Original Post Date: Monday, June 18, 2012

This week I’m attending the Better Software Conference in Vegas.   I just attended a great keynote given by Patrick Copeland of Google.  The topic was innovation.  He talked about how innovators beat ideas, prototypes beat prototypes and data beats opinions.  These sentiments are all part of the pretotyping manifesto.

He started with the truth that most new products and services fail and proposed that while this is not unexpected, there is a good way to fail and a bad way to fail.  The good way to fail is to fail fast.  And this is where the idea of pretotyping comes in.  The idea of pretotyping or ‘pretendotyping’ is that you fake it before more make.  When a good idea hits, find the fastest, cheapest way to get something that will demonstrate and socialize the idea to at least some segment of the target marked.  A pretotype is different than a prototype in that a prototype is intended to prove that the product can be built, while a pretotype is intended to prove that the ‘it’ you’re building is the right ‘it’.

Here are some examples of pretotyping exercises.   When the idea of the original Palm “Pre” was first conceived, the inventor was concerned that the model wouldn’t catch on.  Would people be comfortable carrying around a device in their pocket, taking it out and making notes during meetings and during conversations?  Before building anything, he went to the garage and created a wood palm pilot and a wooden stylus.  He walked around for days pretending to check and record appointments and log notes – gauging reactions of people around him.  When Google held a workshop to brainstorm ideas for Android, they handed out post-its and pencils.  Apps were papertyped and ported around as real Android apps in paper form to determine if the concept was feasible – were they something the end user would be likely to stop and pull out their phone and use?     This notion of papertyping led to Androgen – an app that let innovators create quick and dirty implementations of their Android app ideas to test market them with minimal effort to get market feedback. 

One example presented where pretotyping would have helped.  Thirsty Dog Bottled Water for Pets  - no I’m not messing with you – this product was actually launched and marketed.  Maybe if there had been some pretotyping – taking some regular bottle water, changing the label and putting on the shelves in a few pet stores – the producers would have realized that this was an idea that wouldn’t fly.

So the next time you have a good idea you want to productize – before you start writing code – look for some creative ways to let the potential consumers assess whether it has the look, feel and comfort of use such that they might actually use it.  What techniques do you use to market test your ideas?  Leave a comment.