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Everything is a Prototype

For new practitioners of design thinking, applying principles and tactics to real challenges can feel like a monumental task. As you look at your to-do list, prototyping your ideas can be a great way to build your confidence as a practitioner and allows you to fail quicker and cheaper.

In case you missed our earlier blog post, design thinking is a problem-solving framework that is iterative, collaborative, and places end customers at the center of the design process. The benefits of practicing design thinking include yielding stronger outcomes, improving team alignment, increasing collaboration, and enhancing experiences that align with customer needs. Its origins are rooted in the design process, which is broken down into the following steps:
  1. Empathize: understand your audience and their context
  2. Define: identify, interpret, and construct a point of view
  3. Ideate: brainstorm lots of possible solutions
  4. Prototype: design small prototypes of your solutions
  5. Test: try your prototypes out in order to refine and reimagine
When teaching design thinking myself, I have often found that the most challenging question to address is, “how do I begin applying design thinking in real-life?” A great place to start is with the facilitator mantra of “everything is a prototype.” Assume a beginner’s mindset and ask yourself, “how might I prototype a solution to my challenge?” By immediately practicing the principles of design thinking you can generate small wins that are then scalable over time.

Start Small

Begin with your problem statement and someone who is affected by that problem. You can then utilize design thinking to prototype and test your ideas. Not convinced? Consider this real example: when Forum One was considering how and whether to roll out its own internal design thinking training, we decided to utilize the methodology’s tenants to build empathy, test assumptions, and prototype and scale our ideas. This consisted of:
  1. Defining our problem, goals, audience groups with internal leadership.
  2. Validating assumptions and creating insights by interviewing 10 staff members across the company about their desires and needs.
  3. Ideating and prioritizing ideas for implementation that best addressed staff needs.
  4. Prototyping a solution: a 1-hour introductory talk and resource toolkit.
  5. Iterating and testing the prototyped solution by soliciting feedback through a feedback grid from different groups of attendees (we are currently on our 4th iteration at the time I’m writing this).
As was the case for our training example, prototypes don’t necessarily need to look like wireframes or be made out of paper. The key is to test out low-fidelity versions of an idea. To try it out on your own, consider prototyping these daily scenarios:
Scenario Prototype it!
Your team is spending a great deal of time in meetings talking in circles around a particular challenge. You are misaligned around the problem and need to get on the same page. At your next meeting, try putting your challenge into a structured template together that gives you the “Who, What, and Wow”.
Your boss or co-worker is skeptical about a new workflow you want to implement and needs additional convincing. Try shrinking your idea so it spans a shorter period of time (try 1 week versus 1 month) or is less resource-intensive (test with small group versus entire staff). Record and share your findings.
There is an upcoming conference and you have spent hours trying to choose a topic for your proposal. Create a prioritization grid and label it with two axes, such as “interest to audience” and “what I’m knowledgeable about.” Plot ideas and choose the idea that scores the highest.

Get Personal

Just as your professional life is a great starting point to create prototypes, so too is your personal life. Here are a few examples that can be another area to test out the benefits of problem solving.
Scenario Prototype it!
Your daily routine feels unproductive and is making you unhappy. Try mapping the steps in your routine and identify the areas you want to address. Test out new habits to find a happier flow.
You and a family member or partner are stressed about finances and it’s straining your relationship. Discuss your current pain points. Ideate and prioritize ideas you can both try out to alleviate the issue.

Go Forth and Conquer

It takes a lot of time and practice to master design thinking. By starting small and introducing the concept of prototyping into ordinary, everyday circumstances, you can begin to experience the benefits of low-fidelity ways of working and build confidence as a design-thinking practitioner.

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