When "?" starts to become "!"

The best approach to experimentation is prototyping: the willingness to test something by building it. In design thinking, be it for a product, a service, a shop or a distribution channel, there is an urge to actually sketch or build the idea. The earlier in the process that prototyping occurs, the better. The aim is not to create a working model, but instead to aid in the further exploration of possibilities.

David Kelley, Founder of IDEO, a famous design and innovation consulting firm, calls prototyping "thinking with your hands". He contrasts it with specification-led, planning- driven abstract thinking. The earlier we make our ideas tangible, the sooner we will be able to evaluate them, refine them, and identify the best way forward.

Early prototypes should be created quickly, roughly and cheaply, just developed enough to generate useful feedback and drive an idea forward. Potential users can also be involved in this phase.

Early prototyping is not just applicable to physical products. Software interfaces are mocked up with Post-it notes long before a line of code is actually written. The movie industry has long used this practice: the storyboard became a way of mapping out a movie before it was even shot. Originally storyboards were hand-drawn, although nowadays many of them are computer-generated. In general, other non-physical experiences, including scenarios and other forms of storytelling, can also be prototyped. When thinking about a customer’s journey for a particular product or service, for example, one envisages all of the stages a customer will pass through as part of their experience.

At PlantLab's Playground, where complex food growing and distribution systems are studied, ideas can be better understood and compared when using visualization techniques at an early phase.