After lunch every Monday we have a “community show and tell” in Newcastle.

Each of us being buried away in our agile teams it’s often difficult to breakaway from the day-to-day, hour-to-hour hurly-burly. These weekly hour-long sessions are great opportunities for designers to get together, share their work, their thoughts, and have some productive discussion.

We cycle between an interaction design only meeting one week, and the next week we have joint interaction and content design meeting.

This week I led the session to talk about the work I’d been doing recently, and to delve a little in the idea of “prototype”.

On the service I am on I’ve used two Google Ventures design sprints (a week each) within one of our sprints (two weeks) to pull together a new prototype that focuses on insights from user research - and explore ways of meeting those needs.

(Protip: I highly recommend you don’t take this approach if you’ve other stuff on top of this. It’s an absolute frier. I just did it as we needed a bit of step change. It’s easy to get distracted by “fire fighting” and put off the longer game stuff. It’s not fun finishing off your work at 2am and having to get up four hours later to head off for a long day of user research.)

The problem with ‘prototype’

Up front I spied one slight issue with this week’s show and tell: There’s a sliding scale on how people define prototypes.

Some see them as a thing that tests something. (Which I do, as blogged about here.)

Others, at the other end of the scale, can see prototypes as a sort, say, of hyper-rich specification, if you will, that they can use to do a full build against.

For the show and tell session I wanted to quickly get across what I feel a prototype is, get that definition shared up front, understood, as prep for what they were about to go through.

The prototype I showed - running off my Macbook, made using the GDS prototype kit, hooked up to a big screen - was firmly in the former logic. And it was full of, well, tests.

The prototype also carried some rough edges - but its primary purpose was there to test structure, user flow, things like that, rather than the nitty-gritty of the overall precision of content (at this point).

Borrowing from pop culture

To introduce the session I pulled together some slides. Examples of “prototypes” in the wild, in popular culture aren’t that prevalent. But there’s one in Iron Man 3. So I cadged that. It’s a decent one. (I know I borrow from the Marvel Cinematic Universe a lot. Why wouldn’t I?)

Why borrow from pop culture? It’s something the audience has a decent chance of having seen. And pop culture is usually accessible.

Since we try to work in the open within government, I’ve uploaded the slides.

There’s not a lot there, but you might find it useful. The last slide was a setter for the themes I’d be addressing during the prototype exploration after these slides. There’s nothing contentious in there. (I’m not the biggest fan of bullet points, but, again, expectancy for my colleagues in the room.)

True to how we approach the show and tells, this session turned out to be an honest and open forum about what I showed. I keep emphasising it, but in the HMRC Digital design team we are big on sharing our thoughts, exploring together and using the team’s deep experience. By being open between ourselves, by progressively evaluating and improving, we make better things.

Anyway, if you want to view the slides or can reuse them, be my guest. Let me know if you do.