Prototyping By Email

Some features of web software can be prototyped by sending an email to a person who does the work manually.

I’ve created prototypes for features that involve human work and thought the concept could be useful for others as well. So I’m sharing my approach.

When you’re creating software for the web there are core features that have to be automated in order to work. And then there are features that could also be done by a human if the usage volume is small enough. A typical low volume feature that’s also remarkably complex to build right is changing the account type (and subsequently the amount charged per month, etc).

Instead of working with a couple of APIs and implementing fallbacks you could also outsource that work to a person: So when a user selects the preferred new account type and clicks the button „change account type“ you (or whoever does that work) get an email telling you what to do and you finish the task manually.

Obviously this only makes sense for features that you expect are used seldom. In the following (probably familiar) graph this corresponds to everything on the left side of the intersection.

Fake it till you make it

I’ve used this concept for changing the account type and for a manual check of registration data and typical examples probably are somewhere around account management like:

  • changing the account plan
  • deleting an account
  • requesting a demo
  • requesting a printed invoice

If you’ve ever implemented something similar I’d love to hear about it in the comments or on twitter or by email of course.

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