Tom Maiorana is a Principal Interaction Designer at Intuit, as well as a Lecturer here at the d.school. He shared this insight on prototyping gleaned while he was co-teaching a workshop with Innovation Catalysts, a group of design thinking leaders and evangelists at Intuit.
Yesterday, while observing teams in our prototyping workshop, we noticed that the prototypes fell into two basic categories: open and closed. An open prototype is most common. It’s something which you hand over to the user and allow them to have a direct experience with the artifact or scenario. A closed prototype is one which the user is present, but doesn’t interact directly. (Watching a skit, a concept demo or a video are all examples of a closed prototype.)
So why does it matter? Because the methods you use to prototype will affect the types of feedback you’ll be able to get from your prototype. And each one has its own benefits and drawbacks.
An open prototype is one that involves the user in a direct way. It is typically something you could hand over to a user. With some minimal framing, “Okay, imagine you are a 21 year old about to purchase a car, this is a smart phone, start using it, and tell me what you would do.” From there you’ll hand over the prototype and allow the user to stumble through the process of using it. When you notice any pauses, confusion, delight, etc, you want to probe deeper on what is going on for the user.
When to use:
- Whenever possible. Almost. With the exception of prototyping a Point of View, if you can give a user enough context for an open prototype, do it.
- When you are testing specific features or functions.
- When the experience is visceral.
Tips for Open Prototypes:
- The principals of prototyping apply here, but here a few additional things to keep in mind.
- Frame up the prototype, then let go.
- Get creative to involve the user for complex scenarios. (What if they are a puppet master? etc.)
A closed prototype is an experience that users watch, but won’t interact with directly. The lack of direct user interaction can make it harder to learn from a closed prototype. But it can also be quite effective. For instance, if you are prototyping a scenario that is too complex for the user to participate in a meaningful way, a closed prototype might be a better option.
However, if you use this kind of prototype, it’s critical to keep the demonstration short so that you can spend as much time drawing out the user’s thoughts and feedback. If you only have a limited time with a user, it’s better to skimp on the demo and spend time talking to the user. (Hint, if the user is leaning back, you’ve probably got a closed prototype.)
When to use:
- When your concept is in a very early stage.
- When showing users how to experience the prototype would be too time consuming or confusing.
- When you want to experience the prototype yourselves. (As a team, etc.)
- When an experienced team member can give feedback. (Someone who will know what to look for, typically someone who has some experience prototyping.)
- When you have time to engage the “user/viewer” in a conversation.
- When you are prototyping a Point of View.
- When you can’t be in the same place as your users. (A video and phone call can work.)
- Keep it short. The insights will come out in the discussion. Not while you are acting out the prototype.
- Get good feedback. That means, find out why they think your idea might suck.
- Frame it up. Let the users/viewers know that this isn’t a child’s dance recital. Brutal is good.
- Make sure one team member is dedicated to watching the user, not the demo. They will need to pick up on body language that the presenters/actors won’t be able to notice.
- Try getting them to participate. After they’ve seen it work, see if they can go “off script”.
- Storyboards, Skits, Videos.
- Adaptive Path’s Aurora browser concept is a great example.
Thanks to my fellow Intuit colleagues Rachel Evans, Wendy Castleman and Suzanne Pellican, who led the Innovation Catalyst Training and sparked the idea for this post.