How Modern Design Thinking Companies Are Applying Rapid Prototyping

Over time, more companies are discovering the benefits of design thinking and the value of rapid prototyping.

Traditionally, design and development processes tend to be linear. Project managers will set the course, and designers and engineers follow the plan. 

A lot of product development teams understand the importance of a customer-focused approach, which involves taking small steps and regularly getting feedback from users. This way, the team can work towards finding the best solution for the customer, instead of rushing to complete the project and then trying to fix problems afterwards.

Although companies that embrace design thinking can use various tools and processes, some are perfectly suited to its “clarify, ideate, develop, and implement” stages. Rapid prototyping is one such tool that modern design thinking companies use to keep their projects on track and optimize the final product. 

Let’s go over what it all entails.

What is rapid prototyping in design thinking? 

Design thinking requires a deep understanding of users’ needs and how to build a solution that meets customers’ specific needs and expectations. Rapid prototyping, particularly high-fidelity prototyping, is an efficient way to enable clients or prospective users to experience how the product will work before developers invest valuable time, money, and resources. 

Design thinking companies processes often involve collecting feedback early in the product development process through rapid prototyping. This allows for gathering information from potential users, which product development teams can use to ensure the final product meets their needs and desires.

The answers to these frequently asked questions about rapid prototyping in design thinking companies provide additional insights.

Is design thinking the same as rapid prototyping? 

Rapid prototyping is not the same as design thinking. However, it may become the centerpiece of collaborative design thinking teams’ processes. 

Which industries use rapid prototyping?

Rapid prototyping can benefit any business taking a design thinking approach to digital product development, such as healthcare, consumer services, and business-to-business (B2B) software. 

How many companies are using design thinking? 

Although it’s difficult to count the number of companies adopting a design thinking mindset, it is possible to see an increase in the number of companies looking for people for their design-thinking teams. Unique job postings for developers, designers, engineers, and managers with design thinking skills rose from about 2,500 in 2016 to nearly 30,000 by the end of 2021.  

Benefits of rapid prototyping in design thinking companies 

Rapid prototyping provides design thinking companies with benefits throughout the design and product development processes, including the following.:

Accelerated innovation, idea validation, and product development process

Design thinking is iterative, adapting as clients or potential users provide feedback and teams explore creative ideas. Rapid prototyping can give design thinking companies an effective way to validate their ideas more quickly and efficiently and overcome issues early. 

Enhanced collaboration, communication, and creativity

Rapid prototyping gives design thinking companies the information they need to align all development team members, keep product development projects on track, and provide creative confidence that the design resonates with users. 

Reduced costs and risks associated with product development

Giving clients a working prototype to try and provide feedback early in the process enables a team to make changes before significant investments into features and design elements. 

Increased user-centered design and customer satisfaction 

When clients or potential users are a part of the design and product development process early, they can help shape the product to their specifications. Additionally, engaging with users can give them a sense of ownership in the project, leading to greater solution adoption and customer satisfaction. 

Case studies: How modern design thinking companies utilize rapid prototyping

There are numerous examples of how rapid prototyping has benefitted design thinking companies, including the ones discussed below.


Yearly’s software platform enables thousands of marketing companies and fundraising organizations to design unique annual and impact reports. Early on in production, Yearly’s growth was constrained by the lack of an effective way for users to communicate their needs. 

After partnering with Patent355, Yearly adapted its processes to include high-fidelity rapid prototyping based on behavioral science. This enabled the company to give its clients a working prototype and experience how their solution would work so that they could provide meaningful feedback. 

Rapid prototyping allows Yearly to identify customer needs quickly, reducing the risks of moving forward with a project without a clear understanding of the customer’s needs and expectations. 


Global design company IDEO uses prototypes to help its design-thinking team build empathy for users and tell the story of its work. However, IDEO also sees prototypes as a tool that helps orient conversations among team members. This allows for broader feedback and enables all stakeholders to think about the project strategically. 

IDEO uses a variety of prototypes, from “quick and scrappy” models early in the process to tangible, usable products that enable users to provide feedback and show developers what works and what doesn’t. 

