An Event Apart: Prototyping The Scientific Method of Business

by December 12, 2017

In his Prototyping: The Scientific Method of Business presentation at An Event Apart in Denver, Daniel Burka described how to use different forms of prototyping to create value for businesses based on his work with Google Ventures. Here's my notes from his talk:

  • When you ask CEOs, heads of product, etc. "what keeps you up at night?" you hear very different answers than what companies perceive as design issues. This is a big concern: how can designers work on key issues within a company instead of on the side on non-critical design tasks.
  • Design done right can be the scientific method for business. People within a company have lots of ideas and often talk past each other. Designers can take these ideas, give them shape as prototypes, and allow the company to learn from them.
  • The best thing you can learn as a designer is how to be wrong faster. Instead of building just one idea (that a group aligns on), test a number of ideas quickly especially the crazier ones.
  • Use design to recreate the benefits of a lab so you can be effective faster. Lightweight techniques can be built up to create a more robust process.

Basement Lab

  • You don't need anyone other than yourself to make something appear real really quickly. Take the inkling of an idea and turn it into a rough prototype as quickly as possible. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a prototype is worth a thousand meetings.
  • As a designer, you can make someone’s idea look very very real in a very short amount of time.
  • A prototype is the start of a conversation. They should "feel" like the real thing but be bad enough that you're willing to throw them away.

Highschool Lab

  • The next level of using design is testing business hypotheses on realistic customers. This is the secret weapon for companies as it helps them set direction and “see around corners.”
  • Measure twice before you decide to build something. Talk to your target users, run them through a prototype (like the one made in basement lab) to get an accurate measurement.

Industrial Grade Lab

  • Gather the right team: the prototype gets made by a group and then tested with actual customers.
  • For this, you can run design sprints to make progress. The first step in a design sprint is to gather a team (designers, customer service reps, engineers, product leaders, and more). Test hypothesis that are high risk and high reward.
  • Create time pressure: condense a sprint to one week and schedule customer interviews for Friday to keep things moving.
  • Recruit the right people so your feedback comes from your target audience. A short screener form will help you ensure the right people come to your tests.
  • Focus the sprint on the big risk issues.
  • Sketch out ideas individually. Don't do group brainstorms: they don't allow you articulate ideas in depth and get often dominated by the loudest voice. Don't do group voting, let people evaluate concepts on their own through weighted voting. CEOs and heads of product also get super votes to mirror the real organization.
  • Run quick, credible research: when testing with actual customers, look for patterns of behavior. You need 3-4 instances.
  • It is ok to fail when doing design sprints. You learn what not to build and save money as a result.