“It’s a great idea, but it’s so annoying to use!”
When you’re excited about a new product experience design, there’s nothing more disappointing than it not working. Not because the idea is bad, but because it’s not usable, or doesn’t live up to the brand. That’s where experience prototyping comes in. It closes the gap between idea and final product and gets decisionmakers in a business excited in the process.
AI assistants that don’t understand your accent. Touchscreens too small, or out of place, to let you select the right option. Menus that seem simple, but you get lost in when under pressure. There’s lots to consider when executing new product experiences.
It takes a lot of confidence to say “Yes!” to an idea when it only exists as a sketch or in specifications.
That’s because you can’t get a gut feeling for a product if there’s nothing to actually feel. Especially when faced with big decisions in new product and experience development. We know the hardest thing a decisionmaker in a business must do is predict how something they’re creating will make consumers feel. This is where experience prototypes are the answer. They provide the proof needed to get a new product design off the ground.
So, what is an experience prototype?
We explain it as an interactive and real-world simulation focussed on the most relevant parts of a product, service, and context. To build them, we mix pieces of existing products with new electronics and software to mock-up the experience. Often, they start simply. A block of foam, some switches, and a few animated screens. It’s impossible to build an experience prototype too early, so they might have rough edges and need some babysitting to operate. But they get the job done. Can they look ugly? Sure, but it’s not the styling that matters. The features and interactions are most important.
It’s also important to prototype contexts as much as we design a product experience prototype. At night, on the highway, or in the rain – that’s where the best feedback comes from. And as an idea evolves, so do the prototypes. Accurate components like displays and sensors are added, bringing richer detail and less ambiguity. At each stage of the design there’s no need to second-guess. You know how ideas will be received, because you’ve already experienced them firsthand.
That’s what the true value of experience prototyping is: the confidence.
Particularly with user tests you get less confusion, clearer ideas, and better decision making. When people get to bend and break prototypes, they’re immersed. They’ll point out things no one considered and even settle debates about how a product should work. When you find opportunities to improve early, the final outcome will always be better.
In the end, the further we design a brand into an ecosystem of products and services, the more we must experience new ideas to understand them. So, we need to keep encouraging decisionmakers to put a prototype in someone’s hands, smile, and say, “Off you go, then. Try that”.
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