that if you are not in the least embarrassed of the prototype, you have spent too much time on it!
Good prototype can do more than just test for improving solution, it can also:
- improve empathy, better understand the user, their needs and ways to satisfy the needs;
- open the area for new solution ideas;
- open different perspectives in the dialogue with the user, especially if the user is involved in prototyping;
- improve communication within the team, decrease the risk of misunderstandings and improve ideation.
Prototyping is always done with a clear idea what is to be tested, so that testing can also concentrate on the same goal. However, there is always a chance to learn something more about the users.
When testing a prototype with a user, it must be placed in a context or a scenario, in order to help the user immerse into it. Overdoing the explanation is not good either, as the user should experience it in its own way.
Similar to the empathize component of the design thinking, when testing, it is important to actively observe the user, to interact with the user in order to better understand the experience and finally to capture feedback during testing for later consideration.