Show, Don’t Tell: How Prototyping Sells Ideas

Show, Don’t Tell: How Prototyping Sells Ideas on

Digital technology has made prototyping a tool anyone can use

Anybody who has ever taken creative writing class has likely bumped up against the “show, don’t tell” obstacle. What does that mean, anyway? Often, it signifies that the creator just hasn’t thought things out. They can tell you about something, but it’s not enough information for the audience to envision what’s going on.

An obstacle like that is deadly if you’re an inventor. It used to be an expensive obstacle, too, but technology has changed that. With today’s digital tools, anybody with an idea can show, instead of just tell.

Taking a cue from “Mad Men”

Advertising and marketing professionals have always known that the best way to sell a concept is to show it. They used storyboards, sketches, and creative briefs to set the stage. Many trees were killed.

Today, there’s Photoshop, Sketch, Keynote, and a whole slew of digital tools that allow even artistically-challenged people to visualize an idea. The pièce de résistance is the advent of 3-D printers. Now, people can see exactly what’s in your mind. That’s important. Unless others can visualize your idea, they won’t support it.

Staying true to etymology

Digital technology has reached the point where it’s possible to render images so rich in details that they can be mistaken for the real thing. The same goes for creating the functionality and user experience of a website, app, or software program.

Not so fast.

Aren’t you still at the idea stage? You want your prototype to help you validate and convince others to support the idea’s eventual creation. Stick with the original meaning of the word “prototype.”

It’s thought to have found its way into modern language back in the 1600s. The French seem to have used the word first, and it was derived from the Medieval Latin word prototypus, or the Greek word prototypon. Both mean “original or primitive form.”

Take this to heart, and employ the KISS Principle as you look for a way to visualize your idea.

Constraints = Creativity!

Too many missing details will derail your idea when you present a prototype. Conversely, too many details will prevent you from ever getting to the prototype stage.

Creative people share the belief that the best ideas often are born from frustration or lack of resources. Anything is possible during the process of invention and ideation, but you’ll get little accomplished if you don’t limit yourself.

Make a list. Write down 25 to 50 of the features and functions you envision for your idea. Then select the top five. Which things represent the “essence” of the idea you’re trying to sell?

Focus on those five features. Ignore the rest. They’ll distract you.

Take shortcuts, and learn to love “ugly”

It’s not supposed to be perfect. It’s a prototype. You’ll never have all the information. You’ll never have the timing down right. You won’t ever be ready. As Seth Godin says, just “ship it.”

Here’s the thing about ideas: You haven’t cornered the market on them. Someone else could be thinking what you’re thinking, and they’ll be remembered if theirs goes to market first. No one will remember you because yours was better.

That’s the beauty of prototyping. It’s ultimately the way to improvement. Prototype it quick and ugly, and find out fast if the idea fails. Learn from the discovery, iterate, and push out the next version.

Dimensional directions

Digital technology has accelerated the prototyping process. New software products make it easy for just about anybody to visualize an idea. Affordable 3-D printers have turned this into an exponentially quicker process.

Are you prototyping a physical product? Bring it into this dimension with a 3-D printer. Pricing on these devices has dropped to an affordable level, as long as forking out between $1,000 to $2,500 is affordable to you.

No need to despair if that’s an investment outside of your financial realm. Having access to your own 3-D printer means you can customize and remodel to your heart’s content (or until you run out of printer supplies). But there are alternatives for those who don’t have the means to buy one.

Design your idea and upload it to Cubify. This company will produce your 3-D prototype from a variety of materials.

Not every idea needs a physical prototype. Go Lo-Fi and produce an illustration. A quick scan with your favorite search engine will produce a wealth of free or low-cost libraries you can use to produce wireframes or quick illustrations. Again, the idea is create a visualization of the idea.

Choose quick over comprehensive

Colors? Textures? Functionality? These aren’t necessary. Your objective is to create a visual aid to the story of your idea. Prototyping to sell your idea is nothing more than a tool to validate a concept.

Think of your prototype as the key that opens the door to acceptance. It’s not the product. It’s the first step.

And when you need help bringing your Big Idea online, contact the professionals at Creative Technology Partners. We have the expertise to meet all of your web content needs, providing expert software engineering, strategic user experience, and design services.

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