GSD by Any Other Name

agile development

There doesn’t seem to be a lot of material written specifically about the GSD approach to problem solving. However, this type of work style has been applied in specific ways within particular industries. It just has different names.

Rapid prototyping

In manufacturing, rapid prototyping is used to go from concept to product more quickly. Rather than spend a long, long time perfecting the conceptual design of an object, it’s better to rough it out, get a prototype made quickly and cheaply, and learn from the physical object what works and what needs revising. Newer technologies, such as 3D printers, have facilitated the creation of inexpensive prototype-making that would have been cost-prohibitive in the past.

Agile software development

Agile methodology is basically rapid prototyping for software design. A large project is broken down into components that are then rapidly created, tested, and revised as necessary to move the project at large towards completion. This shortens the product development life cycle and – perhaps more importantly – allows for stakeholder feedback as part of the development process. This means that when the product ships, it’s already been evaluated by its end user and is tailored to what the customer needs, saving time and money on future revisions.

Paper Prototyping

Paper Prototyping is a form of rapid prototyping that’s specific to user interface design. The idea is that you can quickly mock up an interface using common materials (paper, sticky notes, dry erase markers and transparencies, tape, etc) and then simulate the user experience.

“Paper prototyping is a variation of usability testing where representative users perform realistic tasks by interacting with a paper version of the interface that is manipulated by a person ‘playing computer,’ who doesn’t explain how the interface is intended to work.” Paper Prototyping

It’s amazing how quickly this method brings interface issues to light. It’s fast, cheap, and requires absolutely no technical training, which means all stakeholders can have a hand in the process. This is a particularly great way to let executives participate in the design process. They can make suggestions and see firsthand how users respond.

Design Thinking

Design thinking is an approach to creative development that incorporates many of the already-mentioned principles: rapid prototyping, testing & revising, and stakeholder input. I first heard the term design thinking from someone who works at Ideo, a design consulting firm. In fact, they have a blog all about it.

The common thread among all of these strategies (and GSD) is the push to quickly come up with something, anything, that can be checked, tested, revised, and built upon. Rather than spend a lot of time planning, it’s faster to start doing and go from there. Sure, the first version of whatever you make will be far from perfect, but you’ll learn more than you would if you tried to perfect it on paper rather than in real life.

I’m sure there are other methodologies I’ve missed. Where else has the GSD approach been integrated into existing workflows?


  1. Todd Whitten says:

    Hey Daniel!-
    I worked with a company in Newton called EDC on a curriculum design project for the Henry Ford Institute on creating curriculum based around Ideo’s prototyping methods. So all the classes were project based problem solving where kids had to rapidly prototype solutions, test them out, and follow the process you outline above…I’ve lost track of how it is going now, but there were schools in Detroit, San Antonio and Chicago that were starting up with that whole principle as their foundation. And we designed the curriculum using the same methods, which was…different!

    hope you are doing well!


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