In recent months we’ve been working alongside service designers at Think Public, Nonon and Sidekick Studios on projects that involve prototyping of public services. Additionally, NESTA have commissioned us to write a report on how, why and when prototyping is relevant to the work of local authorities (to be published in June, we are told). We have spoken to lots of designers and managers, observed them in action, read some professional literature, drew some fancy diagrams and wrote lots of words.
Here are some top tips and insights:
- Engage the right people in prototyping: those ‘running’ the prototype (design team) should be confident and skilled in mocking up ideas into something real that can be tested, those ‘using’ the prototype (users) should represent the real user group not necessarily your friends and colleagues, and those observing the action (observers) should be stakeholders who need to enhance their understanding of the project or service.
- Not all prototypes were created equal. There are two main types of prototyping: exploratory (done in early stages of insight and idea generation) and developmental (done after the service has been specified and you know what you’re designing). The former is quick and cheap; the latter requires more planning.
- Prototyping is different to piloting. A pilot is the real thing, limited in scope, environment or timescale. A prototype is usually a simulation of the real thing. Prototypes are used to stimulate creative thinking, identify failure and coalesce partnerships while pilots are usually more expensive and rigorous testing grounds that are used as a launch-pad for taking to market.
- Anyone can prototype, but not everyone can prototype well. To be effective prototypes should simulate the end-product or service as closely as possible. This can require a degree of skill. But more importantly, prototypes require an experimental and playful mindset leaders should value and foster.#
Incidentally, the Economist published a nice piece on a related issue – the value of failing early and often – unsurprisingly, organisations and individuals who embrace failure manage to do this through prototyping.