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Intro to Prototyping

Lesson 10 from: Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life

Bill Burnett, Dave Evans

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Lesson Info

10. Intro to Prototyping

Summary (Generated from Transcript)

This lesson is an introduction to prototyping in the context of designing a well-lived, joyful life. The instructors explain that prototyping is a way to ask questions, expose assumptions, involve others, and learn more about our plans. They discuss two types of prototypes: prototype conversations, which involve having conversations with people who have experience or knowledge in areas we are curious about, and prototype experiences, which involve trying out different experiences to gain a better understanding of whether they align with our goals and values.


  1. What is the purpose of prototyping in design thinking?

    The purpose of prototyping in design thinking is to ask questions, expose assumptions, involve others, and learn more about our plans.

  2. What are the characteristics of a good prototype?

    A good prototype should be cheap to construct, fast to implement, and allow us to learn something.

  3. What are the two categories of life design prototypes?

    The two categories of life design prototypes are prototype conversations and prototype experiences.

  4. What is a prototype conversation?

    A prototype conversation is a life design interview, where we have conversations with people who have experience or knowledge in areas we are curious about.

  5. What is a prototype experience?

    A prototype experience is when we try out different experiences to gain a better understanding of whether they align with our goals and values.

Lesson Info

Intro to Prototyping

I have a bunch of ideas, now's the time to take a biased action and go do something. Let's go ... You can prototype anything. Now when we talk about prototyping in design thinking, we're not talking about I'm gonna go build the one perfect model of my satellite to make sure that when we launch it, it's gonna be fine. We're talking about a different kind of prototyping. Mostly we prototype to ask a question. There's something in one of your plans that's interesting and wouldn't you like to know more? Wouldn't you like to be curious about that so, asking interesting questions, maybe exposing an assumption. Involving others in your ideas because you're gonna plan, you're gonna prototype in the world, and then it's this idea of, I said in the very beginning, you can't know the future, but we can sneak up on it. We can have little experiments with our prototypes to see, "Hey, is this something that I really wanna do?" "Is this something that would really feel right to me?" And prototypes, w...

e say it's gotta be cheap to construct, it's gotta be fast to implement, and we gotta learn something. I'm gonna sort of walk you through how we would prototype in Ann's life and we're all gonna prototype things from your plans, okay? So life design prototypes kind of fall into two categories; we call them prototype conversations and prototype experiences, and both of them are super useful. A prototype conversation, and you've probably thought about this or done this before, we call it a life design interview, and it's in this part of the, you know, prototyping, I'm gonna try something in the world. It's also in the I'm gonna go out in the world to learn something by using my empathy, my empathy tools, and it's also down in the discernment. I'm discovering, is there something in my plan that is really true to me? The comments from the online audience of saying, "Hey, I'm noticing things "are showing up in all three plans." That might be a signature strength of mine or a theme of my life. So I wanna discern is that really true? Life design interviews, the only thing is, forget the word interview, because that's what people do for jobs. Job interviews are all about qualifying you to see if you are the right person for something and you're putting on your little interview act to be that person. Nothing like that, forget that. A life design conversation or a life design interview is really, truly a conversation, and it's something that you ask for, something everybody's got. "Hey, tell me your story. What's it like to be a project manager? What's it like to be, you know, working on a Vista program?" So Bill, you shifted from running a design consultancy to now you're teaching design full-time. That sounds awfully, I wonder if you'd be willing to talk to me about what it's like converting from being a consultant to a teacher. Yeah, and that's probably a story I'm willing to share. The interesting thing about when you go after these types of prototypes is, we always think aligning objectives is really good. So both people in a life design prototype, this kind, a life sign interview, which is a prototype of a conversation, share the common objectives. I think you're interesting and you think you're interesting. And you're willing to tell me your story because that's all I'm asking for. I'm not asking for a job, I'm not asking for a reference, I'm not asking for anything. I'm just really curious. What is it like in your world, because I might be interested in being in that world? That's actually how this thing got started, that 2007 conversation we had that started this whole thing, Bill had just accepted the position, the newly created position of Executive Director of Design at Stanford while he was in fact CEO of a consultancy. And I called him and said, "Hey! That sounds really interesting. "I bet you're finding your "life transition really fascinating. "I'm finding your life transition really fascinating. "Why don't we get together and talk about your life transition?" And we had a great time. And he bought the coffee, so (audience laughs) what's to lose, right? I mean, you know. So, you know, we go back to Ann's story, and there's a bunch of things that Ann has never done before, and she's deeply curious. "Geez, what's it like to write a book?" Well, she can go have a conversation with somebody about that. She probably knows somebody who knows somebody who's either written a book or who has a book agent or works for a publisher, or maybe someone who does an online blog, someone who actually writes for a living, what's that like? Now writing a book, that's not a prototype. That's all in, and by the way, it's a horrible thing to do. We didn't like it at all. Never again! Never do it. But she can discover what is it about that experience by simply having four or five conversations with people who are either in and around that thing. Another thing is, going back to school, she's mid-career and she's thinking, "I don't know, going back to school. Do I really want to do that? Do I want to be in school? Do I wanna have that experience, and we actually made her go take some, go to classes, and sit in classes at Stanford. She was really worried that the millennials would be mean to her and stuff, and that didn't play out that way at all, but she needed to have the experience to feel what it was like in that space. So both of those cases she was able to find someone to talk to and have an experience a prototype experience that really worked for her.

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Ratings and Reviews


A fantastic class for someone seeking to optimize their life for a greater sense of satisfaction and especially for someone who is considering a career transition. We are taught effective methods for brainstorming, examining, and prototyping our options, and we are given an approach for the hardest task of all: how to make a choice when faced with multiple good options! Also great tips for networking and getting your foot in the door. This class was very timely for me as I've been struggling with making a decision on what my next career was going to be. I now feel equipped with tools that will help me make that decision with less agony and more fun! Also, I'm a huge fan of design thinking, so it was great to see how that methodology could be applied to making one of the most important decisions in our life.

Karen Vitto

Great course! Great for who like me is on their 30's starting life in a new country with a new language and have been out of the industry for 4 years. Designing new goals, making new networking and starting a MBA for some updates on my carrear. Really helped with some focus. Super recommend!


Loved this class! It was high energy, fast paced and well organized, as well as inspiring. It helped me to make more concrete things I've been thinking and dreaming about. I'm so glad I took it. I made great contacts and will definitely use this material in the future!

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