Years ago, determined to find and fix less than ideal customer experiences, my team and I started a research and data analysis expedition. Armed with insights from our findings and expert knowledge, we set about making process changes to reduce customer effort when managing their account. After months of requirements planning and coding changes, we launched the new process. We discovered, post-implementation, what we created did not change the customers’ experience. It was not the idea itself; it was the overwhelming number of options within the process that mattered.

Do you want to innovate and create lasting change? If so, I encourage you to focus less on what you know and more on what you don’t. In other words, before you expend a great deal of time, energy, and resources on the new process, product, or idea, listen and learn through experimenting, also known as prototyping.

Indeed, many organizations foster “expertise” cultures, where analysis, PowerPoint decks, countless meetings, competing resources, and changing specifications rule. Yes, you need quality data and a clear understanding of the opportunities in front of you. However, without curiosity, learning, and collaboration, what you create may not fulfill the people’s (customers, clients, employees, and other stakeholders) needs or expectations. For this reason, prototype-driven design is a great way to learn as you create.

From Experting to Experimenting

Until recently, many products were built using specification-driven design. Accordingly, detailed design brief documents captured expert recommendations and requirements that served as the most significant inputs to a new team, process, or product. Conversely, prototype-driven design happens through hands-on experimenting. Before you delve into an exercise of capturing specs–how it will work, other processes impacted, materials needed, costs to develop–first create and “test-drive” it.

The quickest and easiest way to test desirability, usability, and effectiveness is by visualizing and creating prototypes. It is easier for humans to understand how something works when we employ our sense of sight or touch to experience it. For example, if you want to develop a new process, use a flowchart to provide a visual. If you’re going to design a new product, a physical mock-up allows people to touch, feel, and perhaps use it. If creating an app, conceptual storyboards help bring the experience to life.

The Value of Prototypes

According to the Interaction Design Foundation, there are five steps to the design process: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test. As part of the 5-step non-linear design thinking process, prototyping means providing others with a simple, rough version of the idea. You can use it to observe, capture, and measure performance and effectiveness based on how people interact and react to the overall design. Tim Brown, Board Chair at IDEO, explained, “early prototypes should be fast, rough, and cheap, which creates the opportunity to discover new and better ideas at minimal costs.” Furthermore, building and testing rough drafts early in the design process allows you to fail fast, minimizing costs, time, energy, and negative experiences.

  • Go for it. Don’t overthink it; use whatever you can get your hands on to build, draw, create.
  • Go fast. The longer it takes, the more attached to the idea you become, making it difficult to hear and respond to the feedback you receive.
  • Pay attention. Listen and learn about the strengths and weaknesses of the idea and the value it creates.
  • Keep people at the center. Remember whom you’re designing for and why. Test against needs and expectations, then make continuous improvements.

To summarize, learn from my example and use prototyping early to clarify needs, expectations, and design. Innovation and creating lasting change start with a new perspective. With increased uncertainty and ambiguity, empathy (understanding the needs, desires, and expectations of employees and customers) yields clarity. So, as you embark on your transformation journey, do not be afraid to experiment and learn.

Donyale Grisson is the founder and CEO of Journey Consulting Group LLC. Through leadership consulting and coaching services, she partners with clients to develop the human element of strategy and design change.