Way back in 2009 I took my first Human Computer Interaction course at Stanford from my future advisor, Scott Klemmer, that sparked my curiosity with early stage products. Recently I decided to relive some memories and logged on to his 2012 coursera course where I was reminded of an incredible story that really embodies the value of low fidelity prototypes and not being afraid of putting your work out there at it’s earliest stages.

Here’s a transcript from a section of his lecture “Creating and Comparing Alternatives”:

When you’re designing, does it make more sense to go for quality and try to come up with the best possible design? Or does it make more sense to go for quantity first as a path to try and learn and understand?

There’s a story that Bayles and Orland tell about an art teacher who divides the class in half, and he tells one half of the class, ‘You’re going to be graded exclusively on the quality of the very best thing that you make.’

He tells the other half of the class, ‘You’re going to be graded on the quantity of things that you make. Doesn’t matter how good it is; all that matters is how much that you make.’

And what this teacher found was that while the quantity group was busily churning our piles of work — and learning from their mistakes — the quality group sat around theorizing, and at the end of the day they had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and piles of dead clay.

So this gives us some intuition that rapidly producing many alternatives has a lot of value.

Prototyping isn’t all about just fine tuning the interface. It’s about gaining experience and learning from your mistakes as fast and as quickly as possible. Think about your ‘MVP’. Now go draw it on paper and have a conversation with a target customer.


More Reading:

For a deeper dive I suggest reading more about Steven Dow who does fantastic research into parallel design practices.

If you are interested in the book in question it’s titled “Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking