Prototyping and PR

Speaker Post: Anne-Marie and Laura Richards

Over the coming weeks leading to #PRFest, the speakers will blog about their subject area, giving you a flavour of what to expect on the day. 

Thinking like a Designer


The design world has long relied on a system of prototyping and refining, to craft products that are beautiful and functional in equal parts. Designers know that it would be foolish to think that an initial sketch equates to a finished product – each time a design is tested and with each iteration it becomes better; it becomes more fit for purpose.

The business world, arguably inspired by the success of design-focused firms like Apple, has also started to adopt this process. Start-ups typically begin with an ‘MVP’ (minimal viable product) – a prototype which is built quickly and cheaply, to allow them to test product-market fit. Serious investments don’t happen until a product has proven it solves a problem and is therefore ready to scale.

While PR is not (usually) focussed on designing chairs or building digital products, the same process can still be used to craft meaningful, effective campaigns. It can also help avoid a crisis when a campaign isn’t received in the way a brand or company was expecting. Like this campaign. Or this one. Or this one.

From Products to People.

‘Design thinking’ involves identifying a problem, building a prototype solution and testing it rigorously. Feedback from the testing phase is used to adapt and improve the initial prototype. Solution 2.0 is then also subjected to testing, with feedback leading to solution 3.0 and so on…. Until finally you have something that genuinely solves the problem you were addressing.

But ‘design thinking’ has also iterated. The founders of Ideo (one of the world’s leading design companies) developed a concept they call Human-centred design, which they use to tackle both company-specific problems and global, societal issues. And this is where things get really interesting for the PR Industry.

Human-centred design (HCD), as the name suggests, focusses on understanding how communities or individuals act and what currently impacts them, using this as the basis for product or service-development. A mix between traditional design and anthropology, ideas are tested out in-situ and are often co-developed with the end user group.

In PR terms this means that the secret to success is to start small, testing out a company’s messaging, content or programmes – specifically with the people it is looking to reach. The emphasis (as it should be) is on how to make things easier for stakeholders to understand, access, participate etc. rather than focussing on what the company ‘wants to say’. PR should be purpose-driven and should shape positive business practices and HCD complements this.

It also means that feedback and evaluation is part of the process of developing a campaign or strategy, not something done after the fact. HCD means that if something isn’t working it can be identified quickly and can be rectified before launching a large-scale programme of activity.

Campaign or Career?

Laura Richards

Human-centred design works not only for PR planning, but also for career development. World renowned university Stanford (in the US) has for several years offered courses in ‘life design’ as part of the (also worth checking out if you really feel in a rut is the book by the same team) – all based on the same processes of identifying the right problem, having a bias to action, prototyping solutions, seeking feedback and iterating.

Sometimes with career frustrations it can be difficult to work out the root cause. It’s easy to get caught up with thoughts like ‘it’s my boss’, ‘it’s the clients’ or ‘it’s the admin tasks’. Once the actual problem is identified, the prototyping phase can begin. It can be as simple as starting with a coffee (Laura’s first step two years ago), or as big as starting a new company (Anne-Marie’s decision at the end of 2016). The key thing to remember is that each step is just that – one step in a chain. So, what are you waiting for? Let the prototyping begin.

Come and hear Anne-Marie and Laura speak at #PRFest and learn how they used this critical thinking and mindset to help themselves and their careers.

You can buy your tickets here.