Friday, January 22, 2010

Prototypes and Beta Versions

One of the challenges I’ve had with several of my contracts is obtaining feedback on a draft document. The client wants to approve an early version of the final product, while I’m looking for discussion and collaboration. Design thinking provides some solutions.

Design thinkers approach a project (i.e. designing a chair) as “thousands of interlocking decisions. Collectively, all of these questions together are too big to digest, so the designer leaps headlong into the process and begins creating. First, she looks for inspiration, collecting ideas and expressions that help her think. Designers use art, metaphors, analogies and other elements to provoke inspiration around form, function, feel, and experience. Through this process they are breaking the decision down while simultaneously giving themselves new options. Very soon, the designer will begin to create prototypes to understand how certain parts of the chair will work, what it will feel like, and how it will look. Through experimentation and iteration, designers formulate a deeper understanding of their options. Over and over, they refine their ideas; building and rebuilding, they winnow small decisions down until they arrive at the final object. This is design thinking in action.”

There are two important lessons for me in this approach. First of all, jump right in and start working on the project. Once you have a beta version, you can revise it. This works really well when I’m writing software documentation. We develop the first version of the Help when the software is brand new. Once it’s been used by the customers and we know what types of problems they have or what kind of information they are looking for, we go back and rewrite the Help to more adequately address the customers’ needs.

The second concept that really makes sense to me is building several prototypes. Show clients how it will look so that they can imagine the final product, but give them several options so that they can make comparisons and choices. This way I can sidestep the client’s desire to make a quick administrative decision – ‘Yes, it’s good. No, it’s bad.’

My thanks to Ideo for linking me to this article. Decisions by Design: Stop Deciding, Start Designing by Colin Raney and Ryan Jacoby was published in the Winter 2010 issue of Rotman, the magazine for the Rotman School of Management.

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