The Soda Academy
"We are not just designing the thing. We are designing how it fits into the world."
"Observation alone is not enough to create empathy. Experience prototyping is a way to test the overall experience rather than just the thing we are designing."

Paul Cloutier, Method

Experience Prototyping: The Value of Putting Yourself in the Mind-Space of the Person You Are Designing for

Experience Prototyping

Every designer trades in empathy. Our ability to see the world through another’s eyes is what allows us to successfully create new things. The problem lies in the fact that our tools are increasingly mismatched with our needs.

We too often focus solely on the experience at hand and lose sight of how that experience fits into a broader context. When we think only of the touchpoint, we miss out on the cultural impact, the practical needs related to its use, and the opportunities for it to intersect with the world at large. 

But as we create new types of offerings – especially ones powered by new kinds of consumer technology – and respond to new behaviors, we have to test them in a new way. We are not just designing the product or service; we are designing how it fits in to the world.

A key part of the design process is putting yourself in the mindset of the person that is going to use it - you have to “use” the thing in context. We practice what we call experience prototyping as a way to test out the overall experience rather than just the thing we are designing. We create a rough prototype and then go through the motions of using it in its intended environment. This enables us to stand in the future, experiencing a new technology-powered offering without needing to go through the expense of building it all.

One recent example was an internal project we did called Method Money. We wanted to develop a better perspective on the future of money. One of the key areas we wanted to understand was what would happen if all of your purchases were publicly visible.

We quickly discovered that we couldn’t just design some solutions for this challenge. We had to experience the challenge first-hand. This was more than research. It was about getting close to the problem.

We realized that we should be designing not at our desks, but in places where the problem resides. Over the course of a month, the team leveraged several tools to truly experience the Method Money challenge as they crafted possible solutions. We used simple tools like Instagram to allow the design team to capture every purchase they made so that it would be visible to anyone. This brought everyone together in a way traditional research doesn’t allow. It helped us envision a number of new opportunities and issues we would not have uncovered otherwise.

Observation alone is not enough to create empathy. We believe that putting yourself in your users’ shoes is the only way to truly understand them. Experiencing a problem in context gives you a greater appreciation of what the users’ actual needs are, and it helps prime you for that creative leap to craft something genuinely new and innovative.

We believe the designer’s toolkit has to have more than boxes and lines in it. The world is more complex than ever before and designers are being invited to affect more of it than ever. While our clients are evolving and our ambition is growing, shouldn’t our tools grow and evolve too?

Paul is a Principal at Method who is working to help define the future of experience design. He has been a designer for 20 years, with work ranging from visual, interaction and service design, to programming, industrial design and architecture, as well as strategy and brand development. Outside of work, he enjoys vintage cars, making cocktails, cooking and travel. He owns a restored vintage RV and returned recently from a yearlong road trip around the US.

Illustration provided by Russia-based SoDA member, Red Keds