• Ryan Panzer

Design Thinking and Church Community: Step Four - Prototype!

Updated: Nov 2

This post is the fifth in a six-part series on building Digital Church Community with Design Thinking, a series responding to the challenges of building Christian community in a pandemic. Be sure to check out the intro, as well as our guide to Empathizing, Defining, and Ideating!

As we continue through our process of re-inventing church community through design thinking, we turn the corner from thinking to doing. In the "Prototyping" phase of design thinking, we seek to create usable versions of our top ideas to put into a pilot test.

According to interaction-design.org, step four of design thinking is the step we start to create solutions:

This [prototyping] is an experimental phase. The aim is to identify the best possible solution for each problem found. Your team should produce some inexpensive, scaled-down versions of the product (or specific features found within the product) to investigate the ideas you’ve generated. This could involve simply paper prototyping.
With prototyping, the way forward becomes immediately clear

But how do we know which of our brainstormed ideas deserve an "inexpensive, scaled-down" prototype?

Start by consolidating ideas. See which topics from the ideation phase are duplicates, or which ideas could be logically combined. If we merge the ideas where there is overlap, we will find that most of the heavy-lifting of prioritization happens automatically. Once your group has "de-duplicated" the list, you'll have to make some tough calls on which thoughts to advance.

Some groups simply vote on the ideas they would most like to prototype (see the Nominal Group Technique for more on effective voting processes). If everyone on the team is given one vote, several ideas usually emerge as consensus favorites. The challenge with voting is that it is subject to diluted results. If one idea gets 2 votes and 30 others get 1 vote, is it really the front-runner? To avoid complicating design thinking with the complexities of an electoral college-like system, you might prioritize with two questions:

  • Which idea is the easiest to implement?

  • Which idea will have the greatest impact?

If we prototype based on simplicity, while also prototyping based on impact, we are likely to balance the critical factors of feasibility and effectiveness. We may even find that the ideas with the greatest impact are also the ideas that are easiest to implement! These two questions should lead us into the development of no more than two prototypes for our design thinking test.

But what does prototyping actually look like, in the context of building Christian community? It's a valid question since we're likely designing a process or set of communal actions, rather than a tangible product.

The key to our prototype is that we should be able to use it in our pilot testing. So what we're seeking with our prototype are the parameters that will guide our test. While we can document these ideas in a word doc, outlining the who, what, when, where, and how of our prototype, many innovators will find it more enlightening to create a prototype in the format of a storyboard.

By actually drawing visual representations of our prototype, we can imagine creative ideas that the written word may not facilitate. We can imagine how our ideas will pull our community together, as we remember that this process focuses on real human beings, not textual abstractions! And we can imagine the best-case scenario for our ideas, appreciating how our community will benefit once our vision is realized.

Shelve any concerns about a lack of artistic aptitude. Ignore any preconceived notions of what a storyboard must look like. We're church leaders, not animators for Pixar or The Simpsons. Stick-figures are just fine. Clip art and stock images from Google search are completely adequate. And we don't need expensive software. There are countless free storyboarding apps on the web. I simply use Canva or Google Slides. The tools are unimportant. This is not a high-tech, visually appealing process. It is a collaborative, imaginative process, one that requires creativity, not artistic skill.

The final output of the prototyping phase is a storyboard that guides us through the implementation of our ideas, illustrating a successful outcome of the pilot test.

Having created our prototypes in response to our ideation lists, we now must seek to put our ideas into a pilot test. We look towards testing, the final phase of design thinking, and the subject of our next post.


@ryanpanzer is the author of Grace and Gigabytes, now available for pre-order wherever books are sold.


Leadership developer for digital culture. Author of "Grace and Gigabytes," now available wherever books are sold.

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