feedback on prototypes

These days I’m spending a lot of my time doing analysis and feedback on product prototypes.

Some of those prototypes include: A new web site, my new book, a print ad for the book, T-shirt designs, etc. It is a big part of my F12 list (slang for my to do list on my Mac).

Tom Peters once told me that true innovation is what happens when you react to a prototype. To him, the key to rapid innovation was rapid prototyping and feedback.

Along the way, I’ve learned that he’s right. Whenever I work on a project, I always ask for prototypes (mockups, samples, beta products) so I have something to react to. Otherwise, we are just talking. Too often in projects, we work at a conceptual level instead of a prototype level. This leads to longer timelines, more misunderstandings and too many meetings/calls.

When I get a prototype, it is critical that I give the right feedback. It is not just about getting the product right, it is also about the relationship with your partners along the way. Innovation requires quite a bit of give and take — including rework — so partner relationships definitely come into the picture.

Here’s a few rules I have for giving feedback on prototypes:
1. Make sure I’m in a good mood. There’s nothing worse than getting criticism on your work by someone who is cranky. Mood makes a difference in the creative process.
2. Take the user perspective. Experience the prototype as the end user, not the business owner. This way, you can better tweak the prototype to accomplish its task.
3. Include all comments in one note. Don’t pummel your partner with incremental feedback and endless PS’s. Take the time to gather and organize all your comments into one document. That way, your partner only has to make one set of changes.
4. Involve a second-pass set of notes when the prototype is tweaked.
5. Never personalize comments, objectify the prototype and keep emotions out of the discussion.
6. Be very specific. General criticism isn’t actionable.

For a good book on project innovation, read Tom Kelly’s classic.