I want to take a minute to talk about prototypes. When most people think of prototypes, they think of product samples used in what I call Focus Group Fashion Shows. The prototypes are paraded out on the "runway", and consumers got on which they like best. The problem is that this is not the context in which they ill be used, so this type of research seldom yields realistic results. I tend to think bout prototypes differently.
Early on, the prototype takes on a very different function in my work. A the beginning of a project, prototypes are used primarily as thinking tools. Very early prototypes are often crude, but they allow the team to get a sense of what it will be like to handle a product or experience a service. They help us to recreate and experience the consumer's motivations as they choose what they will buy - or rebuy.
As the project evolves, the prototype also evolves and becomes a tool for eliciting feedback about specific benefits the product will offer. For this reason, they usually contain attributes that are pushed to extremes to understand the extent to which the benefits they offer are important. Prototypes used in this manner are very good at getting consumers to make trade-off decisions. The best result is to have very different embodiments that consumers have a very difficult time deciding between. What that means is that very different sets of benefits are highly important, which may not have been uncovered in traditional consumer research. The information this gives us is that the final product needs to judiciously incorporate the benefits that each can offer.
However, this blending must be accomplished judiciously. Rather than patching features together like a Frankenstein, we need to think about which benefits each set of attributes delivered. We then need to think about how to embody multiple sets of benefits, but ensure that a cohesive whole product is not lost in the process.
In the end, the final product may not fully resemble any of the earliest prototypes. However, if they have been used appropriately, they will have ensured that the final products will be comprised of attributes that will deliver desired benefits from within an appropriate context. This is far more likely to yield a good market result than any focus group fashion show.
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