22 Creative Ways to Prototype in Design Thinking

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Prototyping is a crucial part of the design thinking process, as it allows designers to explore problems and test ideas before committing to full-scale development. 

In this article, we’ll explore 22 creative ways to prototype in design thinking and get feedback through iteration.

22 Creative Prototyping Ideas

1. Watch a Movie

Create a video explainer that talks about the problem you want to solve and some ideas you have to solve it. Play it for your customer, gauge their reaction, and ask follow-up questions.

2. Design the Packaging

Imagine your idea was a physical product. Design the packaging, including the headline, benefits, and features, along with a tagline and engaging imagery. Share it with your user and ask them some questions about it.

3. Build-Your-Own

Ask the user to build their prototype, watch how they go about it, what they make first and which parts they spend the most time on. Ask them what they want to achieve and what they would change if they could. Then, observe them using it and ask them to describe how it could fit into their life.

4. Customer as CEO

Ask the customer to imagine they were the CEO of your company. Pitch them your idea, get their reaction and ask them to advise you on how to move forward in the project; what type of people should you hire? When should you launch? What should you prioritize? This is a fun way of understanding the user’s perspective.

5. Wizard of Oz

Rather than build the technology that automates tasks and processes. Create an interface that allows customers to interact with a fake version. Behind the scenes, a team of people completes the tasks manually, giving the illusion that the tech is working. This can save much money on development and validate ideas for a lower cost.

6. Arts and Crafts

Give the customer paints, pencils, and craft materials and ask them to build a physical version of a digital prototype or service. The outcome will be an abstract interpretation of the idea. Still, it should tell you what they are trying to achieve and what tasks and actions they want the design to help them succeed.

7. Concierge

A concierge prototype is when you create a manual version of an automated process. The customer knows it’s a manual process. However, if it still creates value for them. Then you can invest in the technology with confidence and a deeper insight into what customers need.

8. Stolen Goods

Rather than build your prototype, just take a competitor’s product and give that to your customer. Ask them how they fit into their lives and meet their needs. This not only gives you valuable information about customers’ needs and expectations. It can also provide helpful competitor analysis information on their strengths and weaknesses.

9. Clickable Prototype

A good old clickable prototype. This is simply a series of screens linked together using a digital tool. A UX Designer on a product design team would use a tool like Figma or Invision. Still, equally, you can use tools like PowerPoint, Microsoft Word, and hyperlinked PDFs. Simply ask the customer to interact with the prototype and complete a series of tasks. Then capture your observations and iterate your prototype.

10. Paper Prototype

A paper prototype is quite simply a drawing or sketch of your idea. You could sketch a series of screens or just one screen and annotate it. Ask the user to interact with it as they would a digital version. Ask them to talk you through what it is they’re seeing. This is a quick and easy way to get feedback early on without touching a computer.

11. Static Prototype

A static prototype – similar to a paper prototype – could be a wireframe of a sketch created using digital tools. Simply make a version of your product or interface using lines, boxes, and text. Do just enough to illustrate your idea before sharing it with customers. Start with low fidelity prototypes and move toward high fidelity prototypes as you gain more insight into user needs.

12. Storyboard

A storyboard is a step-by-step comic book-style illustration that typically starts by introducing the character and the problem they have. It then illustrates the user experience and the pain points a customer could encounter. Finally, the solution is submitted, and we see how it improves the characters’ lives. Show this to the customer and interview them to understand how close it is to their lived experience and what needs to change.

13. Value Proposition

By writing a few versions of your value proposition, you can use it as a talking point with customers to understand whether it appeals to them. The conversation topics would be aimed at understanding if the customer has the problem you’re trying to solve and if the way you intend to solve it sounds valuable to them. This is useful early on in the design process to understand the customer’s core need and what value your solution needs to create.

14. Role Playing

Role-playing can be a suitable prototype for service design. By creating a scenario and acting it out with customers, you can see how they might experience it and use their feedback to improve the service. Each customer you speak to can help you iterate the scenario until you have something you’re happy with developing.

15. Play a Game

You can use a range of games and activities to engage your customers and understand how they think and feel. There’s a resource called Brainstorming that has an extensive list of workshop ideas and collaboration techniques that could help you gamify your interactions with customers.

