Prototypes Are Like Wet Clay: Reshaping and Testing Designs

This week our team of Kay WymanAaron Steinman, and myself recruited people that were excited to test out our pilot produces and services. Using out initial models, low-fidelity demos we shared our designs and gathered feedback. After a week of listening to people react to the work, we find ourselves needing to reshape our products and services to adapts to what people are asking about and to get a deeper understanding of why certain parts of the design aren’t picking up traction. The moment we think we have created a bowl, or vase, or mug natural forces taken hold of the medium and exerts itself on what we’ve put together, giving the piece a more organic look and feel. It’s like working with wet clay.  If this sounds like it can be discouraging, you are absolutely right. But the problem is that we are standing too close. Once our team regrouped and talked about the problem each product was attempting to solve, how people reacted to it, the things we learned to work well and not work we were able to take a step back and appreciate the new form each product and service is taking. Below we would like to share with you our findings from this past week.



(sounds like ‘Funded  You’)

Many believe that higher education is the best way to achieve economic mobility.  This can be true but is often not for those that have not found the right path for themselves.  The journey of education if beautiful in that it offers the potential for growth, hope, and opportunity. But if this that is not properly honed and focus, all of that potential will convert into large debts, time lost and a battered ego. Education and economic mobility then becomes out of reach or difficult to get through because of the great financial cost.  

FundEDU is the only crowdfunding platform for higher education that connects students to their community of support.

This past week we wanted to learn specifics about who and how many people will find this valuable. In order to gauge interest, we made a simple landing page announcing a website “coming soon” to capture email signups and a Facebook ad to drive traffic and measure interest by clicks. The test was designed to see if people are interested in “yet another” crowdfunding platform, even if it is specifically geared towards higher education.

Our hypothesis was that people would be generally interested in exploring a new, as yet unknown funding option for education and would be motivated to click on our ad. However, since we are not offering much in the way of an actual product yet, we would garner a few signups from the landing page.

The Facebook ad targeted people in the United States with some high school or some college, who were interested in either Austin Community College or General Assembly. The rationale for choosing the two schools was: 1) we wanted the ad to get in front of people already thinking about education. 2) Generating local interest from a school in Austin that serves many post-traditional students could provide us with leads for further testing. 3) General Assembly is a popular, but unaccredited school, so students would have limited access to traditional government aid for education.

On the first day of our ad campaign, our ad reached about 650 people and received 6 clicks, costing $4.03. That means each click was $0.67. While this is an expensive price for a click and not a full conversion, it still shows a strong sign of interest. More robust ads and landing pages built for each target customer segment could make these metrics more cost-effective. However, our next steps are to create a prototype to get in front of users for feedback. It’s important to see why people are interested in an educational crowdfunding platform. The fun of design is that the reasons for behavior or feeling are never exactly what you think.

Through the testing process, we learned that a very simple ad and landing page can start catching people’s attention for a product. Our class has been practicing “de-risking” through validating ideas quickly and cheaply, but this iteration proved the point in just one day and for $4. As the results came in, the limitations of this test became apparent as well. We do not know what prompted each individual to click the link or how they thought the service would work. 

Our hypothesis moving forward is that student and prospective students are looking for any funding channel because education is almost always expensive and government aid when it is available, does not cover living expenses. However, we suspect there is more nuance here or perhaps other compelling reasons to seek out crowdfunding altogether. This will be the focus of next week’s testing.



Me Mentor

We all have goals and aspirations that sit in the back of our minds just waiting for the opportune time to start working towards them. We often tell ourselves that we are too busy, or don’t have the right support or resources. For the few aspirations that do make it out of our heads and into the world, setting goals and staying focused is difficult when you have so many things to balance. In reality, everything that is achieved is a result of several small steps that build upon one another.  So how do we achieve a goal when breaking down ideas into smaller tasks is a skill that many aren’t taught. Me Mentor is a personal coaching subscription that helps make defining these steps easier, and routine. The Me Mentor process and personal coach supports you in learning how to identify, define, and take it one step at a time with encouragement and support. Learn to organize your time, thoughts, hopes, and future.

This week our prototype consisted of a Me Mentor form and a designer playing the role as a personal coach. With this prototype we were testing if people would be interested and find beneficial the combination of an encouraging voice, advice on how to break down goals into smallest bit size takes for the benefit of continued momentum, and having a list to refer to as a means to pick up where you left of for the goal you are trying to achieve.

This week we recruited two users to use our Me Mentor goal setting and planning worksheet, and then checked in on each user at the end of the day to follow up on their progress, reflect, and get specific on how they will fit in the next step in the next day.

Lesson #1. We learned from our two users that the practice of writing a goal and the plan they thought of to execute it made the idea real and motivating to start. We also learned that having another person coach them on how to break down steps into smaller pieces made it possible to have continued momentum. In one example, one user had the goal to write a paper and this person’s steps #1 and #2 were to look up requirements, then write a rough draft. This person also originally estimated that it would take 1-2 days between those two steps.  This plan could be equated to running short burst sprints, where each sprint is interrupted by a hard stop. We suggested that instead of waiting for inspiration to strike, they could begin to think deeply about the topic by creating an outline based on their ideas and the requirements. This helped the person continued their stream of motivation, instead of getting distracted by another unrelated task in between steps #1 and #2. This motivation is more like running at a steadily paced marathon, with continued endurance. We were able to validate that the model of a worksheet and personal coaching is valuable to help a person maintain consistent momentum.

Screen Shot 2019-02-08 at 11.50.47 PM

Lesson #2. We learned quickly is that this model does not scale at all. Having seen this, we understood first hand why, as another research team states it, “effective advising it intrusive advising”, and why this is rare. Even with all the good intentions, time and schedule, and other life events will interrupt the flow.

Lesson #3. We also learned that this model is most something that is easily adopted by our original intended target audience, a working student that is considered post-traditional and who struggle with college persistence. Another thing we learned is that not all goals are the same, and can have the same process and advising applied easily. Some goals start out as an idea for a lifestyle or feeling they want to achieve. This is where our design research skills prove the most useful. After a conversation, their original goal was broken into two goals, one for changing habits, another way to change a behavior, a much harder task, that takes time and reflection.


(sounds like ‘For Me’)

This week our “Pre-hire” idea got a name change. We wanted to come up with something less product-description and more recognizable. We landed on the name “VorMi,” which is pronounced with a German “f” sound in place of the “v.”  
We hypothesized that employers would be available for a short 15-20 minute meeting to discuss VorMi. To test our hypothesis, we went door-to-door to 4 companies located in downtown Austin asking to speak with hiring managers / HR representatives to get feedback regarding our pre-hire system.

We learned that canvassing is not the most effective method for getting in front of the right people to gauge interest. The next step is to reach out via email to schedule time with our employer-side target audience and to continue seeking out companies we believe to be a proper fit for our product.

Our MVP is a pitch deck that explains who we are, the origins of our design idea, the problem our product addresses, and lays out the benefits to potential stakeholders. We continue to hypothesize that businesses with entry-level positions requiring some amount of ‘hard’ skills (such as coding or proficiency with a certain software) would be interested in taking part in a student’s academic journey.


What’s next

This next week, our team will be sussing out the meaning behind what we found, reshaping out pilots and prototypes, talking to more people, looking for more people to test these designs, and building and iterating on service design blueprints.

Does any of the problems, designs or ideas interest you? Please email us at, or and let’s talk!