The entrepreneurial culture that has developed during the past decade contributed to the popularity of a “work-in-progress” mentality.
A “work-in-progress” mentality is defined as a process-oriented approach coupled with a keen interest in a discipline and the belief in constant improvement.
This thesis is supported by Carol Dweck’s theory about “fixed and growth mindsets”. In her book “Mindset: The new psychology of success“, Dweck writes that “in a growth mindset students understand their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, learning, and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or that everybody can be Einstein, but they believe everything can become smarter if he or she works at it.” In a growth mindset failure doesn’t define you.
“The power of not yet”, another one of Dweck’s concepts, the ultimate definition of prototyping, should be “attacked” through a full immersion in work, processing errors, correcting and learning from them.
UX/ User Experience, the discipline dedicated to the study of building functional products and services, uses prototyping to create, test, and improve the design, based on customer feedback. Prototypes are a great tool for pitching. As Tom and David Kelley from Ideo famously said: “If a picture is worth 1000 words, a prototype is worth 1000 meetings.”
Prototyping is a method of testing ideas in the early stages of development. It can be challenging to explain abstract concepts to people around us because our brains process visual information better than text or words. Visuals make the process more straightforward and facilitate discussion between team members.
A prototype is validated through usability and acceptance testing. To get the maximum learning out of the prototyping, make sure you know exactly what you want to find out at the end of the testing process. Specialists recommend applying the Pareto Principle which means that you have to focus on the key user flows, 20% of the functionalities, that will be used 80% of the time.
In “Sketching user experience. Getting the design right and the right design”, George Buxton writes that sketches are used in the early ideation process while prototypes are concentrated around the final stages of development when the product starts to take shape. The latter are more expensive and take longer to build. The more we move from user interface to usability testing, the less useful sketches are.
In a research paper released by UX Matters, Traci Lepore writes in detail about the differences between prototypes, sketches, and wireframes.
Low fidelity vs high fidelity prototyping
According to the Interaction Design Foundation, prototypes are divided into two categories: low fidelity and high fidelity prototypes.
Low fidelity prototypes could be drawings on paper, wood or plastic figurines or printouts. These basic versions of the product don’t allow too much user interaction. They bear little resemblance with the real product, can confuse evaluators and in many cases approving them may lack validity. On the other hand, they are cheap and easy to make, can help the designer get an ensemble view of the project and encourage team members to use Design thinking to foster innovation in the organisation.
High fidelity prototypes are usually computer-based and allow a realistic interaction with the product. They are somehow an accurate representation of the designer’s vision and allow for useful feedback from users. The disadvantages of high-fidelity prototypes are the long production time and the difficulty to make rapid changes after designers spent hours refining the smallest details. Another problem with high fidelity prototypes discussed at large by Rogers, Sharp, and Preece in “Interaction design: beyond human-computer interaction”, is that in the testing phase, users tend to focus on superficial issues, as opposed to relevant features.
One of the main challenges in prototyping is time. Especially if during the validation phase designers realise they’ve built on an incorrect hypothesis. It is crucial to discover bad ideas fast and changing them without wasting too many resources. In manufacturing, through rapid prototyping, we create a 3D model of the product to test the functionalities before manufacturing it in larger quantities. At this stage, testing has much to do with design and features, rather than with strength and durability.
Native prototyping requires strong technical proficiency because you are writing code and using it on real devices, data, and users. Native prototyping is used when designers or engineers need to create products that involve real data from, i.e. GPS systems. Even if it looks like the finished product, what was created through this method is still a prototype. You should remember that in this phase you’re not building a fully functioning product.
Creating incomplete “working versions” of products to be tested with real users in short timeframe is one of the most significant contributions brought by scientists in the field of New Product Development.
Prototyping is not about “the fully formed”. It is about being ready to learn, take risks, and enjoy a rewarding process along the way. Teams with a “work-in-progress” mentality or what Carol Dweck refers to as "a growth mindset" are the ones who in the end will achieve success.