The purposes of prototyping

In the argument of design, especially of design thinking, an overarching objective of prototyping is to get feedback and learn from building and implementing a product or service (Rodriguez & Jacoby, 2007; Lande & Leifer, 2009; Jensen et al., 2015).[1] However, prototyping has multiple functions and play different roles in different contexts (Beaudouin-Lafon & Mackay, 2007), and general purposes of prototyping are identified as three ways: exploration, evaluation and communication (Blomkvist & Holmlid, 2011; e.g., Schneider, 1996; Buchenau & Suri, 2000; Smith & Dunckley, 2002; Voss & Zomerdijk, 2007). For this research, however, replace the term, communication with ‘persuasion’ (e.g., Sanders, 2013) as communication is important also for exploration and evaluation. The word, communication is used to emphasise the communication with external stakeholders such as clients. Thus, ‘persuasion’ as Sanders (2013) uses is a less confusing term.Therefore, this research calls the three purposes exploration, evaluation and persuasion respectively. Communication is regarded as a factor underlying the achievement of the purposes. In some literature, the difference of purposes are emphasised in the terminology, piloting and prototyping, as the former mainly works for exploration and the latter for persuasion (e.g., NESTA, 2011).

Beaudouin-Lafon, M. & Mackay, W.E. (2007) Prototyping Tools and Techniques. In: A. Sears & J. A. Jacko eds. The Human-Computer Interaction Handbook: Fundamentals, Evolving Technologies and Emerging Applications. New York, CRC Press, pp.1017–1039.

Blomkvist, J. & Holmlid, S. (2011) Existing Prototyping Perspectives: Considerations for Service Design. In: Nordes. Helsinki, Finland. Available from: <> [Accessed 6 January 2016].

Buchenau, M. & Suri, J.F. (2000) Experience prototyping. In: Proceedings of the 3rd conference on Designing interactive systems: processes, practices, methods, and techniques. pp.424–433.

Jensen, M.B., Balters, S. & Steinert, M. (2015) Measuring Prototypes: A Standardized Qantitative Description of prototypes and Their Outcome for Data Collection and Analysis. In: DS 80-2 Proceedings of the 20th International Conference on Engineering Design (ICED 15) Vol 2: Design Theory and Research Methodology Design Processes,  Milan, Italy, 27-30.07.15.

Lande, M. & Leifer, L. (2009) Prototyping to Learn: Characterizing Engineering Students’ Prototyping Activities and Prototypes. In: Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA. Available from: [Accessed 28 July 2016].

NESTA (2011) Prototyping in Public Services.

Rodriguez, D. & Jacoby, R. (2007) Embracing Risk to Learn, Grow and Innovate.

Sanders, E.B.-N. (2013) Prototyping for the Design Spaces of the Future. In: L. Valentine ed. Prototype: Design and Craft in the 21st Century. London, Bloomsbury Academic, pp.59–74.

Schneider, K. (1996) Prototypes As Assets, Not Toys: Why and How to Extract Knowledge from Prototypes. In: Proceedings of the 18th International Conference on Software Engineering. ICSE ’96. Washington, DC, USA, IEEE Computer Society, pp.522–531. Available from: [Accessed 5 May 2016].

Smith, A. & Dunckley, L. (2002) Prototype evaluation and redesign: structuring the design space through contextual techniques. Interacting with Computers, 14 (6), pp.821–843.

Voss, C. & Zomerdijk, L. (2007) Innovation in experiential services: An empirical view. Citeseer.

[1]  Rodriguez and Jacoby (2007) assert that prototyping is “[a] process of accelerating feedback and failure” (p.57).

Case study: a book store changed by selling personalised selections of books

A book store in a rural area in Japan became swamped with orders just because of changing how to sell books.

One day, the owner attended a high school reunion and had a chat with his senior friends about the current difficult situation for running a book store. To support his business, some of them gave him 10,000 yen (£56) and told him to send a selection of books. He got a business idea from it, and started to sell the service online.

This action changed the value proposition of the book store from selling hard books to providing a personalised bespoke selection of books. He became a ‘concierge’ of the book store.

The lesson is that this change was made not by what he got but what he does. The scale might be not big, but I think this is the key essence of business model innovation.

Reference (in Japanese)

Literature review: Brown, T. (2008) Design thinking

This article is the introduction of the concept of design thinking that suggests a more crucial role of designers than just managing the appearance products. The target reader of the introduction is mainly the senior managers and the management researchers.

His argument is based on the practice at IDEO, where he himself is CEO. Through the cases in the agency, he describes key aspects of design thinking such as human-centredness, collaboration and prototyping.

[zotpressInText item=”{9N7V2I6Z}” format=”%a% (%d%, %p%)” and=”and”] had also published a book about the practice of IDEO in 2001. In the book, most of the examples were about new product development. On the other hand, the main example in this article is a project of redesigning the procedure of nurses in a hospital. This suggests design is no longer only about designing physical objects but designing the whole context surrounding products and services.

