The challenge of building a prototype

Oct 15 2015

My team has been working on building the first prototype of our idea. Our idea is to create a third-party tool that lightens the load of university abroad offices by providing an all-encompassing, one-stop resource for their exchange students.

Arriving at this idea has been a very involved process with a plethora of changes along the way. Now, we are trying to turn that idea into a reality.

We never expected that arriving at the idea was the easy part.

We are starting with a website that will contain information that will be useful for exchange students. After meeting with Adrienne Cromwell, an international student program manager at UNC, we want to capture the information that will be most useful to students after all the dust of applying to programs and arranging plans has settled. What will the weather be like? What kind of clothes should a student pack? How much will textbooks cost? What are some cultural taboos? This could be anything from basic university information to past exchange student surveys to meal plan options. Our goal is to make this information easily accessible to new and current exchange students.

We also recognize that this tool should be useful to the universities that use it, especially if they are paying for it. Therefore, we also want to include tools that will make it easier for the university administrators to reach the exchange students. We plan to include a forum for asking questions and make this visible to other students so that they can perhaps see previous answers to questions they have. This will cut down on the amount of time that abroad offices must take to give students pertinent, customized information. We also need to find a way to make sure that important information is shared and viewed; in many of the meetings that exchange counselors have, they discuss with students information that is already available.

Actually building this prototype has been a challenge. We are faced with making real decisions about what information we include, the layout of the site, and which pictures to use. We have built a rough demo on a free WordPress blog. Crafting our website exactly how we want is difficult with free services. We are trying to keep in mind that this is just a prototype, and its purpose is to be a proof-of-concept that we can show abroad offices and exchange students. It has to convey our idea well enough that other parties understand our idea and our ultimate goal, but it should also remain simple enough that we can make fast changes and adapt to meet customer needs.

We still have to prove that people will want our product. Until we have proof, we have to be prepared to make changes. When customers see our website, they should be begging us for the full version. That is how we will know we’re onto something.


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