Project Description


Learning from Real People

She presses her right index finger firmly onto the  rectangular purple button as though snapping a photo of herself. Instantly, a pair of hands move in from her left, placing a blue Post-it over the purple one, simulating the photo-taking experience of a mobile user with a marker-sketched scene of a stick figure standing in front of a tent with mountains in the background.

With each user action, I try to keep up, pulling away and replacing Post-its and pushpins on the surface of the plastic foam and taped iPhone I made earlier that morning, each step simulating what might happen next as if it were a real phone.

While at first some volunteers don’t take my toy phone too seriously, the experience is revealing as they soon point out key flaws in the user-interface, offering to help and looking forward to when it’s released. And after a short afternoon, I’ve come away with important insights from real customers that we never could have imagined sequestered in the office by ourselves – insights that inspire fundamental changes to our user-interface and have dramatic impact on our business model – and I didn’t have to write one line of code.

That’s why I love prototyping. With rough sketches, makeshift models, photos, videos or even just simple stories, I can quickly take an abstract concept and transform it into something tangible that I can show real people to learn from them and validate a concept without risking a lot of time and money building something nobody understands or even wants.


How I Use Prototyping?

Transforming the Abstract into Reality


High Fidelity Prototyping – Uncharted Mobile App

Beyond simple sketches and models, high fidelity prototypes allow for realism, making it possible to test out aspects of a user-interface with more precision. While working for a startup called Uncharted, I used Adobe Photoshop and a tool called InVision to build a prototype that allows users to try out a simulated user-interface on their own devices or in a web browser. One objective was to test a new design that organizes large chunks of content into a series of tabbed screens instead of one long page. Testing showed us that users intuitively understood and reacted favorably to the cleaner, simpler design.


Story Prototypes – The User Experience

The simplest kind of prototype is a story conveyed through written, visual, or verbal communication. Formulating well-crafted stories helps people better understand complex concepts. While overseeing the early stages of business model development for a startup I founded, I used storytelling to illustrate a challenge our customers regularly experience – not having enough room in their suitcase to fit all their gear for a trip. We wrote a story from this perspective and crafted an illustration of a small suitcase over-packed with items that they might want while traveling. We then produced a 2-minute video about how we proposed to solve their problem. By sharing this simple story with our customers, we  learned that we understood their frustration accurately and that we were headed in the right direction for solving it.


Experience Visualization Prototyping – Outdoor Travel App Illustration

Helping users visualize what a product might be like is a powerful way to learn and improve a concept even before coding begins. While working on a project for a mobile application to help outdoor-recreation minded travelers have better experiences, I used stock photography and some Adobe Photoshop designs of our user interface to illustrate how the app will help them find interesting ideas while on the road. The illustration made it much easier for people to understand how our concept could benefit them, and led to richer insights that we are now using to guide our product development so we can build something that people understand and really want.


Minimum Viable Product – E-Magazine Prototype

Creating a minimum viable product (MVP) is a great way to test a new concept in the market and get buy-in. While working at a media company, I used Adobe Flash to show management my vision for how magazines could be digitized without losing the page-turning feel of the printed product. I took photos, video, and written content from a previous project and created a fully functional page-turning e-magazine that I published on the company’s website. While the initial release only contained a fraction of the content that a full magazine would have, getting the concept in front of real people led to valuable insights that helped me better understand our customers.


Sketches – Mobile App Interface Designs

Drawing is a wonderful way to quickly take an idea from the abstract and transform it into something tangible that can be used to get immediate feedback from team members and users. I spent about a half hour making these sketches of a user-interface for a mobile app using a program called Balsamiq. By sharing these sketches, we were able to identify missing steps in the design before we devoted more resources to building the real product. While sometimes users and team members are hesitant to provide feedback on a refined, polished prototype (when it’s clear so much effort has been exerted), I’ve found with these rough sketches that people are much more comfortable giving critical feedback that is frequently important in identifying more effective solutions.


Vision Prototyping – Organ Donation Web Interactive

Prototyping is a great way to quickly and clearly communicate ideas while establishing stronger vision and buy-in for a concept. While working for a media company, I struggled sharing my vision for how the company could better interact with its audience and attract sponsors. Using Adobe Flash and some content from a past project, I built a prototype of an interactive website about organ donation education and presented it to my supervisor. As he interacted with the software, he quickly caught on to my vision and gave me approval to spend more time developing it. He also arranged for me to present my prototype to his supervisors.


Journey Mapping

When creating any prototype, I begin by talking with real customers to make sure I’m building something they need. Journey Mapping is a great way to break down a user’s experience into smaller chunks, making it easier to identify key pain points and gain valuable insights for solving their challenges. While working on an outdoor-recreation online community called Uncharted, I used the results from extensive user interviews and prototyping results and created this visual representation of a user’s journey. It was instrumental in helping my team identify key areas for improvement and has inspired our business model development.


Course Development and Promotion – Map Reading Class Prototype

Prototyping is a great way to engage with students in developing curriculum and refining promotion strategies. While working on a project to launch a new course about map reading, I needed a way to quickly gauge the level of interest for the topic and get feedback from potential students so the instructor could use those insights to design content that better aligned with their learning objectives. I used a flashlight with a red filter, a map, and a compass to create this illustration, placing it on a simple web page with a sign up form. The visual representation made it easier to grab attention and collect feedback from potential students, and we’re now using these insights to develop the course and refine our promotion strategy.


The Landing Page – Online Outdoor Magazine

Using prototypes to create incremental iterations is an effective way to learn from real users without having to wait until a fully functional product is completed. Sometimes all it takes is a simple landing page with a clear call-to-action. I supervised a project for a media startup devoted to producing an online outdoor magazine for the Intermountain West. After interviewing potential customers, we published one web page with a sign-up button. After several iterations, over 200 people signed up to contribute feedback and learn more about the concept.