How Pro­to­typ­ing Is Chang­ing the Way We Work: A Conversation
July 26th | 2017

A lit­tle over a year ago, the way we work at Zeus Jones start­ed to change.

More teams were hunkering down, committing a week at a time to build out early ideas into minimum viable products. More time was being put into thinking about how to evaluate if those MVPs were, in fact, viable. And people were pumped about it. Everyone seemed to want to be on a project that was quickly making and evaluating ideas. 

We called it “Prototyping.” And, as is so often the case, we started to use the word a little lazily, without really thinking about its meaning. So not long ago, a few of us got together to discuss: What exactly is prototyping at Zeus Jones? How does it impact the work we do? And why are we all so excited about it? 

ElsaBraden S, Braden L and myself chatted for an hour, sharing our thoughts with one another. The following is our conversation.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Sarah Herberg
Strate­gist

How were you intro­duced to the con­cept of prototyping?

Braden Stadlman
Pro­duc­er

For me, it was through tra­di­tion­al soft­ware devel­op­ment, where you’re build­ing some­thing to val­i­date func­tion­al, tech­ni­cal require­ments. At the time, it was a func­tion­al process. Cre­ative wasn’t a priority.

Elsa Perushek
Strate­gist

I was first intro­duced to a pro­to­type as a noun through usabil­i­ty test­ing. If I think about pro­to­typ­ing as a verb, that hap­pened way ear­li­er, but I didn’t real­ly real­ize what it was at the time.

Braden Lee
Cre­ative

Yeah, what ZJ defines as a pro­to­type I nev­er real­ly con­sid­ered a pro­to­type before com­ing here. When I used to think of a pro­to­type I thought of a phys­i­cal thing.

Sarah Herberg
Strate­gist

Yes, per­haps I should have led with that ques­tion: How do you define a prototype?

Elsa Perushek
Strate­gist

A pro­to­type is tra­di­tion­al­ly a tech­ni­cal, dig­i­tal prod­uct that’s just a small­er ver­sion of some­thing that will even­tu­al­ly be made. But at Zeus, it tends to be a proxy that allows you to assess whether there’s some valid­i­ty to a par­tic­u­lar con­cept. The def­i­n­i­tion is broad­er… and there­fore messier.

Sarah Herberg
Strate­gist

What about the act of pro­to­typ­ing – the verb?

Elsa Perushek
Strate­gist

To me, it’s a method­ol­o­gy: I have a hypoth­e­sis to test. But you may not have a con­trolled envi­ron­ment, so you have a lot of vari­ables you’re tak­ing into account.

Braden Stadlman
Pro­duc­er

It’s inter­est­ing to hear you talk about pro­to­typ­ing as test­ing. For me, pro­to­typ­ing is when­ev­er we begin mak­ing some­thing. Pro­to­typ­ing involves work­ing with a small team, hav­ing an idea, and build­ing out that concept.

Braden Lee
Cre­ative

It’s always more pow­er­ful to show an idea than to tell peo­ple about it. The act of pro­to­typ­ing is about find­ing the best way to rep­re­sent a con­cept or idea.

Elsa Perushek
Strate­gist

Even that’s a form of test­ing, to me. You’re cre­at­ing some­thing, and rather than putting your ener­gy into sell­ing a con­cept, you’re explor­ing how that con­cept would actu­al­ly work. Test­ing doesn’t have to be so formal.

Sarah Herberg
Strate­gist

How does pro­to­typ­ing influ­ence the work you do at ZJ?

Braden Stadlman
Pro­duc­er

Rather than work­ing towards one end­point, pro­to­typ­ing allows us to iden­ti­fy moments of mak­ing. It turns a some­times very lin­ear process into a more flu­id, dynam­ic process.

Elsa Perushek
Strate­gist

The flu­id­i­ty of it is the biggest dif­fer­ence to me. It frees us up to feel like we don’t have to have every­thing per­fect, so you become less pre­cious about everything.

Sarah Herberg
Strate­gist

So what val­ue do you guys see in cre­at­ing prototypes? 

Braden Lee
Cre­ative

I think the val­ue is in the doing. Every­one has ideas. The quick­er you get to mak­ing, the bet­ter the end result is, and we can get on to mak­ing even more things. 

Braden Stadlman
Pro­duc­er

There’s this ener­gy that comes with mak­ing things. It’s real­ly easy to sched­ule a bunch of meet­ings, have a pre­sen­ta­tion, but not real­ly move any­thing for­ward. Pro­to­typ­ing makes the work more excit­ing for every­one. Clients and Jone­ses want to be involved. And that makes the feed­back bet­ter, which in turn con­tin­ues to make the work better.

Elsa Perushek
Strate­gist

I would also say that it’s real­ly the times when we cre­ate a full closed loop of mak­ing, test­ing, edit­ing, opti­miz­ing and doing it again and again, that we get the most value.

Sarah Herberg
Strate­gist

Can you think of a time when things went ter­ri­bly wrong with prototyping?

Elsa Perushek
Strate­gist

There are tons of pit­falls! For exam­ple, mak­ing sure you’re recruit­ing peo­ple that are a prop­er rep­re­sen­ta­tion of who you’re try­ing to con­nect with. I would also say, it’s not tra­di­tion­al research;” it’s messier than that. And so you have to inter­pret the results with that in mind.

Sarah Herberg
Strate­gist

How do you think this way of work­ing is chang­ing ZJ?

Braden Lee
Cre­ative

I can just tell peo­ple here are real­ly psy­ched about it and want to be involved. It would be awe­some to see more peo­ple involved in making.

Elsa Perushek
Strate­gist

It real­ly is upping the game on everyone’s mak­er skillset. If I think about that ZJ mantra, actions speak loud­er than words,” we should be real­iz­ing strat­e­gy through cre­ative immediately.

Sarah Herberg
Strate­gist

I agree. When I start­ed at Zeus, I felt like we agreed the tra­di­tion­al cre­ative process was bro­ken, but we didn’t always have a bet­ter alter­na­tive. It feels like this process has led us to our own way of com­ing to ideas that we believe in, and we want to put out into the world. I think that’s why peo­ple are so excit­ed about it.

Braden Lee
Cre­ative

It makes me won­der if there’s a way we could trade off, like teach­ing one anoth­er about our respec­tive skillsets. I’m not expect­ing you to make an ani­ma­tion in After Effects. How­ev­er, I think it’s ben­e­fi­cial for both of us if you under­stand how that ani­ma­tion is made. And then you can teach me something!

Sarah Herberg
Strate­gist

What advice do you have for Jone­ses or clients who are inter­est­ed in being involved in pro­to­typ­ing, but who aren’t makers?

Braden Lee
Cre­ative

Give your­self more cred­it. You’re a human. You have a brain. You can invent new things. Give your­self some per­mis­sion to explore and create.

Elsa Perushek
Strate­gist

Total­ly. As a human, you have the capac­i­ty to explore and com­mu­ni­cate emo­tion. And a pro­to­type is essen­tial­ly a device to com­mu­ni­cate emotion.

Braden Stadlman
Pro­duc­er

I think at times there is a paral­y­sis that comes from not know­ing how to start from scratch. A lot of times it’s about tak­ing small pieces and fig­ur­ing out how to bring them togeth­er. Yeah, just being human about the process.

Elsa Perushek
Strate­gist

Yeah! At Zeus Jones, we’re all just human beings!