Everything is a prototype

Photo credit: d.school

Prototyping is important….really important. I am often surprised at how much I and others want to toil away on building something big without first building a prototype. Maybe it’s because the word prototype conjures the image of a scaled down model car, or a mock up of a room…and because we aren’t designers or engineers we see no need to prototype.

But anything can be prototyped. You can prototype a powerpoint deck. You can prototype a financial model. You can prototype a process.

As a design thinker, I view everything I do as a prototype. My next presentation I am working on – prototype. This blog – prototype. A product we are trying to develop – prototype. My relationship with my children – prototype.

What are the benefits of thinking in terms of prototype? Here are a few:

  • You can welcome feedback as you don’t claim that your product, process, relationship are perfect and or finalized
  • You can view the feedback as what is precious, not the prototype. I’ve heard it said, “construct your prototype like you know you are right, test your prototype like you know you are wrong”
  • You are still in the mode of a learner. You use your prototype as a way to gain empathy and to learn about the users of your prototype
  • You are still thinking about iterating

Here’s an example of how I prototype at work. I wanted to construct a graph that showed risk vs return, but I needed the feedback and thoughts of others colleagues. Rather than construct the graph completely, I printed out circles and then cut them out. When I talked with my coworkers we placed the circles in the appropriate place. I was treating this graph as a prototype and I wanted to construct it in a way that invited feedback. Allowing the users to move the circles around changed the dynamic of the conversation. I do this sort of stuff all the time and it’s funny to see the looks I get when breaking out the scissors, glue stick, or other arts and crafting materials. Actually, I could create an indicator for creativity – number of times I use crafting materials during the week. The target should be 5 – once a day!

See the picture below for the example.

Risk/Reward Prototype

Risk/Reward Prototype

I believe making prototypes will help make you more efficient and creative. Just the simple act of making the prototype make give you insights into the problem you are trying to solve.

So what can you view as a prototype? How have you prototyped lately?


3 thoughts on “Everything is a prototype

  1. Thanks Lance. I’d love to do some financial modeling prototypes without the spread sheet, I think that could add a lot of value.

    Hey do you have that graph copyrighted? I’m thinking about using that in my marketing materials.


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