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Designers build to think-and think to build. Prototyping is the act of making ideas visible, tangible, and persistent. Whether sketched, drawn, tinkered with, or assembled, prototypes help teams think out loud with pictures and objects.

In a recent study of 500 manufacturers, companies were analyzed for their rate of growth and profitability. High-growth, highly profitable companies shared one trait: the relative number of prototypes they built.

High-value manufacturers-makers of cars, engines, boats, airplanes-build more prototypes than average or low-value manufacturers. They also bring their products to market 54 days sooner, at 10 percent lower cost, with fewer defects. And, not surprisingly, they win more design and innovation awards.

Building prototypes is a winning formula for manufactured goods. But it’s also crucial for the creation of software, services, and other solutions. Collectively, we become smarter when we have a public prototype to evaluate.

Technology may have its greatest impact on design by enabling digital prototypes. In virtually every industry, it is becoming possible and expected to create digital representations of objects before they are physically fabricated.

In architecture, the practice is called Building Information Modeling. BIM enables designers to create digital simulations of a house or commercial structure, large or small, and evaluate its properties-structural integrity, cost, speed to build, heating and cooling patterns-before ground is broken. In manufacturing, the practice is called digital prototyping; in cinema, virtual cinematography. In each instance, teams can make their mistakes up front and early, at low cost.


Design used to be associated with the creation of objects, but increasingly, its focus has shifted from object to experience. This evolution has been driven by the growing recognition that good design does not exist merely inside the three-dimensional envelope of a made object.

Experience design is not about the thing itself but about what happens when people interact and engage with that thing: What does the design make them think? How does it make them feel? Can it somehow improve or enrich their lives? Does it anticipate and respond to needs that may vary over time?

Designing an intangible experience can be more complex than designing a solid object. In fact, technically, it’s impossible: one cannot actually design an experience for others-experience happens inside each individual’s head. But designers can shape and orchestrate many elements to inform the experience of interacting with a product, digital medium, or service. When designers get all the bits and pieces of experience design just right, the results can amaze.

Consider the successful multiplayer role-playing game World of Warcraft. Designers create activities that satisfy players’ deep emotional needs. At times, the game provides a feeling of connection and camaraderie through “guilds,” in which players team up to accomplish goals. At other times, the game helps individuals stand out. World of Warcraft can provide a feeling of certainty at one moment and crushing tension at another. The game is addictive because its creators understood human psychology, how to create a sense of flow, and the pacing of anticipation and payoff.

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Credit: Hines + Dibrova Studio

Tagged: Business

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