16. Lego Blocks

Rather than creating wireframes or sketching new ideas, you can use a flat lego surface and the blocks as components on a web page or application. Label the blocks as components and ask the customer to move them around in the hierarchy and order that most make sense to them. This can give you insight into how customers perceive the relationship between different parts of the application interface.

17. Fake Advert

Similar to the Design the Packaging prototype idea, a fake advert can explain your value proposition, describe the problem you want to solve, and offer a solution. You could draw the advert or make a video. You could then simply show this to your customers and interview them about it, or you can create the ad and launch it for real to see how many people engage with it.

18. Virtual Reality

For designing new services or immersive experiences like wayfinding or retail environments, virtual reality could be an excellent way to prototype your idea without investing in construction costs. Of course, developing a VR prototype takes some specialist skills. Still, depending on the size of your project, it could be a worthwhile investment.

19. Pitch Deck

Like entrepreneurs, create pitch decks for investors. Build a pitch deck for your customers. Include your insights about your audience, what you think the problem is and how you intend to solve it. Ask the customer questions to understand if the content of the pitch deck aligns with their experiences. Using this information to refine the pitch deck, summarizing your research findings.

20. Landing Page

Creating a landing page that advertises and describes your idea can give users and customers something to read and engage with. You could share it with them in an interview scenario or launch the landing page for tangible and measurable engagement. This is a good option for validating and testing different value propositions.

21. Microsite

Similar to the landing page prototype. If you have a more complex idea, you could create an informational microsite that outlines the problem and the ideas you have to solve it. This can then be used as the stimulus in an interview situation, or you could launch it for real and see how it performs.

22. 3D Printing

If you have access t a 3D printer or the budget to have something printed. A 3D printer could be an excellent prototype of a physical product or appliance. It doesn’t have to be functional, but it could act as a prop that you could use to gather customer feedback.

23. Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding is popular within the lean startup community. You list your idea on a website, describe the benefits and what you want to achieve, and see if anyone wants to invest in your idea. Once you meet a certain amount of investment, you take the money and build your product. This is a very cheap way of validating your business and getting investment early on.

7 Ways to Get Feedback on Your Prototype

1. Social Media

Use social media to gather feedback on your idea and build relationships with your potential customers. Create a page for your prototype or concept, describe it, share images and ask the public questions. You can then use this as a forum to collect feedback and share updates while building an audience. With this page as a platform, you can gather information in many different ways. You could run ads, competitions, polls, trivia, and post surveys. Or reach out to influencers to get their feedback.

2. Online Surveys

Online surveys are a quick way to get feedback from your target users. You’ll need to clearly define the purpose of your survey and keep it short and to the point so that you keep people’s attention and get the results you need. Use open-ended questions to get feedback, opinions, and expectations. Use close-ended questions to get specific data about demographics, preferences, and behavioral trends. There are heaps of online tools that let you create surveys for free. You can post the survey to your social media profiles, run ads, or pay for a service to find participants for you.

3. User Interviews

User interviews are an excellent way to get deep insights since you can have real, thoughtful conversations with your customers. They’re great for understanding user needs, motivations, and goals. After conducting interviews, you can analyze and synthesize your findings to create personas representing your customer segment. The only drawback is that they can be time-consuming and expensive since you’ll need to pay or incentivize your participants. This drawback is offset by the value you gain – if you have the time and budget.

4. Focus Group

Focus groups are good for getting an idea of a group’s shared understanding and beliefs about an idea or product. They’re also an excellent opportunity to get creative with the types of tasks and exercises you do. By asking the group questions and giving them tasks, we observe how they interact and what conversations they have. This can give us insight into where they agree, disagree, and why.

5. Advertising

Advertising is good for testing value propositions because you get to measure how many people express an interest in your idea. This can tell you if how you describe your idea appeals to customers. It’s a helpful approach during discovery when developing a value proposition because you get to test many different ideas. The basic idea is to write a statement of the value you intend to provide. Then run ads with that statement as the headline. Measure how many people click it. And you can go a step further and collect email addresses as additional proof of desirability.

6. Forums

Forums are a quick and easy way to get feedback on an idea or research a problem area. Simply by posting a question and some images into a forum like Reddit or Quora, more often than not, you’ll attract the people that have opinions and want to express them. This can be useful at the beginning of a project when you know very little and want a quick, broad overview of a topic or problem. Once you’ve got this broad overview, you can start doing more focused scientific research to validate your findings. This will give you the confidence you need to make important decisions.

