Low cost prototypes

What is a prototype?

A prototype is something we make to test our solution. By the time you start to create a prototype, it’s really important you have completely agreed the problem that you’re trying to solve. As your prototype is a way to test your idea, it should be the simplest version of the solution. Meaning, no code (tools that mean you don’t need a developer, but some understanding of how it works will help) can be really useful.

Start with the objective

This may seem a little obvious, we all have our objectives in mind when we start something right? What this really means is taking the time to make sure that everyone working on the project is on the same page. Take a breath and agree what 1, 2, or 3 things have to be achieved from this project.

Is there something that already goes someway to doing what you need?

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel – especially when you are making a prototype version of something at low or no cost. Once you have the agree 1,2, or 3 objectives for the project. Take the time to break these down into their parts.

For example; one of your objectives is to develop a simplified way for someone to complete a task they already do, perhaps draft a report. Could the new tool be set up as a form or survey questions to help guide people through the process of drafting a report? Or maybe they will need to search for information about the impact of their work? In both cases, there are tools that a free to use (or very low cost) that you could use to build a prototype.

It may even be that your organisation has developed something in the past that could go some of the way to reaching your objectives with a little tweak here and there. Before you run down the road to develop something new, take a moment to pause, look around and take note of what’s there ๐Ÿ™‚

Woman on a carpet meditating.

What’s the first part that you’d like to test?

This is especially important when you are building your prototype. There are quite a few ways that new digital tools and prototypes can be built and tested before getting the help of a developer, by using what are called low code tools. Once you have got your head around them they can be a great way to test how things might work, and even to run on if you have a smaller budget. But, before you think about building the whole thing this way. Decide what you need to test first.

For example; You are building a tool to help people draft a report, you have decided that you need to create more than one form so that the people using your tool can do so more easily. Before you start building anything that will generate a draft of the report, you need to be sure that the tool gives the right guidance to the person using it, and asks them the right questions in order to do the job.

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Beware of going down rabbit holes

Rabbit holes are when you find yourself working so hard to get something to work when it might be best to stop, take a breath, and rethink.

It can be hard to recognise that the path you’re on is one down that rabbit hole, so here are a few questions to ask yourself.

In one day, does it look like the path is taking me in the right direction?
Am I creating other problems by going down this road?
Does it feel like it might be a solution?
Can I test the way this is going quickly and easily to be sure it’s the right route?

Be kind, be strict, and be okay with taking short trips in the wrong direction in order to find the right route.