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Prototyping – Why, when and how to make your idea come to life.

Rough, Rapid and Effective Prototyping!

“Love your experiments…. Joy is the engine of growth, Enjoy the liberty in casting your work as beautiful experiments, iterations, attempts, trials and errors. Take the long view and allow yourself the fun of failure every day.” (Bruce Mau: Incomplete Manifesto)

Trying out your ideas before you have invested too much money or time in them is always a good thing. Yet too many people don’t regard prototyping as something to do in the early stages of exploring and shaping their ideas. Some make the mistake of investing in expensive prototypes that closely resemble the final product they want to take to market only to find that their idea is not aligned with customer needs or wants. Others, stall with their ideas, as they look for ways to raise money for the expensive prototypes they think they need to progress their ideas.

RobertBrady / Freelance / SIE / April 2014

This short guide is based around SIE’s Innovation and Enterprise Programme prototyping workshops on how to build prototyping into the early stages of designing and exploring your idea .It highlights some of the tools and techniques you can use to enhance your ideas or change them for the better., The tips provided apply equally to ideas designed to generate new services.


  • Use paper prototypes; plasticine models and other cheap disposable tools. You are building to think and answer your own questions about your idea. Research shows that having fun with your prototyping experiments can help you think differently.
  • Do think about what you want to test with your early prototypes but remember you are focusing on getting the right design at this stage not getting the design right
  • Do highlight the pros and cons, many ‘aha moments’ are to be found in the reasons why a potential customer wouldn’t consider using something.
  • Do encourage customer co – design and ask them what features and benefits would get then using your idea.
  • Iterate, iterate and iterate…!


  • Tell yourself you can’t draw. Paper based prototypes are quick sketches or visualisation of your ideas. Don’t think ‘neat and pretty’ but ‘quick and simple’. The idea behind your sketch is being evaluated not the sketch.
  • Think that rough prototypes are not effective. Research shows that paper prototypes are highly effective at detecting issues with user interactions with a product.
  • Don’t think rough prototypes are unprofessional. Many potential customers will value that you are involving them in the design at an early stage.
  • Resort to electronic prototyping tools too soon. Rough paper prototyping can help support your divergent thinking and generate new ideas as you work to get your product design right. Think of your finger as the mouse and your pen as your keyboard and stick to paper until you are happy you have go the right design for your idea.

Prototyping 4

Time spent on rough, rapid and effective prototyping to help explore and shape your ideas can be time well spent. It can save expensive rework later, identify new customer segments, identify lead customers and help your price and position your product in the market. Love your experiments!

 For more information on the research mentioned in this guide, please email

This article originally appeared in Ignite magazine, Issue 14

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