Prototyping a great leap forward

A relatively recent but great leap forward in prototyping received some deserved attention in a NYT article today, “If No One See It, Is It an Invention.” The article, by Leslie Berlin, describes Johnny Lee Chung (a Carnegie Mellon graduate student) and self-produced short youtube videos of his inventions.  A great example is his low-cost Wii-hacked interactive white board.  And these videos have been a big hit–viewed by millions, used by school kids, and landing him a nice job at Microsoft. 

Low-Cost Multi-touch Whiteboard using the Wiimote

While not addressing it directly, this article captures a slowly emerging but immensely powerful tool in the innovation toolkit: the short video as prototype. Prototyping usually involves designing, building, and testing aspects of the technology or product features in order to learn what works and what needs improvement. The mantra: express, test, cycle.

Perhaps not surprisingly, effective technology development teams embrace prototyping to design products and services.  Yet those same engineers and scientists turn around and try to describe and sell their ideas without designing the communication process.

The short video, done well, not only communicates more information in 3 minutes than a powerpoint presentation can get across in 15 minutes, but allows for prototyping.  Express, test, cycle.

I have seen short videos, developed and shared, that were the deciding factor in internally selling new product platforms. And as a result, we now require our students to present their ideas for new businesses or compelling markets in this format. This turns the usual (and painful) 15 minute presentation that inevitably goes long and off-script into 3 minutes, leaving 12 for questions and answers. Further, it forces the students to triage: focus on the most important information and get rid of the chatter.

Johnny Chung Lee’s videos are nicely humble and low-tech–and had held camera and headshot of him describing the technology.  But we’ve found slideshows that combine images, text, and brief clips of user testimonials to be a far better means of describing customer problems, compelling solutions, and potential business models. 

Few compare in quality and emotional impact to the Girl Effect, so right now this serves as the best to strive for.

The Girl Effect