We hosted our inaugural cohort of four edu fellows at the d.school this year, and as the Director of our K12 Lab Network I’ve had the great privilege of working directly with all of them – Guido, Kim, Matt, and Melissa. This past quarter I’ve been particularly excited to be a part of their journey deep into the heart of prototyping. Their experiences have reminded me of a few key aspects of the prototyping mindset and how it develops:
- When you start to prototype, the first thing to overcome is the impulse to pitch. You've fallen into this sand trap when you find yourself spending more time talking about your prototype and hoping that people will like it than you do actually letting them use it. It's a real emotional journey you have to navigate because it is personally disappointing when something you thought was potentially cool, turns out to be lame. Weathering that disappointment can be hard. That's when it's important to remember that you learn nothing when everyone loves your prototype.
- Once you’ve embraced the potential to learn from what doesn't work, the next step is breaking down the elements of complex ideas into more discrete prototypes. This is one thing Kim Jacobson found when running a network event to help illuminate the potential of her San Mateo County iZone project. She ended up testing a prototype within a prototype. The first was an event, which was successful in bringing the iZone to the attention of new people. The second prototype was a networking tool used during the event called Give/Get. The tool worked as well, strengthening and extending the iZone network. There was an impressive group of new people at the event, but we discovered later that they didn't have a sense of the full iZone. This learning is important for the team and at the same time reminded me that the presence of compounding prototypes can cause a designer to overlook underlying testing goals and opportunities for more targeted prototypes. This, in turn, can make the learning diffuse.
- You know you are a newly-minted citizen in Prototyping-landia when exhilaration sets in. The selling stops and the feedback starts. Each prototype begets a new one and the learning multiplies. Melissa Pelochino has discovered this in her work turning teacher professional development “from a chore into a gift;” “Every conversation I have now," she told me, "I end up with three more prototypes to build and run. It is so exciting!”
Wherever you are on this journey I assure you, you are not alone. Our other two edu fellows -- Guido and Matt – are prototyping rabidly too, building new ways for teachers to share and students to add their voice in San Francisco Unified School District, respectively. All of the edu fellows are attacking complex ecosystem-level challenges one prototype at a time.
So, to summarize, here are three quick tips to keep moving and growing your prototyping mindset:
- Give up the pitch
- Disaggregate your ideas
- And, as you build momentum, sink into it and let one prototype beget the next
Finally, if you work in the education sector -- whether or not you are an edu fellow -- we are always happy to coach you through your next prototype. Come see us at our K12 Lab Network Office Hours at the d.school Thursdays 3:30-5pm in April and May.