A prototype will get your idea out there faster. Many of us played with LEGOs as children, building our own dreamworlds brick by colorful brick.
As adults, however, we do most of our inventing in our heads long before we employ our hands to realize our ideas concretely.
Yet thinking with our hands, or prototyping, is a powerful strategy for design thinkers as it can generate better results faster. By actually building an idea (with materials, rather than with only our minds), we quickly learn its limitations and see the many possible directions we can take it.
Thus prototyping shouldn’t come at the end of the process but at the beginning!
The earlier you start prototyping, the more rudimentary your prototypes will be. But consider that a ball from a roll-on deodorant and a plastic butter dish was all it took to prototype Apple’s first mouse!
Once you have a prototype, you should put it out in the real world and observe how people use it. This way, you can quickly discern whether it “works” or how people actually would use it.
When T-Mobile started social groups via mobile phones, for example, the company launched two prototypes simultaneously and observed how users interacted with each. Thus the company was able to get a deeper understanding of which solutions customers found more compelling.
The reason prototyping is so powerful is because it occupies all three spaces of innovation at once.
It is always inspirational, in that using and observing a prototype gives birth to new ideas and potential improvements. Playing with a prototype is a way to test and develop your idea. In other words, it fits solidly in the ideation space.
And prototyping demonstrates the viability of an idea, showing that it can actually work and that it belongs in the marketplace, discoveries that live in the implementation space.