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“Fail Harder” is a larger-than-life art installation both in size and meaning at the ad agency Wieden + Kennedy. Using over 100,000 pushpins to visualize the message, the art builds on a quote from agency cofounder Dan Wieden, “You’re not useful to me until you’ve made three momentous mistakes.” Failing, or trying harder, is an integral component to the Design Thinking process.

In the FastCo Design article “Wanna Create A Great Product? Fail Early, Fail Fast, Fail Often,” it was reported that inventor James Dyson crashed 5,127 times before perfecting his bagless vacuum cleaner. Dyson’s process is an extreme example, to be sure, but his feelings on failure ring true to any healthy iterative design process: “On the road to invention, failures are just problems that have yet to be solved.” Rather than shy away from failure, prototype and use what you learn to your product’s advantage.

“Utilize failure” is a phrase that’s probably not heard often in boardrooms or business meetings, but embracing failure at the right time can lead to fruitful successes. If “failure” is too harsh a term, “prototyping” is a work-around definition that may ease the introduction of this step within your development processes.

Working through design challenges, creating prototypes, getting feedback, iterating and refining is the foundational Design Thinking process that utilizes failure (prototyping) to create successes.

Professor Dean Keith Simonton at the University of California at Davis shared in a recent Harvard Business Review article that “creativity is a consequence of sheer productivity. If a creator wants to increase the production of hits, he or she must do so by risking a parallel increase in the production of misses. . . . The most successful creators tend to be those with the most failures!”

Rapid prototyping involves multiple iterations of a three-step process:

  1. Prototype: Convert the users’ description of the solution into mock-ups, factoring in user experience standards and best practices.
  2. Review: Share the prototype with users and evaluate whether it meets their needs and expectations.
  3. Refine: Based on feedback, identify areas that need to be refined or further defined and clarified.

Many people look to minimize failure in both life and business and, therefore, avoid undertaking risks. Successful people and businesses embrace or utilize failure and understand the necessity of it to learn and grow. How is your business incorporating risk and failure in its innovation process leading towards success?

Ten Tools for Design Thinking, published by the University of Virginia’s Jeanne Liedtka and Timothy Ogilvie, shares 8 tips on how best to incorporate rapid prototyping, regardless of project or industry.

  1. Focus on questions instead of answers.
  2. Keep pushing deeper.
  3. Question your assumptions.
  4. Envision how a negative could become a positive.
  5. Create some alternative scenarios.
  6. Pretend to be somebody else.
  7. Make it a party, but not too big.
  8. Make it a competition.

When appropriate, Designsensory employs rapid prototyping as part of our Design Thinking methodology. Although specific to online design and development, this rapid prototyping process definition found in a recent Smashing Magazine article can be utilized in broader design or business contexts.