A drawing helps, a prototype solves.

Prototyping is the act of turning tangible an idea, doubt or assumption. It is the experience of testing and the confrontation of our intention with reality. A prototype allows an idea to interact with the context and the people, much sooner than the final product.

Prototyping is our best chance to fail. Where the prototype fails, the final product doesn’t.

Prototypes follow the design process from the beginning till the end. Prototypes can be made in a briefing meeting, during a field research, in the middle of a brainstorm, while we sketch or simulate in a computer, or even in the production line.

Thus it is clear the continuous presence of the act of prototyping during the design process. In the beginning there are several prototypes, defining the product specifications. In the end, product specifications will define the prototypes.

Firstly (problem space) there are the prototypes we call Knowing Prototypes. These prototypes help us understand the context, generate insights and eliminate preconception. They help us with the problem definition and ideas generation.

Secondly (solution space) there are the Showing Prototypes. They validate an idea, supporting decisions and helping us to know if something will work. They communicate a solution.

It doesn’t matter what and how your prototype was born; it matters why you do it. The focus must be in how it can give feedback about what you want to understand. Some useful tips about the need to prototype:

1. Don’t think, don’t ask. Just build: the questions will come later.

2. Cheap and fast. You don’t need a huge investment to prototype: use cardboard, paper, tape, straws and lots of imagination.

3. Step out of context. Look for solutions already built and tested in other segments (toys, DIY) and adapt them to your prototype.

4. Don’t waste time beautifying the prototype. The more beautiful the prototype is the less truthful the feedback will be.

5. Failure is positive* that’s why you prototype! If the prototype doesn’t work or meet the requirements, good: learn with the mistakes and prototype again.

6. Remember why you prototype: to learn. Don’t keep the prototypes: use them, give to others to use, break them, tear them apart and improve them.

*Stop. Go back as many years as necessary until you are 1 year old. If you never fell while learning to walk, today you would be unable to run.