Koen Bok
Koen Bok 6 November 2020

Show, Don’t Tell: How to Get Management Excited by Your Ideas

The need for robust digital products that cater to consumers’ fast-changing requirements has grown significantly in 2020 as the Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically accelerated and increased the use of digital and online services. Consumer expectations are high and rising, but design teams are under huge pressure to deliver upgrades and new services at speed.

This means the process of honing, refining and testing digital services is under greater pressure than ever before. Time is increasingly at a premium for teams building new world-class design solutions or developing existing ones so that they reach their full potential.

As time for development work shrinks, so it is increasingly important to be able to demonstrate options and progress with key stakeholders in the business to ensure that a design is meeting the needs of the business, avoid unnecessary confusion and to help smooth out any unforeseen kinks that a written spec might skip over. 

Designers know all too well that without a senior sponsor internally, projects all-too-often fall by the wayside. As such this need to communicate design concepts with other internal teams is increasingly critical.

This need to present early ideas or prototypes to other stakeholders has always been a challenge for design teams – it’s almost a cliche now that design teams need to show, don't tell when presenting their ideas.

However, this requirement is now taking on added importance, and as such agency-side and client-side design teams alike are waking up to the full potential of prototyping to give their audience a much more persuasive idea of what is being proposed.

The Power of The Prototype to Persuade

The best digital experiences feel intuitive. That can’t be described effectively using words alone: it must be experienced. This fundamental truth lies at the heart of the value of the new prototyping approaches being adopted by design teams around the world.

Our own research demonstrates how significant the rapid growth both in the popularity, and the perceived value, of using prototypes at various stages of the process is. According to 44% of designers, the ability to bring a user interface to life during the design process is a core technical benefit of prototyping. 

Perhaps the key area where designers are turning to prototypes is in securing internal board-level buy-in to design concepts. "Prototypes can be phenomenal presentation tools," confirms Noel Lyons, experience design director at Barclays. "It's a great way to make it feel alive for senior stakeholders, so they become advocates and supporters for it. It unblocks things."

Few things can capture the imagination of a senior stakeholder like a fully immersive, high-fidelity working model. In fact, almost half of the respondents in our research stated that the primary benefit of prototyping is to encourage internal buy-in by communicating ideas more effectively.

Just over a third (36%) of respondents consider the ability to create something persuasive in a pitch meeting to be one of the most important features of a prototyping tool.

"A thing tells a thousand words. You’re putting something in a client's hands that they can play with and really understand the proposition in action," says Helen Fuchs at Ustwo. "Any kind of artefact that can be circulated, and people can use when we're not there, helps get buy-in."

Getting Prototyping Right

While prototypes can be incredibly powerful, there are still pitfalls.

Barclays’s Lyons urges some degree of caution: "You can sell in anything with a really good prototype, but it doesn't necessarily mean it's a good idea," he says.

John Maeda, EVP chief experience officer at Publicis Sapient, highlights how prototypes can be a double-edged sword and that designers need to consider how and when they use them: "I love the phrase: 'A prototype is worth a thousand meetings. But you need the right meeting, to show it to the right person who'll understand it and sign off on it."

For designers then there are a number of questions to be considered when it comes to their prototyping strategy: at what stage of development are you? How complex is your overall service? Are you trying to test the whole solution or are you trying to answer a more targeted question? Are you looking to gather user feedback? Will it be useful to use real world data?

These are all vital questions that highlight just how not all prototypes are created equal – and not all prototypes will necessarily have the desired effect in the boardroom.

The question of complexity is fundamental. The more complex and advanced the design solution, the more crucial it is to get tangible with it as soon as possible. However, the question of fidelity is equally important.

Low fidelity can be a useful strategy at an early concept stage to compare different solutions – at which stage you may or may not want c-level feedback. In contrast, high-fidelity prototypes are much more effective to gather detailed constructive feedback as the design develops.

The question of ‘reality’ is also one that needs to be considered. Laurel Tripp, VP, User Experience at Salesforce highlights that: "once you make it real, you have to make it really real or people get distracted".

At this point designers might want to consider using real world data in their prototypes. Luke Woods, Head of design at Instagram, suggests that including real user data can be incredibly powerful: "The more realistic an experience we provide, the more real feedback we can get. With a more static mock-up, or broad-line prototype, or even a rich prototype with placeholder data, you tend to get more hypothetical feedback". 

New Ideas, Better Products, Lower Risk

Fortunately, with prototyping tools becoming increasingly accessible, efficient, powerful and affordable, these questions or nuances are easier to navigate than ever before. There really is no better time to address this issue than now. As Luke Woods says, "using modern tools, the work today to create a rich prototype isn’t so different from the work 10 years ago to create a perfect static Photoshop mock-up".

To maximise the value of prototyping, it's important to focus time and resource where it counts. "You need to tailor your process to the sector, the client, and the team," confirms John Maeda. "It's like a special restaurant. You have to think about how to reliably create the right meal for each customer."

However, with the right process in place effective prototyping improves both the quality of the outcome and the efficiency of design, so that market-leading ideas can be developed, refined and approved more quickly – and at lower risk.

This article draws on data from Framer’s ‘State of Prototyping’ report — the world’s first global survey investigating the role prototyping plays today in the digital design process.

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