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Rapid Prototyping: Bringing Your Idea to Life

Rapid prototyping is all about bringing your idea to life for others so they can see it, experience it, understand it, and, perhaps most importantly, buy into it. It is about showing, not telling. Through rapid prototyping, companies and their teams can iterate an idea until they get it right.

Here are two examples of successful rapid prototyping from my time at Disney:

The case of Disney’s Animal Kingdom

When the Disney Imagineering Team was designing a concept for what would become the fourth theme park at the Walt Disney World Resort, Joe Rhode, the project’s lead Imagineer, had a vision that Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park would allow guests to get “up close” to the animals in a way no other park had been able to achieve.

In his first pitch to the Disney board, Joe used a series of images and models to bring the park to life to help others visualize what only he could see. But they couldn’t feel it.

In his second pitch, Joe had the boardroom cleared out, leaving only the seats for the members. Once everyone was seated comfortably, Joe began his presentation. Again, he described in detail just how close the guests would be able to get to the animals. However, this time he wanted the board members not only to see his vision but also to feel what it might be like to be alongside the power and majesty of some of the animals that would be housed in Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

Halfway through the presentation, Joe paused and introduced a full-size Siberian tiger into the boardroom. While the tiger was restrained by a keeper, it made a big impression, as you might imagine. Joe had succeeded in bringing his prototype to life by showing the board just how it felt to get that close to nature. The approval for Disney’s Animal Kingdom was granted and work began on developing the full experience. The park opened to the public on April 22, 1998.

Aloha Aulani

In 2011, Disney opened its first stand-alone family resort hotel in Oahu, Hawaii, named Aulani. While the resort was very popular during the peak vacation periods, occupancy was lower than projected when kids were back in school.

Through consumer focus groups, we discovered an untapped market segment of parents with toddlers, who were not yet subject to the rhythms of the restrictions imposed by school terms. But we also found that a key barrier to travel, especially international travel by parents with toddlers, was all the “stuff” the parents had to carry with them.

With this in mind, the team came up with the idea of creating a Disney-branded package of items —car seat, stroller, diaper bag, spill-proof bottles, toys, changing pad, extra clothes, bibs, baby wipes, blankets— those parents of toddlers would normally have to take on a 5-day, 4-night vacation. The package would be available to parents during the offseason, at no extra cost, making it easier for them to travel.

The team’s first pitch consisted of a PowerPoint presentation with the items projected onto a screen. That was not particularly compelling.

For their second pitch, however, they arrived at the boardroom early and simply covered the boardroom table with the mountain of “stuff” two young families with toddlers would have to take with them on a long journey. The idea became real very quickly and was soon sold and executed, in turn driving significant incremental demand in the offseason from young parents.

As just these two examples show, rapid prototyping provides an excellent opportunity to bring your idea to life for potential customers. By going above and beyond to make the idea real, your audience will be able to give your idea the appreciation and understanding it deserves, and it will encourage your team to be more creative too.

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