“It’s Alive!!!” – why prototyping works

Have you ever tried to explain an idea in words? You probably had a hard time. Words alone are often not enough to quickly get the message across.

Every audience has a bunch of presumptions and strong perceptions before you even start talking about your idea. Thereby words are ambiguous. The less you explain, the bigger the chance that your audience is not fully grasping your idea. Or even worse; that they’re creating their own version of it in their minds.

As a designer, I know that it never hurts to use some ‘visual violence’ in your presentation. Just to support and explain a story. In the end, a picture is worth a thousand words. However, I have also noticed that sketches, visuals or designs are not always sufficient. To explain an idea you sometimes need something more tangible… a prototype.

People love prototypes. Most of us are very excited to interact with an early version of an idea. It makes us feel special to be one of the first users.

Let’s be honest, prototypes are awesome.

Prototypes are like newborn babies. Although they can be pretty ugly (most of the times they are) they also trigger an emotional response that makes people want to take good care of them.

Prototypes don’t have to be perfect. In fact, it is even better if they are not, because this way it’s clear that the idea is still a beta version.

There are 3 good reasons why you should always turn your idea into a prototype.

1) It Allows You To Test Your Assumptions

It’s one thing to come up with an idea, but it’s something completely different to see if it works in real life. There are many factors that you will overlook when you come up with ideas. A business culture, tradition, gravity etc. Every external component can be of influence when it comes to the success of your ideas.

2) It Helps To Explain An Idea

Not everybody is blessed with infinite imagination. We all think differently. Some people find it hard to visualize how an idea would work in real life. Don’t assume that they get it. Show them.

3) It Engages Your Audience

Prototypes are irresistible. Perhaps your audience (team, managers or clients) does not believe in your idea. A prototype will definitely make them curious. They probably want to check out what you’ve created. (Chances are that if they interact with your prototype they’ll start to look at things differently …and might agree with you after all.)

“Tell me and I forget,
teach me and I may remember,
involve me and I learn.”

― Benjamin Franklin


These days there are infinite options for rapid prototyping. Make use of the latest technology, like 3d printers, lasers or mockup tools like InVision.

At the same time, don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. You can use literally anything to let an idea come to life. Steel, plastic, cardboard, paper, duct tape etc. The possibilities are endless.

I hear you think; “Jeroen, this is all great, but my innovation is not a product.”

No worries. The principles of prototyping can also be applied to services, processes and business models. You can always test an idea. A prototype or pilot is just a quick way to investigate your assumptions and to see if an idea is feasible or not.

Set up a pilot, test it out in a controlled environment, measure the results, role play with your employees on how it would work or simply ask your customer what they think.

Challenge yourself to find answers to questions such as; does it work in practice? Does it solve my problem? Do people get it? Do users know how to interact with it? Is it efficient? Have we taken all factors into account? etc.

You should see yourself as one of the guys from MythBusters; “There is this idea.. and we should definitely figure out if it works in real life!!”


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