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Start with *Something*

Engaging Clients Early via Collaborative Prototyping

Once we have recognized an opportunity, and potential solutions, it’s time to validate the ideas and their potential impact. It is very helpful, if not necessary, to bring clients into the process so that they can contribute their ideas early, understand that it’s ok to be wrong initially, and see rapid results from the outset.

How do we:

a) Engage stakeholders early,

b) help them adopt an experimental mindset, and

c) bootstrap a concept into something resembling a first deliverable?

Through collaborative prototyping, we include clients at the very start of the design conversation, and also ease them into the idea that not everything will be right the first time. They have a say in the first iteration, and see something produced in real time, that will inform the design direction of the product or service.

In kicking off many design efforts, my team and I have experimented with different ways of co-creating with the client. Full-length Design Sprints afford many ways to do this, but are not always practical, necessary, or affordable. However, there are some great playbook methods therein, as well as others, for shorter engagements.

Some of these may include:

  • Sketch & vote concept ideation

  • Departmental design & demo sessions

  • At-the-table card-based “wireframing”

  • Group user narrative / storyboarding

  • Build-it-basic super lo-fi cardboard “products”

  • Service & touchpoint scripting & role playing

Any of these will create useful, if largely discardable, artifacts that we can look at together, make better decisions, test with users, and iterate further. The right exercise will depend on the people and solution at hand. In stories to come, we’ll look at some of these methods in depth.

The important concept here is that almost any informal, physical engagement we involve people in will get them out of the seat and working together on something useful from the outset of the project. There’s no need or purpose in disappearing behind the curtain and returning with “Look, our first concept!” While rough and disposable, collaborative prototyping enables everyone to participate in getting started, and sets the wheels in motion to make the final outcome happen.

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