Coworking + Prototyping: The Iteration Essentials
by Dominic Wong, Invoke / January 15, 2016
Note: This blog entry is available in English only.
What’s iterative design?
“Iterative design” is a term that’s thrown around a lot. Though many designers treat it like the hot new thing, it’s actually a methodology that has been used by other disciplines (such as industrial design) for a long time.
To understand what iterative design is, it’s helpful to understand what it’s not. The alternative to iterative design is an approach called “waterfall,” in which the end product (such as a website, app, or campaign) is fully specified ahead of time and then produced in a linear fashion. For the most part, waterfall means we know exactly what the end product will be.
With an iterative approach we fully design (and often build) one part of something, and then use it to test, garner feedback, and refine the usability based on our learnings. This feedback can drastically change the direction of the product.
Iteration sounds scary. You start a project knowing that there’s a good chance the end solution won’t be anything like what you first imagined. But as you progressively iterate, your product’s usability is greatly improved. It may be a bit chaotic, but it yields stronger design results. Not so scary anymore.
Iterating on the Driving Experience
As an example, we’ll look at a recent iterative project completed at Invoke: a hybrid app for Modo.
Modo was North America’s first car sharing service, and a community-focused co-op with small budgets. They came to us with a goal: create more, and happier, members. Between Modo’s co-op structure and diverse fleet, they offered something that other carshares didn’t, but that doesn’t mean they were complacent. Modo knew that evolving their mobile user experience and onboarding process could make them stronger than ever, and now it was time to figure out the specifics. Together we had a few ideas, but we needed to be sure they would work with Modo’s loyal clientele and unique product offering.
We could have spec’d out an entire app based largely on assumptions and what the other guys were doing … but luckily the Modo team is full of open-minded innovators keen to try something new. So together, we decided to iterate.
The Keys to Success
Iteration happens in a lot of different ways. But at Invoke, there are two particular things we’ve found that lead to iterative success: establishing a co-working environment and making prototyping a habit.
- Establishing a Co-Working Environment
At Invoke, we embrace collaboration to its fullest. While sometimes it feels like there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen, there’s also the creative stimulation that comes from working with a diverse group of people with a common purpose, each bringing different knowledge and skills to the process.
At Invoke, particularly on the Modo project, that means:
- Embracing the concept of pair design, by pairing a “lead” design with a “support” designer. Depending on the project, any designer on the team may find themselves in either role and could even swap.
- Removing ego from the equation, by encouraging frequent feedback and not getting attached to our design decisions.
- Physically working in the same space as our partners, by either bringing them into our Co-Workshop (as in Modo’s case) or sometimes working in their environment.
- Having regular scrums with all team members from Modo and Invoke.
2. Making Prototyping a Habit
There’s nothing more valuable than prototyping. It gives us a chance to test a concept, interaction, or feature with teammates, stakeholders, and end-users. This ensures we’re moving in the right direction.
With Modo, we embraced a few different prototyping techniques as a result of an exhaustive discovery process that included interviews with members and non-members; an extensive audit of Modo and their competitors; and a survey. We worked with Modo (hey, it’s that co-working thing) to prototype, collaborating every step of the way.
For us that meant:
- Using Google Ventures design sprint tactics, where members from both of our teams sat in a room and prototyped together.
- Rapid prototyping via whiteboard sketching with cross-discipline members of the Invoke team.
- Forgoing the usual “ta da” moments and formal presentations: instead, we shared work with Modo early and often using Invision.
- Testing our core features in-person, using clickable prototypes and real Modo members (often, while Modo staff sat in).
We fully acknowledge that the iterative process has its challenges. Those include rigid budgets and timelines; the “wheel spinning” and lack of motivation that can come with over-iteration; figuring out how to prioritize changes based on feedback; and gathering quantitative data post-launch to ensure we met our business goals. At Invoke, we think the benefits far outweigh the challenges so we’re committed to making the process better one project at a time. Iterating on the iterative process, if you will.
The six months spent co-working and prototyping with Modo resulted in a member-driven app experience that includes a revamped booking flow and streamlined discovery process on desktop and mobile.
Based on feedback from real users at every step, we’ve addressed their biggest pain points. That meant reducing the clicks required to book a car by 75% and simplifying a complex system of “cars available” using a straight-forward visual interface language.
So what comes next for Modo? We don’t know. The app is live in the app store and we’ll be collecting more feedback. We’re hoping we’ll achieve the KPIs we established – more and happier members – and if we don’t, well, then we iterate some more.