A Prototype Process Used to Test and Define the User Experience

Yesterday’s Bold and Irreverent Corporate punchline of “Innovate or Die!” barely gets a yawn today. Instead, it’s been eclipsed by the old Nike slogan “Just Do it!” Like holding your heart rate above 120 for a half-hour, Innovation is hard work. In order to focus the process, it’s important to shed sticky paradigms, ask good questions, understand the problem deeply and try lots of new things quickly in hopes of failing early and often, for the purpose of aligning with key stakeholders.

One approach to testing ideas and inventions early, is through prototypes. Once the problem has been defined, prototypes can be effective in communicating a vision of what the user experience or product attributes might look like to solve the problem. When using a prototype to communicate the value of an experience to the stakeholder, we have found video prototyping to be particularly effective.

We used to simply draw storyboards (Hollywood style) until we determined it was too difficult to capture important nuances. Video Storyboards enable the core team to visualize the concept quickly, have meaningful discussions about the merits of the concept and quickly iterate until we land on something the team loves. We shoot what we call a ‘low resolution scenario’ of users engaged with the product. The interactions might be with a whiteboard drawing or a simple mock up, whatever is minimally necessary for viewers to understand the interaction. Add a voice track, visual effects, and edit down to a short video clip, ranging from seconds to a little over a minute. The clips are reviewed internally and edited before reviewing with the customer.

These brief video storyboards do 3 things very well:

1. SPEED: Allow us to put visuals in the hands of our customers quickly. We’ve been able to outline the parameters of the storyboards and write the scripts the first day. Shoot the second day, edit on the third, and review with the customer on the fourth.

2. CLARITY: Eliminate the gaps found with traditionally hand drawn storyboards. After another confusing meeting discussing the latest round of storyboards, we decided to visualize the concepts using video. The resulting conversation with the customer was focused on the functionality and user experience, eliminating all hand waving and elaborate descriptions.

3. EFFICIENCY: The low cost, simple visual nature of the storyboards allow us to go through multiple iterations in a shorter period of time compared to traditional storyboards.

When should a company use video storyboards? They are ideally used early in the product development process to help the team define the nature of the solution. It is important to point out that they will not eliminate the need for user testing, but they can be used to calibrate the project team and test stakeholder interest. There are several scenarios where it would make sense to use this process, here are a few instances where we highly recommend using video storyboards:

• If the proposed product has a limited physical interface (or possibly no interface)
• If interacting with the interface is only a part of the engagement with the product
• If the engagement process is unnecessarily complex and needs to be simplified

People say that a picture is worth a thousand words… if that’s the case, think about what a video is worth. Forrester Research says a minute of video is worth 1.8 million words. Now that’s a much more valuable way of prototyping!

If you’re interested in seeing some of the early concept creation we have done for our clients using this tool, let us know! We would welcome the opportunity to share these examples with you. Or, if you’re looking for a skilled team to help you innovate by enhancing the user experience, validating the technical feasibility, or maximizing the business viability of your idea, call us or reach out via email today!

Kent is our Principal Designer focusing on User Experience (UX) and User Interfaces (UI). He works well with diverse teams working to resolve complex problems with several stakeholders. He is incredibly talented at illustrating / visualizing scenarios, physical concepts, environments, and UIs.

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