Experience Prototypes

A prototype take an abstract idea, policy or plan and making it real enough for citizens and stakeholders to engage to it and provide reactions. Typically, prototypes use the simplest means possible to achieve the effect.

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“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

When discussing the possible merits of new ideas we need to take into account that people will imagine very different possibilities. Experience prototypes serve as a way of bringing to life an idea that may be hard to imagine otherwise. Without such prototypes, people may be stuck in old thought patterns or misunderstandings.


San Francisco’s annual Sunday Streets event helps residents experience a city that is car-free and was almost unimaginable to most.

Closing streets and leveraging partnerships with community organizations the city is able to engage citizens in seeing the value for what has become a main city policy goal – the banning of all private cars.

The program also helped public health and sustainability advocates come together around a shared program which today also serves as a showcase for small business through food festivals and other community events.

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The essence of what you want to test

Extract the essence of what you want to test and think about creative ways of making it real. Adding complexity may not just lead to a costly prototype, but also confusing learning.

Your guiding question is just a start

Even if you have done the prototype to explore a specific question, stay alert to other things you may learn from the process that could lead to new insights.

Frugal approach

Keep things simple, keep them cheap. Avoid elaborate prototypes if you can and favor simple versions that can easily be changed, thrown out or remade in variations.

Mind your confirmation bias

Make yourself aware by listing biases you and your team bring to this process. For example, most people prefer a success so that they can move on, instead of iterating (more work).

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