Are Good Prototypes really Bad?


Alan Hynes, PhD

The Executive Director at CCAN, the Collaborative Centre for Applied Nanotechnology writes about the concept of Design Thinking and its relevance to Horizon 2020 projects.


At a recent Industry Research & Development Group (IRDG) event in Ireland there was an interesting talk from one of the leaders in Design Thinking, Jeanne Liedtka. Design Thinking is a user-centred process for creating new innovative ideas and solving problems. There were many useful take-aways to put into practice, but for me two key ones were :

  • The need to “Stay in the Problem” for much longer than we normally do
  • The realisation that if you make prototypes too complete or too “good” then in fact you are LESS likely to receive valuable feedback from customers!

To focus on the latter topic, Jeanne gave great examples of how we as innovators and product developers must fight the natural desire to make prototypes as impressive as possible. The reason being, that if a prototype is too good then it prevents an open conversation with potential customers around what they would actually like to have in the final product. Instead we build what WE would like in the final product. In a Design Thinking approach, a really effective prototype will be rough and ready just enough to give the customer a clear idea of what we are trying to achieve but allow enough space in the engagement for the customer to engage in co-designing the product -which ultimately should be our goal if we want to meet customers’ needs.

Design Thinking for H2020

When considering the upcoming Horizon 2020 calls, the task of identifying with the ‘consumer’ should never be too far from our minds or our agendas. It is tempting, being the scientists and entrepreneurs who are driving the projects, to trust solely our own version of the potential benefits, and assume that we know best with regards to the interests of the community. An unpolished model with scope for development in concordance with a community of en