There had been rumours for a while that something big was about to come out of Harley Davidson, the American motorcycle manufacturer known the world over as the vehicle of choice for leather vest wearing hairy bikers that don’t go very fast and make the most noise.
The motor industry was shocked to say the least when towards the end of June Harley D’ launched Project LiveWire. A prototype electric motorcycle, inherently silent, economic, and to be honest, it actually looks quite cool too.
Why is this so significant? If the fact that the fuel guzzling giant is investing in electronic vehicles isn’t enough for you their approach to how this will come to market should ring a few bells, or at least make you think differently about how you approach business.
As you can see in this episode from Motorcycle.com the team are focussed on using this prototype to gather feedback from riders, to further refine their offering and then they will put it on general sale. They’ve taken their expertise in design and manufacture and are now taking the prototype on tour to almost every Harley dealership across the United States and booking in riders to take it out for an hour and give them honest blunt feedback.
President Matt Levatich notes that they want customer feedback first and foremost, roll that into the next prototype and do it again and then wait for the technology to advance – hoping that in doing this and getting real people to try their product the technology will improve exponentially.
In the space of just a few weeks, Harley Davidson has become one of the most talked about brands on the planet, all from trying something new; something out of their comfort zone, but crucially because they’ve been completely honest, upfront and set expectations – this is not a machine we will see on sale in a few months time, it may be a few years.
There is a great deal we can learn from this. Being more aware of the impact we have on the world we live in and working towards reducing it. Accepting that being an expert doesn’t make you God, that your only an expert if you’re providing knowledge that makes a difference to another person. Seeing the value in really talking to the people you are wanting to help, listening, and considering what you can do next to reach their goals over your own, because ultimately, they’re will both be achieved if you get the first bit right.
This year I have worked on a few projects where I have developed prototypes. When some people talk about prototypes, they only think of a facade, intended to get a general idea of whether something works. But I’ve taken it further, in the same way that Harley Davidson have with Project LiveWire I have built services that can be used by people in order to gather more information before updating and repeating. As a result it has helped speed up development, by reducing the number of dead-end roads we could go down, determine whether our design style fit with the expectations of people that would potentially sit in front of it for hours a day, and in a surprising outcome, gave us an opportunity to rethink a key aspect of the service.
We have so many of these so called prototyping tools, applications designed to quickly simulate a thing. For sake of argument let’s call it a website. Well, that’s great. You can quickly make something that looks like a website, behaves closely to a website, but why not just build a website? Why not do it with the technologies you are likely to do it with? Prototype holds many insights, one of which is research, not just researching whether your idea works, but researching how you can achieve it. What use is there in creating an application in something like Axure, only to find you can’t make it a reality? It’s wasted effort and why I believe Harley have gone down this route unlike others who are now moving into the market space.
Remember that prototyping isn’t just about speed, it’s about learning something new. Use the opportunity to teach yourself a new skill, and listen to what people tell you in return.