Rapid Prototyping and Pipe Cleaners

Last Friday I had a special shipment delivered to our offices in San Francisco, Portland, NYC and Wroclaw. The shipment contained colorful pipe cleaners, Play dough, some balsa wood, and some random colored pieces of plastic. 

At lunchtime I asked the Tivix teams to gather around the conference table and open the shipment of materials. I told them they each had 20 minutes to build a prototype of a new invention, and then they would have 60 seconds each to pitch us on the innovative new product they had prototyped. I got a few funny looks, but they sat down and gave it a shot. 

It was mostly just for fun, but also because as an innovation engineering shop we need to always keep the creative wheels greased and ready. 

There are several great innovation frameworks to use for prototyping and developing new products, and the Stanford University d.school framework begins with “Empathy”. In this context, empathy means that if you are to develop a successful new product you need to start by really understanding the user of the product. Until you can put yourself in their shoes, and see the world as they do, there is not way to develop new product that genuinely addresses their real-world needs.

And so it was interesting to note that in this rushed 20-minute exercise almost everyone on the team created a prototype of something that they themselves might use (who better to empathize with than yourself?). 

So Lukasz made a machine that could help keep a dog exercised, Sumit created a device for organizing and passing different kinds of hot sauce around the dinner table, Amber made a device that could cover part of the computer screen of a busy software project manager for better work focus, and Sebastian, well Sebastian created a virtual reality headset.

Then came the 60-second pitches. I love listening to pitches – it’s always interesting to hear how people pitch their inventions. Conventional wisdom is that engineers want to talk about features, but users care about benefits. So I kept track of each pitch, and to what extent each presenter pitched features vs benefits. I think most of our team did a good job in pitching the benefits. 

I’m not sure any of the inventions we created at lunch will ever take off as new products (well, actually, I’m 100% sure that David’s bath salt inhaler will never go anywhere). 

But it was a fun thing to do together in a short lunch break and an excellent way to experience a condensed version of the five components of the Stanford University product design methodologyEmpathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test. 

Iterate upon that cycle a few thousand times and you too can develop innovative new products that will change the world.

Guido octagons