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Creating the right prototype

Part 1 - Humans, not users

  • 5 min

In this three part series, our Lead UX Designer Matt Jackson will guide you through the steps to creating not just the right prototype, but a great product.

What is prototyping about?

There is often a big misconception with clients and partners that prototypes are finished products. But this is not the case, we believe in the power of tangibility. Prototypes are tools to learn and advance ideas, they reveal so much that mere theory cannot.

"Don't think of it as failure, think of it as designing experiments through which you're going to learn" - Tim Brown, CEO, IDEO

When prototyping, we fail early and often. We can spend a surprising amount of time not knowing the answer and this can be uncomfortable. but still, we forge ahead.

During this process we can demonstrate ideas by simply putting something tangible in the hands of those humans we are designing for (as well as stakeholders).

Learning from prototypes

It's important to remember when creating prototypes that by only focusing on success, you are missing out on a wealth of information available in failures.

Prototyping is about learning, not getting it right the first time.

Failures can teach a multitude of lessons and give valuable insight into how to improve in the future. Only by observing, listening, thinking, building, and refining our way to an answer do we get closer to designing and building great products.

Step 1. Humans, not users

At the start of a project, one of the first questions a team should ask is "who is it that we are designing for?"

I'll help you out, you're designing a product for humans, not users. When we use the term 'users' we loose a connection to who we are designing for. When you talk about humans you get that connection back, you realise that who you are designing for have lives. You can put yourselves into another humans shoes and explore how a product will fit into their lives. It is this empathy that will help you identify what it is that stops people from performing the behaviours we, as designers, seek.

Immerse yourself in the business and speak to humans. It is imperative to understand what it is they have a problem with.

In a fast paced project you need to get information from these humans, fast. Charles Liu has come up with 3 Better Questions to Ask that you need to kickstart your thinking and understand the problems humans are having. 

Customers do not use your product. They hire it.

Know that you don't have to come up with personas and understand what brand of shower gel a person uses or what kind of umbrella they like. Once you have spoken to uses you can begin to paint a picture of the job that humans are hiring your business or product to do. Personas, generally in the form of demographics, do not bring a team closer to understanding a customer’s consumption, or non-consumption, of a product. The characteristics of a Persona (someone’s age, sex, race, and weekend habits) does not explain why they drank the milkshake or ate a snickers.

At Etch we use the Jobs To Be Done framework. This helps us understand that despite solutions and technologies, human motivation changes very slowly. In some cases, human motivation hasn’t changed at all.

"I need to get this package from A to B with confidence, certainty and speed." - Julius Caesar

This is example of a Job To Be Done that has been around for a VERY long time. The likes of Julius Caesar had to do the first job often, and he hired men and horses to solve it. Today we have UPS. The job hasn’t changed.

When you first speak to users, make the conversation about life and aims, not the product you are building. This enables you to understand what it is they aiming for in their life. Understand how can our product help them reach their goal.

In Part II of this series, I’ll dive into detail about setting the stage for your prototype

Stay tuned — and stay human. 

About Matt Jackson

Lead Designer of Etch’s Behavioural Design team. The focus of Matt’s work lies in the conception, design and development of digital experiences here at Etch, employing simple and elegant solutions to design problems. Back home in Wales, he’s considered the most highly regarded Macaroni Cheese connoisseur.