Are Good Prototypes really Bad?

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Alan Hynes, PhD

The Executive Director at CCAN, the Collaborative Centre for Applied Nanotechnology writes about the concept of Design Thinking and its relevance to Horizon 2020 projects.

 

At a recent Industry Research & Development Group (IRDG) event in Ireland there was an interesting talk from one of the leaders in Design Thinking, Jeanne Liedtka. Design Thinking is a user-centred process for creating new innovative ideas and solving problems. There were many useful take-aways to put into practice, but for me two key ones were :

  • The need to “Stay in the Problem” for much longer than we normally do
  • The realisation that if you make prototypes too complete or too “good” then in fact you are LESS likely to receive valuable feedback from customers!

To focus on the latter topic, Jeanne gave great examples of how we as innovators and product developers must fight the natural desire to make prototypes as impressive as possible. The reason being, that if a prototype is too good then it prevents an open conversation with potential customers around what they would actually like to have in the final product. Instead we build what WE would like in the final product. In a Design Thinking approach, a really effective prototype will be rough and ready just enough to give the customer a clear idea of what we are trying to achieve but allow enough space in the engagement for the customer to engage in co-designing the product -which ultimately should be our goal if we want to meet customers’ needs.

Design Thinking for H2020

When considering the upcoming Horizon 2020 calls, the task of identifying with the ‘consumer’ should never be too far from our minds or our agendas. It is tempting, being the scientists and entrepreneurs who are driving the projects, to trust solely our own version of the potential benefits, and assume that we know best with regards to the interests of the community. An unpolished model with scope for development in concordance with a community of end users allows their input to be incorporated while still at the development stage, encouraging intelligent fast failure and real-world utility. This methodology drives an iterative process of development, in which the hypothesis is tested at every stage through engagement with the end-user.

In the H2020 context, where TRL levels are expected to be high and impact is measured in the metrics of economic growth and job creation, the absence of a fresh mindset in the form of consumer input could lead ultimately to sub-optimum products or solutions being produced. So how can we embrace the process of co-creation and design thinking in the H2020 context? Perhaps the first step is to broaden our focus at the brainstorming stage to more thoroughly consider the user problems which are being addressed by the project and strive to actively maintain that level of awareness throughout. In practical terms this could involve a 3 step process :

  1. Identification of the relevant interaction point – i.e. the user or consumer
  2. Optimisation of the interaction structure, in the form of surveys, experiential marketing and focus groups and the scheduling of these interactions at appropriate developmental stages
  3. Incorporating a feedback loop which integrates the voice of the customer into the ongoing evolution of the prototype.

Most importantly however we should ensure that the final prototypes from the project are not sufficiently over-specified or over-engineered to restrict evolution and design improvement once introduced to real market feedback.

Resources

Glantreo & Horizon 2020 Click here to see what our approach for Horizon 2020 is and why partner with us.

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