The Concept Lab: Stories From The Front

The Concept Lab has become an ever popular way of exploring and proofing big ideas and new concepts, but making it work and getting it right is far from easy.

Last Wednesday I was invited by one of our partners, Fluxx, to talk at an evening event they hosted; The DNA of Innovation. They wanted me to share my war stories from working in Concept Labs and Rapid Prototyping, something we have years of experience with here at Red Badger.

The Concept Lab has become an ever popular way of exploring and proofing big ideas and new concepts, but making it work and getting it right is far from easy. Having worked on a whole stack of challenging Labs over the last 4 years, Head of Experience Design at Fluxx, Paul Dawson, asked me to share some of those experiences with luminaries invited from 15 of the worlds most notable brands.

“the idea is not so much to do things differently, but to distill the best industry process”

The key theme of a lab is that of discovery – for good or bad. You take a multi-disciplined crack team, set them some large goals (and lots of them), give them the best tools, the best tech, remove all impediments and then lock them away in a collaborative space for 3 – 6 weeks and let them prove, or disprove, the objectives of the lab.

The idea is not so much to do things differently than you normally would, crazily churning out awful code, but to distil the best industry process down into your 3 – 6 week period, using the bare essentials of each process; taking away as much as you can, but stopping just before your yield drops.

With that thesis in mind I decided to apply the same methodology to my talk and take three Labs I’d worked on and, in just 10mins, whip through what each set out to achieve, what we did and what we discovered. As we toured through Labs for Tesco, Haynes and Microsoft – looking at concept artwork and videos of working product it was great to see the audience immediately “getting it”.

That’s what Labs are so great at doing – bringing lots of tough ideas to life, quickly.

“Pocket Mechanic” (a Lab we conducted for Haynes) is a case in point, the actual rapid prototype below was put together in less than a week, but every time we put it into someone’s hands to play with – they love it. They instantly see the value in the concept. That’s pretty powerful stuff.

If you can put a device, with working software, in the hands of a decision maker and show them something within 4 weeks, it makes their decision a lot easier than if you simply tell them you can do something. What’s more, the subsequent decision about what to spend the real money on is going to be a much wiser and confident one if much of the discovery work has already been done.

“in a Lab, failure is an option ”

In a Lab, failure is an option; you set out with lots of tough goals, safe in the knowledge that you expect some of them not to work. The value in making your mistakes early, in a controlled environment, as opposed to the production development cycle cannot be underestimated.

It’s important to remember that Labs work best when the goals are many and tough – for the team it should feel like a challenge, it should be intensively productive and if you really have the crack team you need, they’ll revel in it.

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