7. In Public

If you’re up for it, getting out onto the street and going to where your customers hang out is another cheap, quick, and easy way to get feedback. Be sure to have created a proto persona and written a screener and interview script. This is because you’ll need a way of filtering the people you speak to understand whether or not they’re the right type of customer. Your interview script will help you keep your questions short and snappy. This will get you the specific answers you need while respecting the time of the people you’re interviewing.

Iteration Is the Process, Not Just a Phase

Iteration is a process of learning. It’s essential because each time we repeat a process, we learn from the experience and the feedback we gain.

Rather than guessing and making assumptions, iterating gives us evidence – feedback from the real world – that we can use to move forward.

Iteration is the process of learning by doing, which leads to continuous improvement.

Iteration is not just a step in the design thinking process but rather a way of thinking that should be applied throughout the entire process. During discovery, we iterate on our hypotheses. In ideation, we iterate to develop ideas. And in testing, we iterate to refine our ideas.

We can continuously improve our product or solution by constantly testing and refining our ideas, ultimately leading to a more successful and effective final product.

Keep Them Lean, Pivot if Needed, and Iterate Continuously

When prototypes are lean and low fidelity, we have a less emotional attachment to them. This allows us to focus on learning rather than protecting our creation.

As we learn and get feedback on our designs, we need to make changes quickly through rapid prototyping and sometimes change direction completely. This would be much easier if the prototype was cheap and easy to build.

Lean, low-fidelity prototypes help us learn and make changes quickly.

An expensive prototype will trigger the ‘sunk cost fallacy.’ A psychological phenomenon where we choose to stick with a decision – even when it’s wrong – because we’ve invested a lot of time and money into it.

Make it quickly and cheaply, change it often and throw it away if you have to.

Use Prototypes at All Stages of the Design Thinking Process

Prototyping isn’t just for the prototyping phase.

Prototypes can – and should – be used throughout the design thinking process, from discovery to usability testing. Making prototypes helps us to think through ideas. It makes our ideas tangible and gives us something solid to evaluate.

Prototyping is used throughout the design thinking process to help with creativity and idea evaluation.

Inspiration finds you working, and we’re most relaxed and creative at play. Use prototypes as a way to think, a way to get over a creative block, and a way to break stalemates and indecision.

Use Prototypes as a Tool for Learning, Not Just a Deliverable

The primary purpose of a prototype is to help us get answers to our research questions and learn more about the problem we’re trying to solve.

This means that a prototype design doesn’t necessarily need to resemble the final or intended solution in any way. This lets us get creative with how we ask questions and what kinds of prototypes we use.

A prototype is an early version of a product that is used to help us understand a problem.

When we think of a prototype as a deliverable or an early version of our final product. We limit ourselves to testing and refining potential solutions rather than digging deep to understand the problem and the customer.

Later in the process, you can craft a high fidelity prototype that is more realistic and resembles the final product. Once you’ve validated your idea, refined it, and tested usability, it should be as close to the real thing as possible. But early on, it’s ok to get creative and use a low fidelity prototype as a tool for learning, not just a deliverable from the prototype stage.

Key Takeaways

  • Prototyping is an important part of the design thinking methodology, as it allows designers to test and iterate on their ideas before committing to full-scale development.
  • There are many different ways to prototype, including creating video explainers, designing packaging, building your own prototypes, and more.
  • Gathering feedback on your prototypes is crucial for refining and improving your designs. Some effective ways to gather feedback include user testing, customer interviews, and focus groups.
  • Prototyping can be a creative process, and designers should be willing to try new techniques and approaches in order to find the best solution to a problem.
  • Tangible prototypes are a useful design thinking tool for helping us to understand a complex problem and understand our user needs.
  • In the early stage of the design thinking process we use low fidelity prototyping to help us understand ideas and get user feedback, in the later stage we use high fidelity prototyping for usability testing.
  • Prototyping is a popular tool for learning in UX design, product design, Design Thinking, The Design Sprint and Lean Startup. 
  • By experimenting with different prototyping methods, designers can better understand their customers’ needs and develop solutions that are tailored to their needs.

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Jack O'Donoghue Avatar