Show Don’t Tell: How Prototyping Sells Ideas

“Show Don’t Tell”

Writers just starting out can attest that this ranks high on the list of advice they get. It’s the great challenge. Words describe things, but they might not be enough to envision what’s going on.

You’re really good at describing your idea. Big deal. You can master the art of storytelling and still fail to sell an idea. People want to see and touch what’s in your head. They need a prototype.

Madison Avenue and Don Draper Have It Right

The advertising industry has always been good at showing instead of telling. They used creative briefs and storyboards to show how they planned to promote a product or service.

Digital rending programs like Sketch and Photoshop provide us all with tools to visualize our ideas. And now, there are 3-D printers that let us go beyond visualization. You might call them the ultimate prototype solution.

Dispensing Distractions

The Greeks called it “prototypon,” which means “primitive form.” Take this meaning to heart when you’re at the prototype stage. Your prototype should help others decide to support its creation, but you waste time and resources if you take the idea too far.

Too many choices, and options will slow you down. But this constraint can actually be a boost to creativity. Innovation often is a result of lack of resources, or plain old frustration.

Make a list of the top 25 features your product or service will have. Then take that list and scratch out 20 of those features. By the time you get down to the remaining 5, you should be telling yourself that it doesn’t even make sense to create your product or service without them. Bingo, you’ve made it to the core – the “primitive form.”

Create your prototype so it nails these 5 features. Those other 20 things are likely necessary as you develop the idea further. At this time, they’re distractions.

Ugly is Awesome

Prototypes aren’t supposed to be pretty, nor should they be perfect. Those are for the finished product. You want fast and ugly. It’s a physical representation of an idea, and its purpose is to validate itself.

Of course you don’t want this to happen, but if the idea fails, you want to know quickly. A heavy outpour of your time and resources gets no return on the investment. A true prototype uses only what’s necessary to show its purpose. In the startup world, it’s called MVP or minim viable product.

The benefit of following this philosophy is that:

  • You invest as little of your time and resources as possible
  • The prototype is completed as fast as possible
  • You learn quickly if it’s viable
  • You have a reserve of time and resources to iterate and try other versions

Step on the mental brakes if you’re already thinking about marketing. Your prototype is a visual aid to sell an idea, not a finished product. Your prototype is a rough, ugly, simple idea that’s been given shape and form. It’s not the product. It’s only the first step.

We’ve worked with many customers over the past three decades who came to us with their project in the prototype stage. That’s fine with us. It’s our job to take you from prototype to finished product. With over 5,000 dies available, you’ll run out of ideas before we run out of options.