Introducing “rapid prototyping”: Interview with Red Badger

By Chris Lee

A good online user experience is a crucial part of increasing audience engagement and potentially sales, yet organisations often find it difficult to keep up with the evolving needs of their audience. A recent report from Econsultancy and Tealeaf found that some companies estimate that they are losing the equivalent of 24 per cent of their annual online revenue due to a bad website experience.

Cain Ullah, founder of creative software workshop Red Badger, believes this problem could be resolved with rapid prototyping; a short burst of a project to launch a concept in its purest form. The aim is to create a minimum viable product (MVP) – that is the smallest possible construction one can get away with in order to prove this concept.

The need for speed

With fierce competition and rapidly changing consumer demands, speed is essential, Ullah argues.

“Organisations mustn’t be afraid to try out ideas, but will rightly not want to invest a lot of time and budget in new products and functionality until they know if they’re going to work and, most importantly, whether users are going to like them. Brands need to fail fast and fail cheaply!” he told NMK.

Ullah said that an agile, technology-agnostic approach to rapid prototyping is a method that is increasingly being implemented in large organisations as they attempt to adopt a start-up mentality in order to keep existing and attract new customers.

“The idea is to create a small collection of features and user experience that best represent the idea,” he explained. “You get yourself into a position as quickly as possible to be able to validate that the idea works with your intended audience. Why? Because it is the cheapest way of seeing if something works, and the last thing you want to do is to discover that it just doesn’t work after spending months designing and developing.”

Rapid prototyping in action

The BBC is one major player experimenting with rapid prototyping. BBC Connected Studio has been set up to find new and innovative ways to develop feature ideas for BBC Online, as well as engaging the wider industry including small start ups.

At its first event in May 2012 the BBC was looking for creative ideas that would make it easier for visitors to the BBC Homepage to discover content across its digital products, through a series of pilots. One such pilot is BBC Now, a concept put forward and worked on in partnership with the BBC Homepage Product Manager Eleni Sharp and the team at Red Badger.

“The concept is effectively a fast lane – a real-time stream of varied BBC content delivered to the homepage, in bite-sized chunks, the instant it’s published,” Ullah explained. “In the future this could potentially be combined with the semantic web, and other platforms and communities, so that content can be refined as the site ‘learns’ more about what a user accesses and how they interact with it.”

Ullah added that the rapid prototyping model is “fantastic for organisations like the BBC” that are looking for smart ideas that can be built and tested quickly.

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