The power of prototypes in building great applications

David Suydam | July 24, 2014

“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” – Abraham Maslow

Abraham Maslow (yup, the guy who created Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) discovered “The Law Of The Instrument”, and you’ve probably experienced it yourself many times. It’s what happens when you treat all of your problems the same way because you only have one tool at your disposal. Sound familiar?

Your organization can suffer from this mentality too, and the results can be disastrous. Complexities and subtle differences from one customer group to another are ignored because the off-the-shelf software you’re using simply isn’t configured to address them.

This can happen when developers aren’t able to scale or modify software, but it’s equally the result of inadequate research into the business problem itself and the customers who will use the solution.

Research first, solution second

In our last post, we covered how important a well-run ideation session is to the final product, especially in the context of software development. Without it, valuable insights can be lost and the risk of an inadequate or inefficient solution grows significantly.

The same is true of the research and prototyping that happens post-ideation.

Using the Personas that were developed in the ideation stage, demographic research should be conducted to verify the assumptions that were made about who the various end-users are and how they will interact with the app or platform being developed.

Simultaneously, it is a best practice to conduct competitive analysis and evaluate the state of the industry as well as the emerging trends that will shape it in the future.

Core to every solution is the appropriate research to help guide the direction and recommendations to our clients. We uncover facts and evidence to support our direction as well as inspiration to help shape an innovative solution.

In Maslow’s hammer and nail metaphor, these are the first steps to understanding if the problem you face is actually a nail, and if so, is that a hammer you’re holding? You might need to rethink your strategy if it turns out your biggest competitor has just developed a new, smart-hammer.

The power of a prototype

The biggest trend in real estate sales right now is the use of professional home stagers. Not only are there plenty of companies that will do this for you, many of the savviest real estate agents are beginning to offer this service for free in exchange for the opportunity to list your house.

The reason is simple. People have a really hard time seeing what a house could look like when it’s filled to overflowing with all of the owner’s furniture and possessions. Potential buyers end up being put off by something as simple as someone else’s taste in art.

That’s why building a prototype – even a very simple one – can be a powerful tool to check for understanding and direction.

Prototypes for applications

“The major benefit to the prototyping efforts is the discussion that follows. It’s an opportunity to bring a client’s idea to life – what we call ‘The Art of the Possible’ – generating excitement and helping us to refine on the right direction,” says Alison Tracey, Solutions Lead at Architech. “Too often, there is potential for misinterpretation, and the prototype eliminates that confusion.”

With a “clickable demo” (often a series of linked images that illustrate the flow of an app or platform) stakeholders can physically see both the problem and the potential solution at the same time. Sometimes a true “functional prototype” (a working but incomplete model) is needed so that folks in the field have a chance to kick the tires and provide further feedback.

Regardless of which method is chosen, the goal is the same: If you can see what is being proposed, you can understand the impact it has on the end-user.

Eyes wide open or shut?

One of the biggest reasons companies fail to develop solutions that work isn’t that they’ve released bad software; it’s that they didn’t dig deep enough to discover what the challenge was, how it related to their overall goals and how the solution would be embraced by users.

We believe that bringing great ideas to life means, in part, that we help our clients keep their eyes on the big picture as well as the smallest details. Our solutions are built on a thorough understanding of your business, your goals, your clients and your people. In other words, we will never use a hammer if your problem isn’t a nail.

Contact us to discover what’s possible for your organization – we’d love to hear from you.

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