Bad ideas that are perfectly executed are still bad ideas. That goes for opening up a taco truck with someone you met at a party, and for launching products based on the hunch that they’ll be a great hit.
While taking risks is necessary for success and growth, you really don’t need to cross the street blindly towards your next product launch. Even if you haven't got any time to lose, it's vital to test your ideas. Because if you don't, and there’s a flaw that needs fixing after launch, you’ll lose much more than just time: money on making the changes, and your customers’ trust.
If you want to hit the ground running with your eureka moments and epiphanies about new products or upgrades for existing products, try rapid prototyping. We’ll dive into what it is, why you’ll love it and how to use it the right way.
What is rapid prototyping?
You’ve heard of prototyping: creating an early sample that those daredevils who go on Shark Tank use to see if they could get an investor on board. It’s an example of what the final product will look like: simpler, cheaper, and open to changes.
Put rapid in front of that, and you get a valuable process that designers use to create the perfect product. These prototypes are not made to just see if customers will like it, but to work with them on perfecting it.
Why the element of speed? Because there’s no reason to dwell on decisions if you get actual feedback from the people that will be using the product in the end. They know best. That way, you can go to market faster. Plus, you’ll be confident that you’ll meet your target group’s needs.
Rapid prototyping is an iterative process, which involves three steps that you’ll repeat until everyone’s satisfied.
- You create a prototype
- You test it with users and customers
- You refine it based on their feedback
That’s right, all new ideas that pop up are tested, leaving no stone unturned.
When should you use rapid prototyping?
Of course there are some decisions you can take without consulting your users first, but here are some cases in which rapid prototyping has proven to be extremely valuable:
- You have an idea for a new product and want to test the waters. Are people actually going to buy this?
- You’ve received requests or feedback from customers to add new features, and want to make sure you’re getting it right.
- You’re launching an update and already validated the idea, but you’re looking for feedback and extra engagement with your user base to perfect it.
Why is it so great?
Of course there are more roads that lead to Rome, and in the scenarios mentioned above you can do other things than rapid prototyping. But let’s look at some of the reasons more and more designers are adopting rapid prototyping. We’re sure you’ll love it too.
Rapid prototyping is cheaper than creating full-blown prototype
For rapid prototyping, it’s okay to start small and simple. You create a very basic prototype, showing just the essentials. Rapid prototyping methods even include creating a prototype using just pen and paper. For the low-fidelity part of the process, that method is great. Later on, you can create interactive prototypes in your software—if the idea has proven to be good.
No need to write code, worry about colors or copy just yet. You’ll only invest in those kinds of things once you’re absolutely sure that this product or upgrade has to be brought to market.
Rapid prototyping is a safe way to test if that idea you had under the shower is worth working out
Because you’re not investing a lot of time and money in rapid prototyping, it’s a fairly safe way to explore ideas. It’ll also provide you some extra safety later down the line: upon launch, your customers will have already seen the product and given their opinion. Surprises are great, just not when it’s not at all what you were looking for.
Rapid prototyping helps you determine if a product is valuable to your customers
All good products have one thing in common: customers who love them. With rapid prototyping, you don’t look at smart marketing techniques to convince people to buy something they don’t really need. You will focus on the value you are adding to your users, which is a much safer way to secure the sales you need to break even.
Markets move fast, and so do your competitors. If you want to have first-mover-advantage, you can’t get stuck in endless brainstorming sessions in which you’re trying to read your customers’ minds. Time’s ticking. Get out of the meeting room and go ask them.
Rapid prototyping is not at all a sloppy, fast way to do something. It is fast because it takes out the guesswork. The easiest way to find out what your users are looking for is by hearing from them.
Rapid prototyping lets you connect with your customers
Put yourself in the shoes of your users. How annoying would it be if the product you’re about to sell them is just not quite what they were looking for? By asking them and making them part of the process you don’t just create better products, you build stronger relationships with your user base.
Being heard and knowing your opinion is valued does that. They get more ownership of the product, and it has a hint of teamwork to it, which will strengthen your bond.
To actually benefit from this, you will need to test your prototypes with real users—not just people working inside your organization. They’ll always be a bit biased and only look at the product from a certain perspective. Customers have nothing to lose and everything to gain from giving you honest feedback.
An extra advantage of this all is that you already get the word out about a new product or update. Your marketing and sales team will thank you for that, because there’s already a bit of a buzz that they can build on.
Rapid prototyping makes making design decisions easier
‘’Like this?’’. The simple, million-dollar question that designers often don’t get to ask. When briefings are built without actual feedback or requests from customers, you’ll have to come up with design changes out of thin air.
Rapid prototyping helps you cut down on costs for iterations
Sure, everything can be fixed, but it comes at a price. With rapid prototyping, you smooth out all bumps and bugs that can be in your product, or at least most of them. Getting a fresh set of eyes from your customers will help you see mistakes that you overlooked.
That will save you real money. Get this: fixing a bug during the implementation phase is a whopping six times more expensive than one you found during the design phase. Fixing an error after launch? Expect to pay four to five times as much for that compared to fixing the issue during design.
Money aside, not having to fix bugs or errors after launch also heavily impacts the trust your customers have in you and how happy they are with the product—and isn’t that what this is all about?
Rapid prototyping promotes innovation
If you want to double down on creativity and launch innovative products, allow your team to experiment using rapid prototyping. If rapid prototyping is a habit in your company, people will feel more encouraged to speak up about ideas and brainstorm with actual visuals, not just words.
Things to keep in mind when you implement rapid prototyping
If all those advantages laid out above sound good to you, you probably can’t wait to start your first rapid prototyping process. But don’t start sketching without a goal.
Know what you’re testing
In rapid prototyping, direction is as important as speed. So, before you start designing, ask yourself: What are you really trying to find out here? Speed is worthless if you don’t know where you’re headed.
Are you focussing on user flow for a certain prototype, or seeing what features are vital to the product? Having this in mind you will be able to create better prototypes and really get the most out of the process.
Start sketching, and keep an eraser close
Whether it’s on paper or a design program, create the simplest form of a prototype you can. Remember that you’ll be adding stuff onto it and will test every version. Cutting down on how much you add to a first prototype allows your customers and users to really focus on the elements they need to provide feedback on. Worry about copy and design later.
You’ll start with a low-fidelity prototype that will blossom into a high-fidelity one as time passes. The prototype will become more and more interactive and ‘clickable’ after every phase.
Ready? Set. Test!
Got an idea that you’ve been meaning to do ‘’something’’ with, or a vocal user who’s been making some smart suggestions? Try them out with rapid testing - you might be onto something great.