Brown argues that, for this more holistic design, designers use design thinking and he calls those designers design thinkers. The design thinkers in his argument are not necessarily designers. He mentions Thomas Edison and Kingdom Brunel as the examples of design thinkers.

Some researchers on design management criticise that the argument by IDEO, or even the entire discourse of design thinking ignores the previous context of the design management research [zotpressInText item=”{NNJBZTPB}”]. Actually, for example, [zotpressInText item=”{TBTD8XTP}” format=”%a% (%d%, %p%)”] already used the term, human-centred design, and argued the expansion of the domain of design from products to projects, but there is no reference to his research in their arguments.

However, describing the designer’s approach through the examples of their actual design projects was seemingly successful to disseminate the concept, and more or less their terminology was effective to understand the key aspects of their approach as part of their practice. For instance, prototyping, which is an important concept in this research, is also one of the key terms of their argument. Through this term, they represent some of the key issues in managing innovation that need many academic concepts to describe such as wicked problems, reflection-in-action and boundary objects. This also makes it easier to imagine how actually designers behave and respond, which is in this case prototyping.

This obviously causes another theoretical problem. Because Brown heavily uses the examples of their own projects as CEO of IDEO, it arises a question whether their concepts really represent the practice of designers in general or not. Even part of the discourse of design thinking can be seen as an argument only about their practice [zotpressInText item=”{8X83DS2X}” and=”and”].

These theoretical issues could cast doubt on their claims, but it is clear that they attracted the attention to the competitive advantage of design practice from the outside of the design community and especially from the management community.

Acknowledging this theoretical background for the validity of their argument, there are still some important conceptual elements for this research. One is how Brown describes their design process. While he divides the process into three phases, inspiration, ideation and implementation, he makes the boundaries blur by using the concept of spaces to describe the process. This concept can be relevant to the concept of minimum viable product (MVP) in the study of business model development [zotpressInText item=”{C7N37VUV}”]. A key point of MVP is to implement a product for gaining feedback even if the product has been developed only to be minimally viable. In a sense, this is an attempt to remove the boundaries among inspiration, ideation and implementation, and take advantage of the learning from implementation for the earlier phases. The tactics using MVP might more intentionally try to make the iterative learning happen than the model of the design process proposed by Brown, but their concepts seem to resonate each other.

Another point is the holistic view of design thinking to see a problem and the solution.  In his concept, design thinking concerns three elements: technological viability, financial feasibility and emotional desirability. This is partly a criticism against more approach-specific strategies for innovation such as technology-centric approach. Instead of focusing on only one dimension of the possible solutions, he claims that design approach can take a balance among the three to optimise the result.

This holistic perspective is similar to what the business model approach tries to provide. [zotpressInText item=”{KE75M8ZH}” format=”%a% (%d%, %p%)” and=”and”] produces a tool of analysing business models called business model canvas, and the key advantage of the tool is to quickly see the snapshot of a business. This can help you to see the problems and assumptions in the business in a more neutral way from a holistic view. This approach assumes that there are opportunities for innovation might be in blind spots of the business.

These things in common suggests the familiarity between design thinking approach and business model approach to manage innovation. Although the origins of the two approaches are seems to be different; design thinking is from a practice of design, and business model is from a managerial background. However, both of them seek a way of identifying and solving problems from a more holistic approach. Connecting the two can develop a more comprehensive understanding and framework for managing innovation.

Bibliographic information

Brown, T. (2008) Design thinking. Harvard Business Review, 86 (6), pp.84–92.


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Design Thinking v The Learn Startup

I’ve been thinking about combining lean startup principles, business model canvas (or lean canvas) and Lego serious play (or I would say design thinking), then I found a research paper seemingly tightly relevant to the subject.

Through the literature review and the comparison of the process models, it analyses the similarity and difference between them and seeks a way to merge the two strategies.

Probably as my research interest is basically in prototyping processes (or a process of testing ideas), it might be a different way to deal with the relationship between “iteration” in design thinking and “pivot” in lean startup. In that article, they are regarded as something similar to each other as strategy. However, “iteration” is usually mentioned as a part of the process of incremental improvement (this expression could be controversial as design thinking is also argued as a way of producing radical innovation, but basically the concept of iteration is from an argument against linear process or waterfall process as a conceptual model of product development process), but “pivot” is a radical change of the direction of product development.

This point probably is needed to be further discussed. As the concept of “design thinking” works as a marketing tool for design innovation consultancies, the term ‘iteration’ is sometimes used as a way or method for guaranteeing the discovery of an innovation opportunity in any case, but the possibility hardly can be guaranteed in the real world. It can reduce (or embrace) the risks of failure, but there is still a possibility not to be able to find an innovative solution. This aspect of design thinking makes the concept of iteration confusing.

But anyway, I also think merging the strategies could produce a new strategy to tackle difficulty in managing innovation.