A prototype is an early sample, model, or release of a product or service built to test a concept or process. It can also be a recreation of an existing product or service which can be used to assess user satisfaction and identify unmet needs. A prototype is generally used to evaluate a new design to enhance precision by system analysts and users. Prototyping serves to provide specifications for a real, working system rather than a theoretical one A service prototype is a simulation of a service experience.
Why is it used?
One of the essential mindsets for Design Thinking listed in d.school’s Design Thinking Bootcamp Bootleg Toolkit is having a bias towards action:
“Design thinking is a misnomer; it is more about doing than thinking. Bias toward doing and making over-thinking and meeting.” – d.school
This means that analysis paralysis is unable to take hold, because you will investigate each assumption through active testing, instead of theoretically thinking it through. By using controlled experiments, you can either prove or disprove your assumptions in their real context and thus further refine — or even abandon — your initial idea.
When is it helpful?
Many times, we tend to invest in exciting new ideas, brainstorming, and planning for their implementation — until we realise, after launching them, that our brilliant designs had no traction with our users. In other words, the assumptions we based our solutions on might have been wrong – and when they are wrong, they can lead to significant wastes of time and resources. Prototyping helps prevent this. Prototyping quickly, and frequently, is the best way to test your assumptions, learn about users, and improve on your ideas. Prototypes can be anything from sketches on a napkin to role-playing: just anything that lets you make your ideas tangible and testable. Prototyping helps create a bias towards action (i.e., make rather than think) and opportunities for creative serendipity — the innovative spark you need to create truly useful and revolutionary solutions.
How is it applied?
Usually some form of mock-up of the service system will be created. The prototype can vary greatly in terms of tone and complexity, but the common element will be the capacity to test the service solutions being proposed in something approaching a “real-world” environment. The prototype will generally be developed iteratively, with suggestions and refinements being constantly incorporated.
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