Rapid Prototyping is a term that basically covers several processes to gradually approach an end product with the help of prototypes. Design Thinking as a solution approach is based on the cooperation of experts from different disciplines in order to develop new, creative approaches and ideas. Rapid prototyping is a central aspect of effectiveness, but it is also the part of the process that is often overlooked.

Practical consequences of rapid prototyping and design thinking

During a rapid prototyping process, interactive prototypes are developed that can be quickly replaced or modified according to feedback from colleagues or users of the prototype. The method of the rapid prototyping process deals with different concept proposals for software and hardware prototypes and evaluates them. The development of a simulation or prototype for a future system can be very helpful, because it allows users to give appropriate feedback by means of a tangible object, which directly influences the further development.

Among developers, this method is already closely related to development environments based on User Interface Management Systems (UIMS) and various design support tools. The latter provide designers with various libraries and graphical interface elements to define the logical structure of the software, its look and feel. By using the method of rapid prototyping, the prototype has a greater correspondence with the final product than is the case with other methods, such as pure paper prototyping.

Some aspects or individual steps of this method are particularly noteworthy. They are necessary for success and explain the process of rapid prototyping in more detail:

1. adequate time management

Those who use the method should always allow sufficient time. If prototypes are to be evaluated by (test) users, all steps of the process must be planned, implemented and evaluated.

2. ensure required tools

It is necessary to gather the necessary hardware, including the appropriate tools needed to create interactive prototypes.

3. prototype development

Once these questions have been clarified, the development of the prototype itself follows (the following article shows the stumbling blocks in the development of prototypes).

4. acquisition of test users

Then the suitable users have to be selected who will test the prototype in practice. A whole range of users should be selected, representing the target group of future users. In addition, a moderator is needed to instruct the users and carry out the evaluation.

5. realistic task definition

There should always be realistic tasks for users to deal with while using and testing the prototype for the first time.

6. recording technology

It should also be ensured that recording facilities are available and working.

7. conduct of the meetings

The development team conducts each session. The moderator instructs the users to process the assigned tasks and to interact with the system and react accordingly. This can be done on site, or in separate locations using tools with video chat or web conferencing.

8. optional user interviews

Should this be necessary, further information can be obtained through interviews with users. This will be done after they have used the prototype sufficiently to gain relevant knowledge and experience. Also, developers and organizers should always have a debriefing with users – and this includes thanking them for participating.

9. identifying the problems

Implications for the design of the application should be summarized, recommendations for improvements made and communicated to the responsible teams if they are not responsible for implementation themselves. Video recordings can support the argumentation and evaluation. This decision must, of course, be made in advance (see point 7) so that appropriate recordings are available.

10. evaluation & implication

Implications for the design of the application should be summarized, recommendations for improvements made and communicated to the responsible teams if they are not responsible for implementation themselves. Video recordings can support the argumentation and evaluation. This decision must, of course, be made in advance (see point 7) so that appropriate recordings are available.

11. repetition

At the end of the rapid prototyping process there is not only the improvement of the prototype, but also a step back to the beginning of the process: If necessary, the whole process has to be repeated after appropriate changes have been made and a new prototype is available.

Conclusion:

In principle, developers should not spend too much time on developing the first prototype, since user feedback may lead to substantial changes having to be made afterwards. The prototype should therefore not be too mature, if only because the users could then perceive the prototype as an already finished product and shy away from urgently needed feedback. Also, features should never be integrated that raise user expectations that cannot be fulfilled in the real system. This includes, for example, reaction time or very sophisticated graphics.

Of course, the development team also needs to have appropriate software development skills. The prototype should therefore be able to be developed quickly in relation to the overall project, since this method is quite time-consuming – just think of the feedback rounds and further developments based on them – and requires more resources than a draft on paper alone.

However, the advantages of the rapid prototyping process are obvious and in most cases outweigh the costs or the effort:

  • Users receive a tangible demonstration of the system, its functionality and its benefits.
  • The process allows the rapid development of interactive software prototypes.
  • Prototypes created using this method support an evaluation supported by realistic key figures.
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