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What Is It?

Rapid prototyping helps us to test aspects of a potential new solution in the real world in order to learn how the users of this new solution might respond.


In the SLab, the prototype should also be a fractal of a larger, systemic intervention in the whole system even though it is intervening in a small part. Prototyping can test whether or not the intervention is likely to shift the larger system that we’re working on changing. Rapid prototyping is a way to actively learn through small experiments.


It allows us to make small bets, to take intelligent risks, and to use micro-failures as learning in order to make much smarter and informed decisions when it comes time to scale a solution. Prototyping also makes it much easier and clearer about when to make a major pivot in an approach when experimentation shows that the solutions that we’ve conceived of are not going to solve the problem that we’re working on. Prototyping is different than a pilot or a program. It is small, quick, low risk, and cheap and has a very low investment of time and resources. Prototypes are about building to think; they aren’t precious, and help us to move quickly and not fall in love with our ideas before we know if they are actually good ones.

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When Is It Used?

  • To frame and test questions about the functionality, efficacy, viability, desirability, feasibility, and impact of your potential solution

  • To reveal questions that need to be answered

  • To deepen your understanding of the challenge space and users.

  • To quickly and cheaply test and refine ideas or solutions.

  • To inspire (yourself, and others) by showing your vision

  • To test assumptions

  • To engage users/stakeholders

More Info

  • Sarah Hay - Slow and Steady Design

  • Moura Quayle - UBC School of Public Policy + Global Affairs

  • States of Change

  • IDEO - Field Guide to Human-Centred Design

  • This is Service Design Thinking and Doing

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