Test your assumptions
In Tim Brown’s Design Thinking manifesto for organisations, ‘Change by Design’, IDEO’s co-CEO writes about the value of giving form to ideas quickly through prototyping. It is clear that Tim attributes much of IDEO’s success to their proficiency in the art of making ideas tangible and even argues that the “time to first prototype” could be used as a metric for how innovative the team is. My favourite quote from the book provides a good lesson on the fidelity required to render a prototype useful:
“A successful prototype is not one that works flawlessly, it is the one that teaches us something about our objectives, our process and about ourselves”.
I see this as encouragement that prototypes do not need to be used to prove that an idea will work. They should be used to teach us something about a concept and help us resolve the ‘big unanswered’ questions that come up in the early stages of the project. Hesitancy to ‘think with our hands’ and build ‘ugly’ models increase the risk that these questions become cumbersome payloads that get carried through the product development phases.
If your concerns relate to potential user behaviour, get a prototype made and put it into the users’ hands as soon as you can. If it’s about technical performance, design a suitable test method to generate data that will improve your understanding. Let the test results and user feedback answer your questions and feed the learnings into your next iteration. Go through this loop as many times as required to get the confidence you need to progress to the next phase of the project.