The First Idea Is Rarely the Best Idea: The Value of Rapid Prototyping in Web Design

The First Idea Is Rarely the Best Idea: The Value of Rapid Prototyping in Web Design

Sometimes, an idea doesn’t work out as well in real life as you thought it would in your head.

Let’s say that one morning in the shower you get the bright idea to attach a lawnmower to the back of your truck. You can’t afford a riding mower, but you realize that you do have a push mower and some bungee cords in the garage. Why push around a heavy mower in the hot sun when you could attach it to your truck and mow your lawn from inside an air-conditioned vehicle instead?

What a great idea! Or so it seems…

A detached bumper, broken mower, and several ruined flowerbeds later, you realize that maybe it wasn’t such a great idea after all.

Anyway, the whole point of that hypothetical anecdote is that, for any kind of project, the first thing that pops into your head often isn’t what’s going to work best for you.

Here’s how this concept relates to the world of web design: clients usually think they know what they want at the very start of a project. They have an idea in mind, and they ask the design firm they hire to take that exact idea and turn it into reality.

But if the client truly wants their project to succeed, they need to accept that what they initially think is a great idea for their site may not translate well to the real world. It might not be as visually appealing as they thought it would be. Users may find it confusing to use. What looked good and worked smoothly as an idea might be disastrous for the end user when its actually on a computer or smartphone screen.

Any idea, in fact, may turn out to be a bad one. So why in the world would you commit yourself to just one idea?

Instead of taking one idea and putting all of the time and money invested in a project into trying to make that idea work, you should come up with many different iterations and test each of them to find the best one. This will profoundly increase your chances of success and allow speed to market for your idea or product.

This process of testing one new idea after another in an effort to build the best final product is known as “rapid prototyping”.

It may seem time-consuming or even wasteful to explore a lot of ideas rather than focus on just one, but rapid prototyping is actually the most cost-effective way to work on a site, because it prevents you from wasting all of your resources on a single idea that doesn’t pan out.

When the choice is to spend two months perfecting tiny details or launch your new website and perfect the tiny details over a period of time; the choice should always be launch!  Get that new website out there so the world can find you now, and you can sell your product or service now.


500 Billion Reasons to Rapid Prototype

You can learn a lot by looking at what the masters do.

Want to be a great storyteller? Read some Chekov and get a sense of how he builds a plot. Want to be a great architect? Study the work of Frank Lloyd Wright and Frank Gehry.

Want to run a successful company? Well, you might want to take a look at how Google does things. it doesn’t get much more successful than Google and its parent company’s $500 billion market value.

Google owns hundreds of companies, and they use rapid prototyping under the name of “design sprints” to get these companies to develop better products.  Google has also been known to use this method to develop its own products.

Think of it as a “greatest hits” of business strategy, sometimes it pays to learn from the best.

Defensive Designers Need Not Apply

This mindset affects designers just as much as it does their clients.

A firm that believes in rapid prototyping needs to hire designers who are comfortable with rejection. Some designers get overly attached to their ideas, and they will waste everyone’s time by stubbornly trying to make their version of something work even when testing shows that it’s just not going to work. The best designers are the ones who are okay with being wrong from time to time.  We’ve learned that lesson at Swift Whale, and it’s one we humbly accept.

Web designers and their clients would both be wise to not get too committed to any one idea during the design process.

Be patient. Be open to ideas that are different from yours. Try out a lot of different options. See what works best.