In an act of complete serendipity, this tweet came to our attention as we were pulling this review blog together and we all agreed that we couldn’t have found a more perfect way of visually showing what we mean by a ‘rough & ready’ prototype. Whether you are shopping for a toaster or designing a new business process, the simple act of making something tangible can save you hours of frustration and help the decision making process, whether that be through stopping countless pointless meetings or just saving you losing a Sunday to trawling round Currys.

We’ve long advocated an approach that includes prototyping and experimentation as an excellent way of making ideas ‘real’ in terms of getting a test up and running or just to get some initial learning and feedback that may well influence the design process. When you have to make something, you have to think about the who, where, why and how - not just how great you think your idea is. The best thing about prototypes and experiments? You can get feedback almost instantly. Experiments are short form tests (literally, they could be a couple of hours long, we’re not talking weeks!) whereas prototypes can be mocked up and shared with end users instantly. It doesn’t matter if the product or service isn’t real - this way of working could show you whether there is any real need or desire for such a product or service to exist in the first place.

It seems like we aren’t the only ones that see the value in this practice…..there was a lot of really interesting discussion, so we have picked a few of our favourites that summarise some of the key points.

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It seems there was a clear theme here - you need to give all colleagues the support and voice to feel they can in the first place. Most people fearing ‘getting things wrong’ in the workplace, so it’s not the first place you’d think about experimenting with things. As Nathan mentioned in his response, the best way to kick start this way of thinking off is to ‘choose something small and simple that allows for quick feedback’ - this is the essence of prototyping and experimentation, but allows organisations to minimise risk and learn from the experience.

In fact, the whole essence of experimentation is around mitigating risk and cost - small, early failures = less cost. As Salma, Rob & Jodi all say, it’s good to create those safe spaces to fail, encourage creative problem solving and involve a whole host of people….but ultimately, it needs to be an approach that is consistently supported across the organisation so colleagues feel confident enough to participate.

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I think Coco put it the best:

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It’s really important that these two methods are seen as complementing, not enemies of each other. As Nathan refers to below, formal research can have a bit of a bad rep in terms of taking time to deliver answers, but it is important to have this quantitative data to support why you might be doing something or, more importantly within an innovation sphere, identify areas where more problem definition is needed to solve real issues for your customers.

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The response from Richie is a good one too - no matter which approach you take, you have to make sure the language you are using doesn’t stop people from being interested or wanting to get involved! Sometimes terms like ‘experiment’, ‘test’ and ‘project’ (don’t even get me started on project management terms) put people off because it sounds, well, boring. The thing is both formal research and pilots and a more experimental approach, are actually really exciting, especially when you are learning new things! The use of certain language can sometimes also make this area of exploration feel inaccessible - like you have to have a degree in Project Management to get involved. We need to break that cycle - these terms change so much that even people that have done PM qualifications can’t keep up half the time - so let’s stop using jargon and just speak plain English please!

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Mary touched on one of the many reasons why people are scared to start off with a hunch - it’s often personal and hard to demonstrate. Go back to your school days - in debate, you had to have reasoned arguments backed up by facts. Now in work, when you give a presentation, you wouldn’t dream of proposing something just because ‘you had a feeling in your water’. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t at least articulate it……

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Paul is totally right - a business will think nothing of kicking off an expensive project that requires countless (often pointless) meetings but might get nervy over building a small prototype. There is a reason for this - businesses don’t like the unknown - after all, as I mentioned above, they are results driven. Even charities are driven by a desire to raise as much money as possible to continue work in their chosen cause.

Ambiguity is a hard thing to navigate as Neil alludes to and it’s something a lot of people either a) won’t do or b) struggle with. Ironically, starting off with a hunch and articulating an idea in a short form test to find out more helps to deal with some of those ‘grey areas’, so it should be encouraged more, especially when looking at user experience. We all pick up ideas in our own lives that could easily translate into something similar for our respective organisations - knocking up a couple of wireframes or a physical object to demonstrate this to others is a sure fire way to get a good feeling as to whether your hunch has got legs….

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It seems this thread got people thinking! Most people who took part spoke about how powerful simple doodles (we call these paper prototypes in the Lab!) can be in conveying an idea, we’ve already mentioned Lego and we also have the toast example we kicked off this blog with. Either way, what was coming across was that whichever technique was used, the more immersive and interactive, the better! Steph gave the example of Pixar as someone who uses simple frame testing to mould its storylines to create some of our most loved films. Within organisations, Faisal spoke about using a ‘Dragon’s Den’ style pitch to communicate new ideas - this is a really simple format that can definitely help introduce this style of thinking into an organisation relatively simply and get colleagues enthusiastic!

Talking of colleague enthusiasm, Simon’s point is super important - you want to include as many people as possible, however, not everyone is going to be impressed if you ask them to make a product out of PlayDoh. Know your audience and pull it back if you feel you’ve pushed the creative boundaries too far - not everyone feels comfortable articulating themselves creatively so allow them room to share their thoughts and ideas in a way that they do.

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Talking less and doing more has huge benefits to an organisation. For so long, we’ve all believed that any and all change had to be delivered through hyper-managed projects and project offices, with the myriad of documents, change controls and meetings. We’re not saying these don’t have a place - they absolutely do, but we think we’re finally in a place where people are open to trying other approaches. Making the change does’t have to be hard, expensive or scary. As Michael said….

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We’ll be back on Thursday 7th March from 8pm - keep an eye on the Bromford Lab Twitter feed for the next topic. In the meantime, channel the spirit of the cardboard toast - start building more & talking less!