Prototypes sound good: they suggest innovation and flexibility, without the cost of setting anything in stone.

As a digital innovation agency, we’ve built a good few prototypes for our clients. Alas, these prototypes have been some of our least satisfying projects.

Yes, we’ve been inspired by the initial vision. Yes, we’ve worked hard to make the client happy. Yes, we’ve gone the extra mile to delight. And yet, and yet… something has never quite clicked.

4 Days 2 Launch

What goes wrong?

Slip

With no go-live date, difficult decisions get delayed.

Bloat

There are bigger ambitions for a prototype than for a normal project. Freed from the constraints of shipping code, everyone hopes to create something game-changing. Extra features get added as the team grasp towards that big ambition.

Lack of Focus

Not wanting to blame the client, but… usually there’s no one at the client firm who is totally focused on the prototype. A prototype is often a bit of a hobby, somewhere down the to-do list.

Good digital products are often simple ideas kept sharp by hard design decisions. Prototypes pull in the opposite direction.

4 Days 2 Launch thinking

These might sound like intractable problems.

Well, believe it or not, Mint has them fixed! And the solution came from an unlikely direction, meaning it took us a while to realise we had a solution.

Last year we started offering a digital training course, called Four Days to Launch (or 4D2L). Structured around a product development competition, we hoped to give attendees: ‘six months nose-to-tail experience of a digital project in four days’.

We had our first taker: an advertising agency who wanted two weeks of courses. Each week, two teams competed to answer a live client brief.

The training went well: “without a doubt one of the best experiences I’ve had in the last year,” said one attendee.

But what was astounding was the the quality of the prototypes.

They were sharp. They were tight. OK, they weren’t rock solid and ready to release. But the important bits worked well enough. They were good enough to kick. In eight days, in collaboration with a batch of people who were newish to digital, we had built four of the best prototypes ever to come out of Mint.

We came to see that 4D2L is more than a training exercise. It is also a rapid prototyping programme. Mixed teams from Mint and the client intensively discover digital solutions to business problems.

Laura and Utku at work

All the problems that we normally see with prototypes were eradicated.

No slip

There’s no room for slippage. 4D2L is all about working code on day four.

There’s an added benefit here. Because we know we’ll have a prototype at the end of the week, it is easier to do user testing and then iterate. Prior to 4D2L, a prototype would have run out of steam by the time it was finally ready to show, and the last thing anyone wanted was a batch of feedback. With 4D2L, the project has momentum and the team are bursting to see how users react to it.

No bloat

The competitive nature of 4D2L encourages teams to push to an edge. The urge to add extra features is weaker; everyone sees it is important to do one thing well.

Focus

On 4D2L, the prototypes get the focus they need. All the stakeholders are in the room, amped with adrenaline. Hard decisions are taken quickly.

In the photos you can see us working with vInspired and Venn Street on the first 4D2L that was not a training course but a rapid prototyping programme. At Mint, it feels like a breakthrough: with this format we can be confident that we can help bigger companies achieve the innovation more commonly seen in startups.

If this sounds interesting, here are some more details. And if you’d like to collaborate on a 4D2L prototype, we’d love to talk…

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