A few weeks ago Eric and I attended the ReCourses/Win Without Pitching New Business Summit in Nashville. David Bakers events are great for us; the attendees are often times principals of mid-sized agencies and, since our shop is structured a lot like a mid-sized agency, his advice is almost always directly applicable.
During one of the sessions, David was talking about specialization, and how you need to be an expert in a very unique niche. For example, being a marketing expert is not enough, and it is sort of a fallacy. Being an expert at marketing equestrian products to mid sized farms in North America, now THAT is a specialization. David asked an open question to the audience, What are some examples of specific knowledge that you have as a result of being an expert in your field? Im not particularly afraid to speak up in a crowd of people, so I raised my hand.
Newfangled specializes in working with agencies on their and their clients websites. I cited the example that we have learned over the years that when agencies dont let us have direct access to their clients, the communication breaks down and the project doesnt go well. This was the third response to Davids question. After my somewhat appropriate, but not spot on response, he looked a little flustered. Eric then chimed in and said something like Newfangled has learned that without proper prototyping, communication about a web development project is flawed.
UGH! Humiliation! Of course, Its the PROTOTYPING, stupid! I knew that. I could have said that, but no, my moment in the sun was squandered on explaining some low level detail that didnt really engage anyone, and Eric triumphed by stating our old party line. But man, it is a really good line. It is so tightly integrated into what we do, it is so central to our universe, that I forget that most web projects managed by other firms never even see an interactive, web-based prototype. I spend hours ever day telling our clients to be (to borrow a phrase from Blair Enns) about how prototyping is the bedrock of Newfangled, and it really is. Sure, we have a great CMS, we are hyper devoted to great and conscientious customer service, we have a lot of smart people that build and design excellent websites every day, but the prototyping is our real differentiator. It is at that stage, which for us is the very first stage, that we truly shine as brightly as we can as web developers.
The main reason for this is freedom. Prototyping gives us and our clients the freedom to suggest anything, and try everything. Because the prototype tool is based on our CMS, it has no visual design elements (hence the Grayscreen) and we are just basically mocking up functionality without actually programming it out, we can have changes made to the prototype within hours of a brainstorming session. That kind of quick turnaround fosters a lot of brainstorming - and we love it. Imagine that, entering a web project with every possible option available to you. It should sound wonderful and very scary, which brings me to my second wonderful attribute of prototyping - consultation.
Again, prototyping is the very first stage of the project, and it is also the stage that has the most Newfangled eyes on it. On average, seven different people here, including most all senior staff, take part in the prototyping process. Im not much for numbers like this, but that is the equivalent of over 60 years of 7 different and unique perspectives on web development! The Grayscreen Prototyping stage is our opportunity to take advantage of our collective experience and use it (via internal debates, sometimes lots of them) to basically take the most educated guess possible as to what your site should be doing.
Once the prototype is done what we have is analogous to the blueprint of a house - it is a very detailed, mutually agreed upon set of plans. This seemingly needless and time consuming phase that many other developers plain skip actually ends up accelerating the overall time line. That is because the design, programming and copywriting can all take place simultaneously after the prototype is done, because everyone is playing from the same rulebook.
Not taking our own best advice, we strayed from prototyping a few years back on some projects that were so simple, we thought they didnt need it... that will NEVER happen again. Prototyping is here to stay, and I believe it is the most essential part of Newfangled.