At this time of the year, CDTM’s curriculum most demanding and perhaps most rewarding core course, “Managing Product Development” (MPD) is in full swing. MPD involves a project partner which can be a corporate department, a startup, a consultancy, a public organization, an NGO or such (you get the drift) working with a group of students (henceforth known as Centerlings) to develop a new product for an existing market or to take an existing product to a new market. The Centerling teams are all very interdisciplinary with backgrounds ranging from tech to business to communications science, psychology or physics. The end goal of this course is a prototype of a product which can be used to test the market, get feedback from actual customers or to pitch to investors. The invisible work that goes into product development involves establishing a business and tech model but what everybody sees at the end, and what the customers or investors care about, is the look and feel of the product and to get an idea of how will it work. As such prototyping from the very basic level to the very advanced is at the heart of MPD and takes a lot of blood and sweat (of the centerlings).
To assist and facilitate the development of prototype, MPD involves a number of facilitation sessions which aim to equip the Centerlings with the necessary knowledge and tools to tackle the task at hand. Since there is hardly any common background of the students, these sessions serve as the backbone to establish the baseline and to bring everyone up to the same level.
One such facilitation session, on “paper prototyping” was organized for the class of Fall 2015 recently. It’s a prototype built only using… paper. That may sound a little flimsy, especially for the tech enthusiasts who would like a live, kicking and screaming prototype which runs on a gazillion AWS servers with Node 5.0 and uses at least 22 different API’s and some Machine Learning with containerization thrown on top. But I digress. The purpose of paper prototyping is to take the first step in visualizing the business and technical model which has been developed so far based on market research. It is technically a baby step but fundamentally a giant leap towards the actual development of the product.
Paper prototyping involves taking the first concept of the product (let’s assume a web portal) and to draw on a paper exactly how it would look like. It depicts scenarios like: “Where would the information be displayed ?”, “Where would the user click and how many clicks will be needed”, “How will the user navigate around the portal? “, “How will the display change ?”, “Is the layout intuitive enough or will the user require some training?” and so forth. Since it uses only paper, pen and a bunch of sticky notes, every person in the team can pitch in with their concept without being shackled by the technicalities. Its a messy yet quick and effective way to roughly visualize the end product. The biggest benefit of a paper prototype is it can be easily shown around to other people, not involved in the project, to get their first feedback and to quickly iterate the design based on the feedback. Also, since no code is yet written, the developers are less likely to object !
During the Paper Prototyping workshop held at CDTM, the Centerling teams, based on their market research and initial discussions, came up with the first paper prototypes for their project partners in a three hour session. This session was facilitated by UX designer Robert Kowalski, and our Center Assistants Philipp Nägelein and Patrick Bilic. The prototypes were then shared with other teams and their feedback sought (and will hopefully be incorporated into the next iterations). Next step is to replace paper with some code and get the first feel of the real thing.
Watch the video for a sneak peek into how the session looked like.