It’s officially March, which means we are halfway through the run of our fellowship (gasp!), and we are racing through to the end of ideation. As we write, the fellows are prototyping and piloting two top ideas and beginning to set our sights on the implementation phase.
The pace of the fellowship, and that of innovation writ large, begs an application of rapid prototyping for our solutions. Rapid prototyping is discussed at length in our HFA curriculum and we’ve received further guidance by studying the lean startup methodology as well as Ideo.org’s Design Kit content and rapid prototyping course with Acumen.
We’re collaborating today to reflect upon what it’s been like to create rapid prototypes for a highly technical solution coming from our engineering backgrounds.
Rapid prototyping definitely doesn’t come naturally to perfectionists like us. Having been trained as engineers, we were taught to follow the classic waterfall design progress below (left) from Instructional Design:
Rapid prototyping, on the other hand, embraces the “fail fast” mentality of pushing out more unrefined minimum viable products (MVPs) and getting them in the hands of users to solicit rapid feedback and rapid redesign.
We’ll admit that we grimaced a little bit when we built our first-pass MVP out of paper and felt fabric to evaluate the design of one of the 2016-17 fellows’ two ideas. But it ended up telling us a lot about form factor and dimensions, and provided something physical for tinkering. It was also hard for us to fight the urge to perfect our products and get all the details right before sending them out for feedback, especially when our access to stroke patient users is finite. Not surprisingly, we’ve found that being comfortable with lower fidelity prototypes has saved us a lot of time and has given us more insight into how we should re-design, re-build, and re-test in the next iterative cycles. And though we’re cautious not to demand too much time or energy from our user pool, we’ve also learned that new users and unexpected opportunities to connect with stroke patients emerge as we broker more connections and progress in our fellowship.
We’ve also been creating both vertical and horizontal prototypes in parallel. We have an in-depth functional prototype that we rapidly develop by testing a few features at a time. We also have a separate usability prototype for form factor and usability testing. Having these processes run in parallel allows us to more rapidly iterate based on the distinct goals of each prototype, but we also learned it is important to iterate in sync. For instance, re-designing a hardware component may mean a re-design of the product for usability, and vice versa, so we try to touch base and roll out our iterations together (which sometimes happen multiple times a day!).
Another aspect of our rapid prototyping has involved the use of 3D printing technology to rapidly generate prototypes in-house. We have an entourage, if you will, of three different 3D printers and it’s been really incredible to go from CAD file to physical object in a matter of hours. We do, however, remind ourselves often to “measure twice, print once” so as to not get too carried away with how “rapid” our prototyping could become. It’s also sometimes easy to skip around steps, but the ordered process of paper to CAD drawing to printed model helps us avoid unnecessary mistakes.
Rapid prototyping has been an exciting adventure for us, and our day-to-day work—and that of our colleagues—is all the more interesting because of it. Here’s to failing fast and winning big!