Prototyping – making informed decisions at the right time

The day after I wrote my last blog about taking decisions I went to a talk arranged by the Scottish Usability Professionals Association, “An Introduction to Prototyping”.

The speaker was Neil Allison of the University of Edinburgh’s Website Development Project.

There’s no need for me to discuss Neil’s talk at length because he’s posted it here.

Neil used a phrase that leapt out at me. Prototyping ”helps us take informed decisions at the right time”.

That was exactly what I was thinking about when I wrote in my last blog about taking decisions at the right time, the last responsible moment in Lean terms.

Neil’s phrase summed up the appeal of prototyping perfectly for me. We can take informed decisions at the right time; not take poor, arbitrary or ill-informed decisions when we’ve simply run out of options and have to take whatever default option we’re left with.

In a later email Neil made the point that I keep on trying to make; that usability testing should shape the design, rather than evaluate it.

“When I do usability testing, it’s to check the requirements and the ease of use of a preferred solution. Usually before development begins in earnest as it’s too time consuming and/or costly to backpedal later. (Almost) pointless doing usability testing if you don’t have the resources to take action on the findings”.

Prototyping may have clear benefits but Neil is still trying to raise awareness within the university, spreading the word and trying to widen the use of the technique.

Testers should never see their role as being defined by a rigid process. They should always be looking for better ways to do their job, and be prepared to lobby and educate others.

Please have a look at Neil’s presentation, which contains advice on useful books and tools.