Proto- & provotypes

Test ideas quickly. A prototype is a visualization of an idea, for example, an outline of a public letter. The key is to get fast inputs to an unfinished idea from end-users, in order to further develop the idea. Provotypes, on the other hand, are sketches of solution types that are unrealistic, but may provoke a discussion with users: What would they definitely not want?


Prototypes are designed to show a real, but unfinished vision of how new solutions can look. The crucial factor is the ability to quickly test ideas and get concrete inputs, instead of just speculating about them.

For example, we tested a prototype of an idea related to a knowledge sharing format among teachers. We tested the idea on the target audience and in one hour we got important inputs that helped us adjust the idea.

Prototypes can be used to test ideas several times along the process, as part of an iterative process.


Provotypes are reminiscent of prototypes but have a different purpose. They are sketches of solutions that are unrealistic but may provoke a discussion with users, decision-makers and other stakeholders on the issues that are crucial to account for in the development of new initiatives. In this way, provotypes helps articulate some of the issues that users find it difficult to put into words in a regular interview or a prototype test.

In a project for Employment and Social Services Department in Odense, we did a provotype called "First Picker" where the long-term unemployed citizen was handed the profile descriptions of all caseworkers - and where the citizen could then choose the caseworker, they would like to work with. A provotype can also be an external illustration of a service or an organization to get a discussion about what it should not be. Provotypes can be used as part of the first user research or an extension of the first round of the generation of ideas.


Decide on a focus for the provotype. You and your project team starts by making a brainstorm about what themes it can be difficult to elucidate through an interview or observation, and where a provotype therefore can be a help.


Create the provotype: Describe what provotypes could help users, decisionmakers and other stakeholders reflect on the themes in question.


Introduce the provotype: Present your provotype to those you want feedback from - it can be citizens, front staff or others. Present provotype carefully so they get a sense of an everyday life where the provotype is real. Ask what the provotype specifically would mean for them, and write down the answers along the way. Use their feedback to formulate development questions you can work on.