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Prototyping is worth a thousands pictures

From ideas to action. Give life to concepts through design thinking and prototyping.


I’m coming out from a 5-week course from ideo.org titled “From ideas to action” and I’m very excited to share my impression about this experience. It was an online course but very practical and concrete because the aim was exactly to generate creative ideas and to bring those ideas to life through practical skills and interactive processes. An online platform allows you to share with other people all over the world your project and collect opinions or working online in discussion groups.


Through the Design Thinking method we have worked exploring new ideas, going beyond the classical brainstorming, we have prototyped one of the chosen ideas and then learned about how to get faster results iterating on something tangible to generate a more desirable, feasible and viable idea.


I already knew about the design thinking process, but this time I’ve directly experienced how valid is the motto “fail early, to succeed sooner”. In the consultant work, we should never think that there isn’t time to make a prototype, because prototyping is not a waste of time at all, rather allow you to share and verify your idea and collect information about how to improve it.

“If a picture worth thousand words, a prototype worth a thousand picture”

– Brendan Boyle of ideo.org

But before learning in-depth about what it means to prototype an idea, I will give you some useful advice about the art of ideating and which techniques help for coming up with innovative ideas.

The art of ideating


Working in a group of people and brainstorming about a challenge is the starting point of ideating. Fundamental teaching I’ve learned from Brendan Boyle and that fascinated me a lot, is that playing and having fun are essential parts of the ideating phase. Indeed if there are a lot of people laughing means that is going very well. The ideation phase brings people to explore options in quantity, including, in the beginning, also the funniest and ridiculous ones, this is, according to the design thinking method a diverging phase.


Tools: An important piece of advice I give you to be effective in ideating is to be visual, sketch, write and shortly present your own idea in a group with a couple of sentences and then hang everyone’s ideas on a wall. This method will help you to stay focused, to have a limited time so everyone has the same opportunity to express himself and at the end, you can look at the great number of ideas to comment on them.

Take a look at how people at ideo.org ideate:

IDEO Brainstorming Video from IDEO U from IDEO U on Vimeo.

Digital brainstorming: If you work in a virtual team and you can’t meet the others in person, you can profit from some of the digital platforms for collaboration available online or simply launch an e-storming, asking people via mail, skype or Slack to propose their ideas about a theme.


Converging: once you have a long list of post-its on the wall use insights, judgments, and the group’s expertise to select one or two ideas and then diverge again. Ask yourself some questions: which are the ideas you love or you are passionate about? What are people’s needs and how do the ideas answer them? Which one is really risky or hard to implement? To facilitate the decision the group can vote, cluster, or combine the ideas for similarity, discussing with the team, listening to the other opinions, will guide you to choose which idea to prototype.


Now that you have all the necessary instruments to generate ideas, it’s time to give them life. Let’s start to discover how prototyping can have a very positive influence on your work!

Rapid Prototyping


Rapid and Raw Prototyping is one of the best ways to share and test your idea. Whether is about a product or a service, building something tangible helps to think about an idea and is an opportunity to learn early and inexpensively. Making your potential user interact with your prototype prompts great feedback and allows you to collect data to move your idea forward. Instead of spending a lot of time planning on your idea, you should build a prototype to have immediate feedback from real people.


Tools: A raw version of your idea can be a physical carton model, a sketch, a mock-up, a storyboard, a stand, advertising, or even a retail environment prototype. You will notice how showing to other people your idea physically, can provide you with a lot of useful information. Don’t be too attached to a particular design or style, is the value and the core idea have to be tested. You can also choose to test only a part of an idea or of a project, maybe the more difficult or the challenging one.

Here is an idea of what can be tested: a product, a process or an organizational system, a service, a shop business model…


During the sharing try to tell a story about the product, speaking to your stakeholders, but don’t try to sell your idea by defending yourself from critics, accept and collect them as feedback.
Once you have done confronting yourself with people, take time to reflect on feedback: make a list of them, prioritize them, and include them in the next steps.



After you have shared your idea and collect feedbacks with your prototype, it’s time to refine your idea! If you want to manage and control risks you have to repeat your idea testing more and more, checking your assumptions.
This could mean that you must repeat your process, listing your doubts and questions, finding the critical ones and maybe ideating and prototyping again. You can’t just stop after the first idea or prototype.


To converge again and test the solution, return to your question and analyze them through the lens of Design Thinking:
Is your idea desirable? Who will profit from it and how? Does it answer users’ needs?
How is it feasible? Is it simple to be realized with available materials and technologies? How can be affordable and good functional?
How is your idea viable? Can your idea be economically sustainable?


The answer to these questions will be your Way Forward to transforming your idea into action.

Let’s recap the main phase and goals of prototyping ideas:

  1. The Art of Ideating: Go beyond brainstorming – learn techniques for coming up with innovative ideas
  2. Rapid Prototyping: Make your ideas tangible, so you can gather feedback from others
  3. Iterating Your Way Forward: Get results faster by evolving your idea to be more desirable, feasible, and viable