Fail Faster

The fine folks over at Extra Credits have an excellent video on a topic that is near and dear to my heart: failing faster. The gist of the video is that it is important to learn how to use tools such as low-fidelity prototypes to validate an idea. The key takeaway is that you want to learn from your mistakes as quickly and as cheaply as possible. Waiting until you have the perfect idea all figured out takes too much time (and really, you won't have it all figured out). Likewise, immediately jumping into writing code means that fixing your mistakes is much more expensive to do (and you will be more hesitant to do so).

I have personally been involved in this type of situation many times throughout my career. In one particular instance, I was part of a team working on a new major feature for an app. Unfortunately, the development process devolved into 'prototyping in code' as major changes were made on a daily basis to the visual design, user flow, and business logic of that feature. This was a terribly expensive way of figuring out how things should work. When we tested the feature with a few handpicked users, the flaws in our design were immediately obvious. We thought that the design was generally good and understandable (albeit with a few rough edges), but the participants in the user testing pointed out sizable problems with the design that made it clear that this feature was not ready to ship. It's as if we were blind to our own design.

After this particular experience, I championed the idea of using interactive prototypes for further design iterations. Each design iteration consisted of 'tappable screenshots' that our test users could try out and use to provide us with feedback. Making changes to a particular screen or to the user flow was as simple as dropping in a new image file from Photoshop or designating a new tappable area on an existing screen. The turnaround time for these changes could be measured in minutes or hours instead of days and weeks. In the end, the ability to 'fail faster' with the interactive prototype helped to make the feature better in a shorter period of time than what could be done with code.

Folks, I know it can be tempting to immediately jump into code; that's pretty much what developers are inclined to do. However, understand that it may not always be in your best interests to do that. Find cheaper and faster ways to validate your ideas.


There are many different tools that can be used to help you 'fail faster'. These are the ones that I use on a regular basis:

  • Pen and paper or a whiteboard - you really can't get much faster and cheaper than this.
  • POP (Prototyping on Paper) - this app makes it easy to take a photo of things that I have made in my sketchbook or whiteboard and add tappable hot zones with transitions.
  • InVision - this web app provides a lot more horsepower in terms of the transitions, collaboration, and version control that it supports. I use this with Photoshop mockups to provide a more "real" feel than what POP provides.