Adopt a prototyping mindset with 5 simple principles

About to start a new project? Wondering what you can do to align your organisation with your customers needs? As we start 2024 it's time to kick start the year and use prototyping to break free from existing ways of doing things. This isn’t just about new tools and techniques, it's a mindset shift allowing you to experiment, take risks and fulfil your ambition. 

I’ve pulled out the 5 simple principles that I shared in my webinar as part of Customer Centricity Month last year, that you can use to adopt a prototyping mindset.

Let's take a second to provide some context… When designing products and services we often find ourselves in different situations that impact our effectiveness. Three particular scenarios stand out to me:

A. Pressing deadline with doubts

You have a big deadline in front of you but you have a clear sense that the direction you are heading isn’t quite right for the users of your service. You need evidence to articulate your concerns, but the organisation has already committed significant time and budget into hitting a predetermined deadline. 

For example; we’ve recently been working with an integrated energy company. They had a particularly tight deadline driven by a new piece of compliance. They had concerns and very little time to understand how their existing proposition would address their users’ needs.

B. Lack of confidence in a new feature

You’ve been told to launch a new feature but you’re pretty sure it won’t solve the problems your customers face. But, don’t have what you need to make a case for taking a different direction.

For example; we’ve been working with a financial services organisation that was developing a new experience for their financial advisors, but a lot of the thinking had been based on existing assumptions.

C. Constrained by a defined delivery process

Perhaps there’s a way of doing things “around here” and you feel stuck in this cycle. You're clear that there could be a better way but it can be difficult to make the case for change in the midst of a delivery process.

For example; we often collaborate with organisations with an established service. There can be lots of people involved and a set process for delivering and maintaining this service. It can be tricky to break out of this pattern, as it can be unclear how things fit together as you don’t always have a complete picture of things.


Prototyping can become your super power 🦸‍♂️ in each of these scenarios! At cxpartners we think of prototyping as a mindset 🧠 that creates action. 💪


Now let’s dive into the five principles that we believe are important to effectively adopt a prototyping mindset:

1. Be intentional about learning through experimentation

This first principle links back to when prototyping was first created - focusing on experimentation. 

The phrase “test and learn” has been around for sometime and leading customer centric organisations that are focused on their customers will see running experiments as the norm. Using this principle really helps create a space that is about “learning” and recognises that failure is possible, but an important part of the process. 

This principle is particularly powerful when used at the beginning of a project to figure out what you need to learn. Setting up a series of simple experiments can help you to do so.

Screenshot of an prototype online conversation between the NHS and a user. It reads "Alexa, order Sophie's blue inhalers from the NHS", "Sure Joe. What's your PIN?", "4562", "Ok. You want me to order a Salbutamol inhaler for Sophie. Is that correct?", "Yes", "Thanks. This order will go to Well Pharmacy on Claremont Terrance."
Working with the NHS Innovation Lab we used a Wizard of Oz approach to prototyping rather than spending lots of time programming our conversations with Alexa. We simply used a person, a screen, and created a script which enabled us to test, learn and iterate quickly.

2. Involve people throughout, and always

As a user centred design consultancy this is in our DNA. It’s more important than ever to recognise the different types of users, what their needs are and to ensure you have good representation throughout any project.

At cxpartners we are big advocates for the “Design Sprint” process. It’s a concept that has been around for a few years, yet continues to be an effective tool for creating ways to deliver value. It helps to bring our clients closer to their customers, and creates a space to be hands-on during the process.

We’ve recently partnered with a grocery doorstep delivery service. They had fairly limited connection to their customers and hadn’t really worked together in this way before. 

As we started our Design Sprints, you could immediately see the value of working in this way. The group was activated by the insights we were uncovering and they were able to take this new shared understanding of what their customers need and expect of their service, to make informed, evidence based decisions.

3. Reduce risk and increase certainty

At its very core, having a prototyping mindset is about reducing risk and increasing certainty. 

Carrying out user testing with prototypes provides you with qualitative data to make evidence based decisions, providing clarity about the level of risk associated with that new feature.

To adopt this principle, it’s important that we identify the biggest unknowns and risks at the start, and make sure we have a clear plan to address and measure them throughout.

We have previously partnered with a number of charities, where this principle goes beyond reducing risk, to “reducing harm”. You can read more about designing a chat service for people in crisis here.

4. Prove and disprove

It is important in our work to ensure we think with an “open mind”. Specifically, thinking about things as tests, rather than ways to validate. 

If we think about validating prototypes, we run the risk of our biases creeping in and swaying what we are listening out for. Perhaps listening out for things that we’d like to hear, rather than what really matters. 

A good example of this is when we were working with the Co-op Bank. They believed that reviews and testimonials would help reassure prospective customers; building trust and credibility by hearing from their existing customers - in fact, it had the opposite effect. 

By being open to proving or disproving this new feature we learned that it led to further suspicion. We heard loud and clear that people felt the testimonials had been cherry picked and weren’t an accurate reflection of what existing customers actually felt.

5. Find small ways to test big things

This is the very essence of having a prototyping mindset. 

Rather than investing lots of time, energy and resources it’s about creating “just enough” to learn and getting comfortable with the idea that you can throw away the prototype, as the value is in the outcome, the learning, not the thing.

We worked with a Bristol-based bus company who were looking at ways to reduce journey times by using dedicated bus lanes and pre-purchased tickets.

A photo of Anna at a bus stop holding up an A3 piece of paper with ticket purchasing options on, getting feedback from people who use the bus.
Our brilliant user researcher Anna, facilitating an in-context conversation with a potential passenger.

We used paper prototypes at bus stops around the city as a way to understand current passenger behaviours, and anticipate future behaviours of how passengers could pre-purchase their tickets. 

Combining in-context research with paper prototypes was a great way to create space for rich conversations with passengers and quickly test different concepts for ordering a ticket in advance.

To summarise

These five principles can help you adopt a prototyping mindset as a way to help create action. 

They can also help to influence four out of five dimensions from our Customer Centricity Model which helps organisations become more customer centred.

The cxpartners Customer Centricity Model. A pentagon with each point as a different dimension. The dimensions include: people, process, governance, facilities, communication.
cxpartners Customer Centricity Model

At its core, prototyping is about effective experimentation, finding small ways to test big things and collaborating closely with people. Each of which are key traits that we have observed in high performing, customer centric organisations like Octopus Energy.  

Whether you are prototyping a new user journey or experimenting with a different way of working, always involve the people that you are designing for. This ensures that their needs and expectations are met and result in more successful outcomes all round.

I hope this has been insightful and gives you some things to reflect upon. 

At cxpartners prototyping is a core to all of our work. I’d love to talk with you about how we can help you to take a prototyping mindset to problem solving and exploring big opportunities.

Customer Centricity Month 2023

To find out how you can create more resilient organisations, check out the webinars that we held during Customer Centricity Month 2023. Available to watch on demand here:

Sam is a Principle UX Consultant at cxpartners. He is a passionate collaborator and problem solver, who loves using research and design to explore new ideas that challenge the way things have always been done.