We Love Cardboard Robots: Bringing your Innovation to Life through Iterative Prototyping

Concurrent Session 3
Streamed Session

Brief Abstract

We don’t need to abandon our perfectionist tendencies, but rather we must abandon the way in which we strive for perfection. In this workshop, we will explore innovation prototyping, innovation principles, and the tools to put them into action back at your own institution.


Justin Lee is the Innovation Design Lead and Lead Media Designer at Capella University where he partners with school leadership and faculty and the product development teams, acting as a conduit for engaging, effective academic media strategy and direction. With nearly two decades of experience as a graphic and web designer, and as a self-proclaimed experimenter, stretching his creative muscles and trying new things is common place for him. Justin has presented and led numerous innovation workshops, including previous OLC Innovate conferences, MinneWebCon, Games+Learning+Society Conference, and DevLearn.
Bryan Kujawski is passionate about bringing educators together and innovating ways to improve the teaching and learning experience. With a background in experiential education, Bryan currently serves as a Collaboration and Innovation Specialist at Capella University leading workshops and project team through the Design Thinking approach.

Extended Abstract

This presentation focuses on building prototypes at various stages, conducting simple experiments that yield valuable insight, and avoiding common innovation pitfalls. Teams and Individuals with ideas at any stage of development will find this workshop relevant.

We don’t need to abandon our perfectionist tendencies, but rather we must abandon the way in which we strive for perfection. The less familiar we are with the problem we face, the more disruptive we seek to be with our next solution, and the stronger our bias grabs hold of us and blinds us to the root of the problem or pushes us towards a familiar, but ineffective solution.

“Fail fast!” might sound inspirational, but it is a lot to take purely on faith. This is especially the case in the field of education where failure is synonymous with incompetence and the rigors of scholarly research take time. Consider innovation as a gear on a bike, best suited when we are faced with the unfamiliar or a daunting problem, when our old practices don’t seem to be taking hold, or when we are looking to do something radically new and better. Iterative prototyping is a common innovative practice specifically designed to evolve a solution design through several rounds of feedback. When done properly, this iteration often feels uncomfortably fast at first. But that speed is key to its effectiveness.

We start by deeply understanding the need - what is it we are trying to do, for whom, and (most importantly) why? What is the primary motivation? Too often we only scratch the surface of the problem we are trying to solve and charge ahead to find the solution. Unfortunately, this leads to focusing on a symptom close to the surface which leaves the root cause unaddressed. This leads to the problem persisting despite our efforts. Understanding the root of the problem requires empathy, and an effective way to gain this empathy is bringing those who are impacted into the design process at this early stage.

Once we have clearly identified the need, we are ready to ideate a solution. All too often we jump on the first “logical” suggestion and move right to operationalizing it rather than designing a solution that will truly resonate with the people being served. We have a solution that technically works but has low adoption because the experience is so poor, or we have a solution that is attractive to people but does not do a very good job of addressing the need it was design for. In order to achieve a solution that is both technically sound and appealing to people, we start with a conceptual prototype and test it. A conceptual prototype is a brief statement, similar in some ways to an “elevator pitch”, that captures the core function of the innovation as well as a couple of key features that enhance that core function. You test a conceptual prototype by sharing it with people and asking questions to understand what resonates with them and what does not. What do they like about it? What new ideas does it inspire? What do they dislike about it? What questions do they have? The intent is to learn and use these insights to improve the solution design rather than convince the test participants why this solution is so great.

Questioning can only get you so far. While the insights gained by testing the conceptual prototype will improve the design, they don’t tell us all we need to know. By simulating an experience of the solution, we gain an entirely new level of insight which did not come through the conceptual prototype testing. Simulated prototypes can vary from role playing interactions to sketches of website pages; ultimately allowing people to interact with the solution design. The results of testing a simulated prototype validate the components of your solution that are resonating with people, saving you from design flaws that at best would have caused delays, but would have more than likely resulted in the end of your innovation.