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By Dane Howard | Friday, February 01, 2013

The power of previsualization… what is “preVIZ”?

The power of preVIZ

PreVIZ is short for “previsualization.” It’s a technique that allows filmmakers to quickly visualize parts of a script to solve problems and inform planning and execution prior to a costly production phase. Oftentimes, this process creates momentum and excitement and helps you determine where to allocate your creative and financial efforts.

What if you had a looking glass into the future of your projects? What if you could help uncover what projects your firm would work on and what they’d look like? I discovered something amazing by watching several behind-the-scenes documentaries of my kids’ DVDs. This insight helped me identify an opportunity for a new type of design group at my company. I realized that filmmakers had developed a language and a methodology for creating their movies and telling their stories. I learned that the same process could be used to design anything from a website, product, service, or business strategy. Storytelling the future seemed like a very valuable proposition.

I was discovering the power of preVIZ.

I’ve been a designer for almost 20 years. Design has taught me how to frame problems to help build a team, launch a service, or create a product. But I’ve often wondered: How do you better decide what to design? How do great companies decide what not to design? I’ve since discovered that previsualization is one of the most impactful approaches to position a design discipline inside of a project or company context.

Here are a few examples:

Sequential narrative: For web and app designers, you might call this a prototype. The difference is that you previsualize an application or website even before you decide to create one. Allowing the stakeholders to commit to a “story” or a customer narrative is influential in decision making.

Headlines of the future: This simple exercise works for all kinds of disciplines. Basically you write a hypothetical headline of the future to emulate the reaction of a product or service you haven’t even designed yet. It’s like starting with the desired response and working backward. Quoting an influential publication or a target customer is valuable to establish a project’s “global north.”

A video vision: Think of this like the value proposition and explanation of what you all could build together, or in some cases, the battle cry for a production team. Our team did a video for eBay Motors Garage when they decided they wanted to create a global social network for vehicles. The video was created before the project was even in production.

Here are a few disciplines that can benefit from using previsualization in their work:

  • Software/web developers: Visualizing a software architecture, algorithm, or engineering “approach,” for example, a touch interface previsualized from the consumer publishing group Bonnier, which inspired thousands of conversations about the future of magazines.
  • Illustrators: Putting an illustration in context can extend a commission from a project to an entire campaign.
  • Animators: Using a simple animatic can upsell your involvement in the project and show a director your editing and storytelling skills.
  • Product designers: Showing how a product may feel or behave in the physical form helps in the entire process from concept development to production.
  • Photographers: Using previsualization can help you plan, budget, and staff a photo shoot or production.
  • Managers/directors: Managing the creative process in any capacity, you get insight into how to better staff, budget, and produce your project by allowing it to be previsualized.

I took my curiosity for previsualization a bit further. I approached lynda.com as an author. I was interested how other industries previsualize their products and services. I wanted to learn more. I knew that design tools had evolved to provide more iteration into the creative-making process, but I was curious about how they were using these tools to rehearse their future. I decided to seek out experts in other fields of design, like automotive, product, and film and video.

And so our journey began. Richard Koci Hernandez and I have partnered on a number of lynda.com titles. We started by offering what I call “life skills” for designers, launching Pitching Projects and Products to Executives. Soon after, we added the The Power of PreVIZ at BMW Group DesignworksUSA’.

I’m thrilled to launch our second installment in the PreVIZ series. The Power of PreVIZ at One & Co explores how previsualization is used in product design. One & Co founders unpack their process and give examples on how they create products, furniture, and mobile phones for HTC.

Leading designers increasingly turn to preVIZ to model their concepts and processes.

Two years since my journey started, I’m still learning about previsualization. I’ve since hired and built a preVIZ team at eBay, and have been honored to speak about what we’ve learned along the way. Our preVIZ team at eBay has since had a tremendous impact on the future of product strategy. We’ve employed new ways of working and new types of deliverables. It’s been exciting to watch.

Do you use previsualization in your work? We’d love to hear from you and how you use it in your work.

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