15 June, 2016

The Power of Parallel Prototyping Approach

A prototype is an early sample, model, or release of a product built to test a concept or idea. It is a term used in a variety of contexts, including semantics, design, electronics, and software.
Startups celebrate prototypes. Most startups today, start with building samples of features or interfaces, show them to potential users, gather feedback. They, then, iterate on the feedback by improving on the initial prototype. Nordstrom Innovation Lab did a wonderful job with prototyping while building a Sunglass iPad App.
Characteristics of a Good Prototype
Each prototype must have below characteristics:
  • Prototype does not represent complete functionality or low level details
  • Prototype are easy to change
  • Prototype is a throw-away deliverable, knowing that initial prototype matures to a satisfying idea or minimal viable product
Types of Prototyping
  • Paper Prototyping: Prototypes are created on paper
  • Video/Audio Prototyping: Prototypes include video and/or audio demonstration of how the product might potentially work in a real environment
  • Digital Prototypes: In some contexts, paper or video prototypes are given shape by building them using digital tools like Photoshop, Axure or other prototyping tools, which are known as digital prototypes

Key stakeholders for different prototypes include immediate colleagues, product managers, development and QA teams, potential clients, existing clients, investors or others who may find benefit in initial designs.
Research Based Approach to Prototyping
 Serial vs Parallel Prototyping (Image Source: Steven P. Cow)
Prototyping can be performed using two approaches listed below:
1. Serial Prototyping
This is an approach where only one prototype is created for a design problem and critiqued. Sometimes, multiple prototypes could be created, but design critique happens one at a time by hiding other designs, without comparing multiple prototypes.
  • Only one prototype is critiqued at a time
  • Stakeholders review the prototype and provide suggestions
  • Stakeholders are forced to think from the perspective of the only available prototype and may not get diverse ideas to critique
2. Parallel Prototyping
This is a prototyping approach where three or more prototypes are created for a particular design problem and critiqued at the same time.  
  • Multiple prototypes are critiqued at a time
  • Features from multiple prototypes can be used to create a new prototype
  • Stakeholders can choose from multiple prototypes
The Power of Parallel Prototyping
Steven P. Cow's team conducted an extensive study to understand parallel approach and found that parallel prototyping leads to better design results, diverse ideas, and increased efficiency.
Parallel approach is beneficial compared to serial approach as it facilitates comparison and collaboration. Other benefits include:
  • Promotes individual exploration
  • Feature sharing among multiple prototypes
  • Promotes team work and consensus among prototypes
Asking right questions early in the product development cycle helps in identifying gaps and ironing out complex flows. Parallel prototyping approach might be the way forward to build good prototypes.
Scott Klemmer, Associate Professor at University of California, San Diago once said:
Prototypes are questions. Ask lots of them
Are you asking right questions?