Pretotyping is an unfamiliar term for many and is often wrongly perceived to be a misspelling of ‘prototyping’. Coined by Alberto Savoia, former Engineering Director and Innovation Agitator at Google, this term can be best explained using examples.

Decades ago, IBM came up with the idea to create a speech-to-text device. Users could simply speak into a microphone and have their words appear on the screen, removing the usage of a typewriter or a typist. In theory, it seemed like an amazing idea that was believed to bring huge success to IBM. However, some of IBM’s employees were unsure of it and wanted to test it before working full-fledged. Even testing such a device required large sums of money to create its prototype — an early sample of the finished product to check the idea and whether it meets the customer expectations.

This is where pretotyping came in. IBM called potential customers to use the pretotype but they were informed that they were going to use the actual product. In reality, IBM had kept a dummy computer in front of the users and had a skilled typist typing their words. This made it seem like the speech-to-text machine was actually working although the entire process was done traditionally. 

This experiment saved IBM tons of money as the feedback from the potential customers was mostly negative. This device had several issues. It was noisy, unsuitable for confidential information, and made the user’s throat sore. Moreover, most of the potential buyers refused to buy the product after testing it. 

Had IBM used the traditional way of creating products and spent months creating a working prototype, it would have incurred substantial losses. Similar examples like this made Alberto Savoia come up with the term pretotyping.

“Pretotyping is a way to test an idea quickly and inexpensively by creating extremely simplified, mocked or virtual versions of that product to help validate the premise that ‘If we build it, they will use it.’”

– Alberto Savoia

If you have an idea for something, be it a business, mobile application, or a device, remember to create its pretotype first. Pretotyping answers just one question for its users: “Is this the right thing to build?” 

We are often blinded by the positive aspects of our ideas and hence, end up working at them for long hours to bring them to reality. However, testing it and taking into account its negative aspects should be one of the initial steps. Some ideas may be useful merely in theory but not in practice while some may have aspects to them that overshadow the benefits, like the speech-to-text machine. 

To know more about pretotyping, you could read Pretotype It by Alberto Savoia.

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