Tips & Takeaways
- Prototyping is an iterative process of design (test, redesign, test again) that will get you the best results in the end.
- Test your program in chunks, rather than all at once. It's easier and less stressful.
- You can prototype cheaply with simple materials.
- Families are usually happy to help. Just let them know what you're up to.
Quick & Easy To-Dos
- Pick one part of an existing program that could be improved. Try changing it up a bit the next time you do it.
- What was better? What was worse?
- What worked? What didn't?
- How might you do it differently next time?
Congratulations, you just prototyped!
A cardboard prototype "store" for the USS Constitution Museum's Out Run Out Gun boat building program. The simple paper and glue design allowed us to easily adjust prices and materials as needed as we learned what worked best. The final designed "store" is at right. Learn more about the process of prototyping this program here.
The Importance of Prototyping
Create a culture of intentional experimentation. Innovation relies on experimentation, which thrives in a culture that sees trying new things as a key to success.”
-Daryl Fischer. Best Practices in Cultivating Family Audiences.
Even the most seasoned program developer doesn’t get it right the first time. It takes repeated trial and error, experimentation and failure, testing and redesign to build a program that meets your goals while educating and entertaining the public. This process is known as prototyping (the deliberate process of testing, revising, and retesting).
Prototyping is a time commitment, there’s no doubt. And it can become overwhelming without a plan. So pick certain chunks or sections of your program and test them individually, rather than the whole program at once.
Sound expensive? It's not. Start your testing with cheap, readily available materials, such as those in your supply closet or what you can design and print in-house. Use cheaper versions of final materials - so you don't feel bad if it doesn't work and you have to totally redesign the element. The public is fine with that if they know your testing out an idea. So let them know: "Welcome, we're testing a new program and we'd love your feedback."
Once you try prototyping, you’ll see there’s really no other way to ensure success, as Beverly Sheppard explains in this video:
Sometimes you can just tell what works and what doesn’t. Other times it helps to do a more formalized, albeit small-scale, study by observing and/or surveying families. This is called Formative Evaluation. Learn more here.
Examples of Prototyping
In our model boat building and sailing challenge, Out Run Out Gun, we started testing with cheap white rain gutters from the hardware store, held together with duct tape. When we knew it worked, we bought the inflatable blue Raingutter Regatta™.
Also for Out Run Out Gun, we tested text and content for our direction cards. These prototypes were designed using Microsoft Publisher and clip art. We printed and laminated them in-house. The final version, "Out-Run, Out-Gun Challenge," is on the right.