23 May 2012

The far-reaching value of prototypes

At Informaat, our methodology hinges on the use of prototypes, and not only for their technical value. In this academic paper, the authors review recent literature and outline a list of benefits that a prototype provides, focussing especially on business value.

For this paper – to be presented at the 2012 International Conference on Design Research Society – authors Holger Rhinow, Eva Köppen, and Christoph Meinel conducted a review of literature surrounding design prototypes. Their specific interest is to uncover how prototypes can foster better internal communication, clarify requirements among disparate audiences, and serve as “boundary objects”, drawing ownership and understanding of them together.

They break down their findings into three broad categories:

Prototypes as a manifestation for feedback
In this – possibly the most widely-known usage for prototypes – they note that “… the client’s feedback offers the possibility to get in concrete touch with a design idea and to give important feedback, which can be integrated later on within the further work of a design team. Referring to this praxis, Buchenau and Suri (2000) coined the term ‘experience prototyping’.”

Prototypes to improve the team experience
Here, their value is less tangible but important nonetheless. “Research has shown that prototypes also can have a positive impact on the team experience. Doll (2008) also conducted a correlation between the usage of prototypes in teams and the quality of the overall team performance.”

Prototypes to converge thinking
Lastly, as an iteratively-developed object that can be directly interacted with, prototypes create a shared understanding. “Prior somehow diffuse ideas and vague models either turn into a prototype that the team can agree on (which indicates the existence of a shared mental model) or that leads to further discussions and conflicts (which indicates that there are still divergent perspectives that do not match with each other).”

Furthermore, prototypes are a vehicle for knowledge transfer, as a project progresses, not just for product managers and clients, but for roles such as technical writers, who may need to author documents which cover the final product, and are therefore allowed a preview of it.

But the value offered by prototypes doesn’t manifest itself without some work. Management need to take an active role in promoting prototypes, and ensure that a structured dialogue is put in place to maximise their use and value amongst different groups.

Source: “Design Prototypes as Boundary Objects in Innovation Processes” (.pdf)
(Holger Rhinow, Eva Köppen, and Christoph Meinel. Conference Paper in the Proceedings of the 2012 International Conference on Design Research Society (DRS 2012), Bangkok, Thailand, July 2012) ~ via Mark Vanderbeeken

Prototyping (3), User-centered design (12)

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