You’ve chosen a market, a segment of the market and a strategic approach to innovation that has made your competition irrelevant. Nice work… you’re nailing this.
By now you will have no doubt collected a list of ideas and hypotheses for solutions and features that you want to experiment with. This is where rapid prototyping starts to play a role — the fast-paced agile test-and-learn environment that we all know and love — but with a structured system that makes the work predictable and extremely efficient.
You may think that your product will take months to design before you can get an accurate test. If you hold that assumption, I’m here to break it.
This is a design sprint (different than an agile development sprint) and it’s perfect for answering the questions — “Are these good ideas” and…
“Do these ideas ladder up to a product that reduces costs or drives revenue?”
We’ve identified the WHY with the previous steps — now we turn our focus to WHAT and HOW. Designers and Engineers — this is where you get to make stuff. Product Managers, Marketers, and Executives — this process is for you too. It gives a 360 look at each problem with a cross-functional team and allows the entire team to contribute ideas fairly.
In a 1-week XR prototype, you’re not designing or even testing the whole experience at once. Rather you’re focusing on the areas where you have assumptions — the areas where you’re unsure of the results. You know these features will bring value but you don’t know how you’ll pull them off.
Some common questions with XR products at this stage are things like…
- Which headset / hardware would be right for this experience?
- Will the technology be able to support the experience today, or are we thinking too far ahead?
- Will it be more intuitive to use a controller or use a gaze?
- How will we demonstrate concepts visually instead of using words?
- If we add a button into the world, will the user know what to do with it?
- Does the experience make sense with one person, or does it need to be social?
- How can we keep XR content from blocking real-life tasks for the user?
- Will users have full range of motion without getting fatigued or disoriented?
- Will we be using hardware add-ons like haptic sensors?
- Would users prefer a standalone or tethered experience?
Why One Week?
Because that’s all the time you need. Any more and you’re spending too much time on perfecting the solution. The idea isn’t to create the most amazing product you can think of — it’s to reduce your risk and create something that people want today.
Please, please, please create a beautiful experience — but we already know people will respond well to a more beautiful product — in most cases, it’s hardly an assumption. We lead with customer utility and value — in most cases, form follows function for buyers.
Getting Set Up
There are many too many meanings attached to the word “sprint” these days so I generally say “1-week prototype”… we all know what that is. Having said that, I use the Google Ventures process found in “SPRINT: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just 5 Days”. The book includes a PDF guide to help facilitate each session — it’s really fantastic. For XR products there are some nuances, so here are a few things to keep in mind.
- Have a panel of test subjects on standby. In order to move fast, you’ll most likely be prototyping and testing for several weeks back-to-back. Have a panel of up to 15 potential users on standby. Sometimes I’ve used a recruiting firm for this, which is a wonderful luxury. Other times I’ve used the team’s network.
- Have the right people in the room. I’ve seen many companies try to build a team of designers and developers only. We all have superpowers and we’re all eager to retreat to our comfort zones and let “Creatives” figure out the “how”. If you do this, you’ll miss the magic of cross-functional collaboration — the best ideas often come from people who don’t design solutions all day long. Additionally, business people need to have some logical and emotional buy-in with the solution if they’re going to help own execution and go-to-market. If you’re in an Enterprise, Executives will need to proudly carry this product through the organization. Keep them involved and informed weekly so they can support it from the inside out.
- Block the time and commit to the process. 1-Week Prototypes aren’t easy because you need a large time commitment from a cross-functional team. On my last project, we had representatives from each discipline in the room — 8 people total. Most of these team members will need to commit 6-hours a day to the sprint process. In a client/agency situation, I’ve had the agency do all the prototyping on Thursday to give the client team a break.
Agencies — the answer can only be unlocked between the business and its customers. You are not magicians, you are locksmiths. Your job is to facilitate and support, not present your own brilliant answers or look smarter than your clients.
1-Week Tested Prototype: The Process
This is the process Google Ventures goes through. Depending on the week and the topic, sometimes I merge Tuesday and Wednesday, then leave 2 days for prototyping instead of one.
Monday: Understand the Problem
Tuesday: Sketch Solutions
Wednesday: Evaluate and Plan
Friday: Test… then drink.
Choosing Sprint Topics
I usually think about sprint topics in two categories: experiments and offers.
An experiment is a basic cycle of the build/measure/learn cycle and can be conducted around any hypothesis or set of related assumptions you have related to the product. The Sprint can be aimed at solving a problem for the business, the customer or both.
You’ll walk into a Sprint with questions like “will operators be able to use AR glasses while operating heavy machinery — will they even want to?” By the end of the week you’ll have a tested answer with real machine operators.
An offer on the other hand, is taking your experiments and wrapping them in a bow under your core innovation strategy. This is really testing the value proposition of the features that you have been experimenting with. These tests can often take the form of landing pages, message testing in customer interviews and/or full product demos.
MVP… You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
This may spark some salty debate, but your MVP is not always the first version of your product. That’s often just… version 1.0. Take it from the father of Lean himself:
A Minimum Viable Product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.
— Eric Ries, The Lean Startup
It’s a carefully but quickly constructed product that targets the most fundamental and dangerous assumptions on the roadmap. It may not be the product with which you achieve product-to-market fit — sometimes it’s just a platform for getting there. Airbnb had several iterations of their product before they found a fit with the market — were each of those an MVP? Meh.
There’s plenty already written on the subject, so I’ll let you form your own opinion between approaches like Concierge, Wizard of Oz, Piecemeal and more.
Tools for Prototyping in AR / VR
This is still tricky — to my knowledge there are very few lean rapid prototyping tools for XR. I recently came across HaloLabs run by Eran Helft — they have a new design tool that I’m eager to experiment with. He recently published a great article on the challenges of testing XR products.
The closest I’ve come so far is using TiltBrush in VR or World Brush on AR enabled phones. These are basic sketching tools and not truly designed for concepting — but they’re better than a 2D diagram. The other option is using primitives in unity — also not bad, but a little slow for anyone who is relatively knew to the workflow of XR.
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