Releasing a new product or launching a new brand can feel like jumping without a parachute—especially when you haven’t done adequate research prior to launch. And, to a degree, the analogy is true. If you don’t test before you launch, your product might fall flat on its face and come out of the situation a lot worse for wear. This illustrates the incredible importance of building and testing prototypes.
Today, more businesses are feeling pressured to move at lightning speed and update their offerings as fast as possible. I’m sure it comes as no surprise that this leads to product launches for, well, less-than-perfect merchandise. Instead of rushing to get products to market, companies should put emphasis on what comes first—the early iterations of those ideas that help shape a better end product.
Why is it so important to build and test a variety of prototypes before launching a final product? Because something magical happens in the space between iterations: creativity solidifies into solutions and (effective) research shines a light on any unseen issues that might be hiding in your designs. In fact, testing prototypes often saves you a lot of headaches and consistently saves companies money.
So where do we start? Companies can quickly prototype products in just a few key steps.
- Start with simple 2D or 3D representations of the product, created by the team working most closely with it.
- Try out ideas, find early problems, and resolve them before investing more company resources.
- Begin to include a more diverse group of coworkers and third parties. Continue to problem-solve based on new insights.
- Take your product to its end-users. This step is vital. You are not the user, and never will be, so you’ll never be able to find all of your potential problem areas without this step.
- Step four is perhaps best completed by hiring outside researchers. Research firms like Discida can recruit participants (who represent your users), accurately record data, analyze, and prepare the results into digestible insights.
- Utilize research insights to modify your product before rolling out.
- Pay attention to product design. In order to prototype, companies need to build complete, low-fidelity experiences in order to move toward high-fidelity versions of the same experience. In this instance, it is better to make a complete bike that actually gets users moving, rather than half a car that can’t get out of the garage.
- Formulate a research plan. Effective research goals help determine what portions of your product need to be fleshed out before testing begins and help you probe the most important parts of your design to hone in on the issues that truly matter to your users.
- Get the whole team on board. Having buy-in from directors and stakeholders is important for managing time and budget constraints, but the willingness of decision-makers to listen to your feedback, trust in your process, and eventually make decisions that are good for your customers, is essential.
- Find and utilize the right tools. If you have an in-house design team, they are most likely equipped with everything they need for prototyping. Otherwise, simple (and sometimes free) software solutions like Google Drive allow for quick hi-fi prototypes, and anyone can make a paper prototype with basic office supplies.
- Keep everyone in the loop. Think about how you want to share new iterations, research results, or anything else related to the project. Deliverables can be infinitely useful in helping decision-makers understand the perspectives of both consumers and designers. Picking the right documents and method of presentation is key. Get your team pumped about prototyping!
- Embrace asynchronous workflows. Allowing easy access to different project elements, organizing them well, and allowing constant collaboration can make it so your prototype is never truly just sitting there.
- Lastly, never stop testing. Designs are never done—they are merely submitted to the public for review.
Nathan Davis contributed to this article.