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Why is Prototyping in Design Thinking expensive?


Saakshar Makhija, P. Trishita, Esha Biddanda Pavan, Architects, Architecting, Architecture, Architectural, Design Thinking, Innovation, Product, Marketing, Systems Thinking, Collaboration, Leadership, Problem Solving, Human Centered, Psychology, Consumer Behaviour, Zeyka, Zeyka India

Design thinking is an elaborate process that is incomplete without prototyping and testing. Prototyping aids in crafting an optimal design solution for the problem. The process allows designers to implement their hypotheses. It is an opportunity for them to understand user perception in the outside world. Furthermore, a prototype gives the final product constructive market feedback. As a result, companies save resources by testing their prototype in the niche market. However, there are instances when prototyping in design thinking can be expensive.


Design thinking can be rewarding for most in the initial phases. The latter stage of product prototyping is both complex and expensive. It doesn’t have to be. But first, one needs to understand what a prototype is.

A prototype is the minimum viable product or the simplest and most frugal form of one’s idea for the solution. It is the product itself but a compact version of it.

Saakshar Makhija, P. Trishita, Esha Biddanda Pavan, Architects, Architecting, Architecture, Architectural, Design Thinking, Innovation, Product, Marketing, Systems Thinking, Collaboration, Leadership, Problem Solving, Human Centered, Psychology, Consumer Behaviour, Zeyka, Zeyka India

After understanding what a prototype is, one ponders the expenditure. In the design thinking process, the mindset of the design thinker impacts the approach taken significantly. For instance, in the initial stages, the designer tends to be engaged by the first glimmer of light. It is this epiphany when they feel that the first idea is the solution. However, on reaching the prototyping stage, they become aware of the shortcomings. The time and effort put in by the team would go in vain. Testing different approaches and alternatives at the initial stages would save resources later on.


Similarly, at times the designers experience the ‘Endowment Effect.’ They feel an attachment to their prototype. They ignore the blemishes while trying to prove the worth of the same idea. When one over invests with emotional values, it could prove to be expensive. Designers also go through a phase of denial where they overlook the faults and insist on implementing the current model. Under these circumstances, the designer makes an effort to refine it and make it look realistic. This level of completion can be deceiving and give the impression that they’ve reached the finish line. But, it is an enormous cost incurred in the end that the company needs to recover.

Saakshar Makhija, P. Trishita, Esha Biddanda Pavan, Architects, Architecting, Architecture, Architectural, Design Thinking, Innovation, Product, Marketing, Systems Thinking, Collaboration, Leadership, Problem Solving, Human Centered, Psychology, Consumer Behaviour, Zeyka, Zeyka India

One can avert such situations when the team avoids large investments in perfecting the prototype too early. At this stage, even fabricating a rough model would suffice. We can illustrate it using an example that is apt for design thinking both in architecture and communication.


There was once a neighbourhood with poor health facilities. A team of development practitioners was tasked with upscaling the whole area. As per their analysis, the neighbourhood was restricted by the stream passing through it. Hence, the distance travelled by the villagers to access good healthcare was significantly higher. They pitched in polished ideas to the villagers and development authorities but failed. Their package of solutions was incomprehensible to their stakeholders. Finally, they were brought to an agreement in one of the group meetings by something unanticipated. It was a drawing of a bridge made by a child. For children, having a bridge would have meant easy access to their friends on the other side. So, this is what one of them drew to convey that. It became a more powerful tool to recount the development message than extensive drawings and project reports. It was a simple graphic and a watered-down version of the solutions that the team was proposing.


When one thinks of prototypes, a bridge drawn by the child should come to mind. In terms of both execution and communication, they should require an investment of this level. Moreover, to develop and implement the idea, this much time and effort should be sufficient. It can successfully get stakeholders on board and generate feedback. If one expends more of their resources but fails to deliver, it is a massive setback.

Saakshar Makhija, P. Trishita, Esha Biddanda Pavan, Architects, Architecting, Architecture, Architectural, Design Thinking, Innovation, Product, Marketing, Systems Thinking, Collaboration, Leadership, Problem Solving, Human Centered, Psychology, Consumer Behaviour, Zeyka, Zeyka India

Thus, the goal is to prepare low-fidelity prototypes such as paper mock-ups or sketches. It is not about reaching the final stage of the project but getting a critique on the initial concept by knowing its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) through user testing. It becomes crucial to ensure that the level of detail of the prototype is adequate for testing, not more. It will not only enable saving resources but also prevent one from getting attached to their prototype.


At last, one should be mentally prepared to let go of these concepts, as learning from the mistakes is the only way of setting oneself on the right path.



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About the Writer

Saakshar Makhija is an undergraduate architecture student at the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), Bhopal. He is the Co-Founder of Emblema Designs, a graphic design, and digital marketing venture. He has experience working with Rethinking The Future (RTF) and India Lost and Found (ILF) by Amit Pasricha. He attended the summer school organised by the "Rafael Manzano Prize for New Traditional Architecture" by the International Network for Traditional Building, Architecture and Urbanism (INTBAU), Spain.


About the Editor

Esha Biddanda Pavan is an architect and urbanist currently based out of Toronto, Canada. She is a graduate of the School of Geography and Planning, Cardiff University, UK, and the Visvesvaraya Technological University (VTU), Bangalore. She has experience working at Kitsune Consulting, Cardiff University Business School, Weaving Thoughts, Keha Casa, Kabir Hira Architects and a-designstudio.


About the Illustrator

P. Trishita is an undergraduate architecture student at the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), Bhopal. She is also a multipotentialite, illustrator, singer, and occasional songwriter.

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