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PA OPINION

Build don’t talk – the power of prototyping

Despite its ubiquity, Microsoft PowerPoint doesn’t always offer the best presentations - it’s often misused and tries to serve too many audiences. That’s why at our Digital Innovation Lab, we try to avoid it as much as possible.

Rapid prototyping provides a much richer, emotional, and engaging way for us to share ideas with clients. Prototyping is at the heart of our ‘don’t just talk about it, build it’ philosophy, which has taught us a lot over the years.

It doesn’t have to look perfect

We always look to move quickly from an idea to a tangible prototype so clients can understand the business value of emerging technology and how it can solve their specific problem. As a result, some of the prototypes we produce, and especially those that involve a physical device, have a certain Heath Robinson quality to them. This doesn’t matter. As long as the prototype communicates the value of the idea, everyone can look past the rough edges and we can get valuable feedback quickly.

A little theatre goes a long way

One way of overcoming the visual limitations of a rapid prototype is to create a little bit of theatre when demonstrating. This doesn’t require blockbuster special effects. Dressing the demo area to hint at the prototype’s real world environment, creating illustrated storyboards, graphics, or cartoons, and using props can all bring the user journey to life.

Rehearsal is vital

A good prototype demonstration needs to be well prepared and rehearsed. We always practise how to tell our story in the demo environment, focusing on creating a narrative that doesn’t miss the technical elements. Practising in front of colleagues and getting their feedback is a good way to make sure the message comes across and the demonstration looks slick.

Check the tech

We’ve learned, to our cost, the risks of trying to demonstrate prototypes away from our own office. Event spaces and client premises sometimes only have patchy Wi-Fi, and some corporate networks will simply block unknown applications completely. If we haven’t adequately tested the network at the demonstration site, we make sure our connected prototypes will work with our own mobile 4G hotspot.

Wireframes are a good place to start

Most prototypes need some sort of app or web interface to show the user experience. Due to short prototyping timescales, there’s never enough time to create fully-functioning software. Wireframes simulate the functionality we need to bring the experience to life, without all the back-end coding.

Use existing developer kits and resources

Sometimes, prototypes demonstrate end-to-end systems that link smart devices with user interfaces and back-end data dashboards. We have to go beyond wireframes to show these systems. To speed things up, we use tools like the AWS IoT Platform, Google Vision API, Facebook Messenger Platform and Alexa Voice Service. We don’t waste time building when something good enough already exists.

Agile is the way

Finally, the only way we could deliver prototypes in just a couple of weeks is to follow an Agile development methodology. As well as ensuring tight timescales are met, it’s great for team morale. And our Digital Innovation Lab is more like an agile start-up than a traditional R&D department when it comes to prototyping.

DIGITAL INNOVATION LAB. Touch tomorrow's technology today.

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