In this article, we’ll go over the essentials of rapid prototyping: its benefits, best practices, the crazy 8s technique, and more.
What is rapid prototyping?
Rapid prototyping is a design workflow that consists of ideation, prototyping, and testing. It helps designers quickly discover and validate their best ideas.
With rapid prototyping, you can expect to collaborate with managers, engineers, the users themselves, and other designers. The more voices, the better.
Rapid prototyping benefits
Rapid ideation with multiple collaborators means there’s a better chance of discovering the winning idea. It also means that you’ll end up with a wide range of fallback ideas in case your original prototype is a dud.
A focus on low-fidelity prototyping means that if you take a wrong turn, you’re comfortable throwing the idea in the trash and starting over.
When time is money, testing concepts with real users early and often is your best bet. It’s much safer than taking the fast track straight to high fidelity only to realize its numerous flaws could have been avoided—if only you discovered them earlier via rapid prototyping.
Designing an app or website from start to finish without collecting any feedback is a recipe for disaster. On the surface, disregarding feedback sounds quicker. But when you arrive at the destination with a confusing user experience that doesn’t solve the original problem, it becomes clear that a more feedback-driven, “slowly but surely” approach would have been far better (and cheaper) than starting from scratch.
It encourages creativity
While brainstorming tends to result in frustration and overthinking, rapid prototyping forces you to think less and ideate faster, unleashing creativity in exciting ways.
It boosts focus and team togetherness
Working closely with a wide range of team members and stakeholders reveals your team’s strengths and weaknesses. It also turns every success into a shared merit, boosting team spirit and morale. This type of collaboration often results in heightened focus and motivation, driving teams to do their best work in the quickest time.
Rapid prototyping best practices
Ideation is most effective when it’s lightning fast. Many experts would agree that failure is inevitable, so the quicker we invalidate our worst ideas, the quicker we can find our best one—and use it to create a testable, low-fidelity prototype. Ideas can be a mixture of bold and crazy, or simple and obvious.
A well-known rapid ideation technique, crazy 8s helps designers brew eight ideas in a short window of time. And while it might seem as if those ideas are undeveloped and rushed (which is true), the process of sketching raw thoughts as they arise often results in exceptional solutions that wouldn’t normally be discovered.
Here’s how it works:
- Gather notes/research (20 minutes)
- Doodle rough ideas (20 minutes)
- Sketch eight ideas you’re confident about (eight minutes)
- Choose the best idea, and turn it into a short storyboard (30+ minutes)
You can use your storyboard to prototype your idea.
A rapid prototyping best practice is to design with low fidelity. Spending huge amounts of time refining small details is unnecessary, though it’s fine to increase fidelity as product confidence grows (via testing).
For best results, use prototyping tools with strong collaboration features that allow stakeholders to weigh in with their feedback. Bonus points for user testing features.
Including the entire cast of stakeholders in each review cycle is too expensive, so it’s best to gradually introduce them. Start with your team (self testing); then loop your internal stakeholders; then, test with real users who can deliver the ultimate validation.
When conducting user tests, you’re looking for actionable feedback that clearly describes a problem and drives the next iteration. Let reviewers express their feedback in whichever way feels most comfortable to them: drawings, comments, even face-to-face conversations. Make sure to record all feedback accurately, requesting specific details on how the user is both thinking and feeling.
Rapid prototyping tools
While paper prototyping might be better for sketching initial ideas quickly—and reminds us that ideas are disposable—digital prototyping tools offer features that enable collaboration, feedback, and accountability. These include:
Make it. Quick.
Rapid prototyping is one of the most exciting activities for designers and design teams. It’s an opportunity to unleash creativity, get down and dirty with raw drawing tools, experiment with seemingly crazy ideas, and develop ideas together without boundaries.
With Freehand, you can reap the above benefits immediately. You can also document your sketches, communicate with stakeholders, and collaborate on ideas. Allowing stakeholders to weigh in early and often makes your design process more democratic—and successful.