Prototyping gives IDEO the information necessary to save time and money by getting to the right ideas faster. 

Google Ventures’ Design Sprint 

Google’s Design Sprint is a five-day process that includes using prototyping to discuss design and innovative problem-solving with clients. It reduces the back and forth with clients from months to a week, resulting in a design everyone can agree on. 

The sprint “starts at the end” with the client’s goal and then works backward to map the project. The first day of the sprint also includes agreeing on a problem the team can solve in one week. 

The next day includes sketching a process and planning a customer test for the final day. This is followed by prototyping, focusing on the customer-facing surface of the product or service. Ultimately, the sprint provides the roadmap for what the development team needs to do to complete the project successfully.  


One of the most high-profile examples of a company that benefitted from design thinking is Netflix. The company reimagined its operation in the 2010s when it began to produce original movies and series and make them immediately available to customers.

As part of design sprints, Netflix uses prototypes in the browser and its TV rendering engine in two different environments. Its design thinking approach has helped the company succeed in a quickly evolving, competitive industry. 


Design thinking helped Airbnb turn its struggling startup into a billion-dollar company. Their turning point came when the company realized that even with the best code, it still needed excellent photos of properties to entice people to book their stays. In addition to enhancing images of properties for lease, Airbnb began to work on perfecting the entire customer experience, which led to increased growth. 

Airbnb’s new processes began by exploring technological capabilities and researching users’ preferences. Then, they used paper prototypes followed by high-fidelity prototypes to collect users’ feedback. Their design has become more user-centric, giving customers a clearer picture of the experiences they could anticipate through Airbnb. 

Challenges in implementing rapid prototyping in design thinking 

Design thinking companies make a few common mistakes when implementing rapid prototyping, which can limit the value it provides. Let's review some of the more frequent cases to help ensure the success of implementation. 

Prioritizing time constraints over feedback 

Rapid prototyping can take time to do well, but overall saves companies more time in the long run due to its ability to adapt early on in the process. By embracing rapid prototyping, companies can stay agile, adapt quickly to changing circumstances, and ultimately deliver better products to their customers.

Lacking flexibility and resisting change 

Change management is always important with new processes. Explain the “why” behind the change, the value of rapid prototyping, and how it will ultimately make product development teams’ lives easier. 

Not securing the necessary resources 

A company may not have the tools or skills necessary for rapid prototyping. Working with a partner with rapid prototyping expertise can make the process easier. 

Ignoring communication and collaboration processes 

In addition to the prototype, a company may need to implement better tools and processes to communicate with each other and clients to create a feedback loop that helps produce the best solution. 

Tips for successfully integrating rapid prototyping with design thinking

Whether developing new solutions or adapting a finished product to new user demands, design thinking companies can maximize the benefits of rapid prototyping by doing the following.

Fostering a culture of innovation 

Create an environment of trust and respect where product development teams feel free to suggest new ideas. Innovation requires the freedom to try new things without fear of repercussions if they don’t work. 

Providing necessary resources and training 

Successfully integrating rapid prototyping into product development processes requires training to build the tool and use it effectively. Educate the product development team on using the prototype to collect feedback and validate the solution. 

Adopting a fail-fast, learn-fast mindset 

A high-fidelity prototype gives clients a realistic user experience before the product goes into full production. Be open to change at the prototype stage to minimize the project’s risks. 

Encouraging collaboration among team members 

A high-fidelity prototype is an excellent tool to foster collaboration across departments and among all project stakeholders. Rather than only telling, it demonstrates what the solution will do and the UX it provides so all team members are aligned. 

The future of rapid prototyping in design thinking 

Understanding users’ needs and their goals is fundamental to design thinking. Rapid prototyping accelerates innovation, idea validation, and product development timelines. 

It enhances development team and client communication and collaboration, increasing customer satisfaction.  This can lead to stronger relationships between the design team and clients, as well as greater trust in the design process as a whole. 

With new technologies emerging all the time, the future of rapid prototyping looks bright, with companies likely to have access to even more powerful and flexible tools in the years to come.

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