Step 4 of The Design Process: Develop Solutions (Prototyping)

prototyping design thinking

In the schools I’ve worked and have been given real agency to make decisions, between one and 5 meetings are usually set aside for the work of choosing a course of action. Always the conclusion of this set of meetings is a final decision. The stakes are high as everyone in the room knows one final answer will come out of those meetings and the decisions made will have a long-term impact whether it is curricular, instructional, policy, budget and so on. High stakes coupled with no prototyping or any real rigor of process has meant that the primary decision makers and stakeholders revert to the beliefs we hold about whatever topic we are working on. Sometimes the results are great, but across the arc of my career, those moments feel more lucky than expected. Prototyping you team’s best ideas and evaluating their ability to solve a problem after implementation is one giant way to take back control of the process and to know that you can expect success when facing a problem. The value of this step can’t be understated.

A quick reminder of the Design Process:

  1. Define the Problem (Verification vs. Validation)
  2. Collect Information (Nodes and Links)
  3. Brainstorm and Analyze (Modeling or Ideation)
  4. Develop Solutions (Prototyping)
  5. Solicit Feedback (Closed Loop)
  6. Improve Your Design (Iterations, Iterations, Iterations!)

Prototyping is design step where a few key design solutions are chosen to make completely and to be tested in as real of a setting as possible. That is multiple fully functioning solutions are written, fabricated or crafted and those design solutions are put into as real of a testing as is possible. Prototypes are not merely conceptual, are not models and are rarely made of cardboard. Prototypes are the real deal.

The key concept of Step Three is to prototype more than one idea with the intention of learning from a series of prototypes the one to carry forward, yet this may be the hardest part of the design process for school and school districts to carry out as time, money and resources are always so limited, so precious. Prototyping multiple solutions or designs is meant to evaluate your designs in practice to evaluate which one solution should go forward, if none actually solve your problem or if a tweak to one is just right. It is that tweak of one prototype that might exemplify what people mean by rapid iteration. A tighter loop of prototyping, evaluating and changing the design to head right back into prototyping rather than going through the entire process over. Engineers do this well, and going through many designs in a day during lab testing isn’t unheard of. This tighter loop of rapid iteration can work to keep the design ideas flowing when brainstorming isn’t enough.  

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