Prototyping Q&A with David Goligorsky

Scott Witthoft
5 min readMar 13, 2022


The following question and answer discussion comes from David Goligorsky. It resulted from a prototype experience I called, “27/7,” in which I asked seven questions about prototyping to 27 people I know or know of, admire, wondered about, and otherwise respect. The intent of the experiment was to understand better what the terms “prototype” and “prototyping” mean to a wide orbit of design professionals, with outcomes hopefully helping a book I’m writing about… prototyping. This discussion is the seventh in the series of that content.

A few notes about David:

David Goligorsky currently works out of Stockholm as Principal Product Designer at Spotify. That digital domain is only the latest in a long list of design implementations as both consultant (former Senior Design Director at IDEO) and creator (former Head of Design at an ad tech startup in the Google Ventures portfolio). His expertise in executing across a sometimes seamless and sometimes significant divide between physical and digital products informs a unique view on how the value of prototyping shows up regardless of context. In his responses, David touches on building prototyping mastery regardless of domain, acknowledging that the intent is important in any context, but that the skillset for pulling it off across genres is not a given. This reinforces a theme that has come up in other Q&A content about approaching prototyping from different disciplines: intentionality as well as ability to see prototypes as interim tools instead of necessarily early versions. There is (developable) skill in creating something intentionally expendable in service of learning from it — a sacrificial concept created to illuminate new outcomes. I’m grateful to David for sharing his time and thoughts.

Question 1 and 2: “Prototype” has a literal definition and has lots of implications — what do you think it communicates well? Where is it a total miss?

David Goligorsky: A prototype is a question embodied. Prototypes ask the questions you forgot to ask. In early stages of exploration, a prototype is a low-cost, low-effort way to validate or disprove a hypothesis. Beyond the initial stages of exploration/inspiration, a prototype is used to evolve concepts, and then to validate specifications of well-defined ideas. Prototyping is a total miss when people use the phrase, “it’s a prototype” to justify unpopular changes that are not thought through and have no timeline or consideration for moving from “prototype” to next steps.

Q3: How does prototyping show up differently in your personal versus professional life? (… or your recreational life or experimental life?)

DG: I try to keep a document collecting my 1 year and 5 year goals. Trying to set and track towards goals in education, career, relationships, etc. I say “try” because I’ve been a bit lapsed this past year for a number of reasons too long to describe in answering this question. Anyway, they say, “fortune favors the prepared mind” (Pasteur) and when I know what I’m aiming towards, opportunities present themselves where I could create experiments and prototypes of what life would be like if those goals were met. E.g., what would it be like to run my own design studio, what would it be like to cohabitate with a partner, etc.? Then prototypes become the path forward towards those goals, simultaneously testing whether those goals feel meaningful or misdirected.

Q4: Thinking of a recent project in which intentionally you used a prototype — whether a challenge or a breeze — what were ways you knew if the prototype was going well or poorly?

DG: One of the principles of prototyping that I like is, “prototype as if you’re right, and share your prototype as if everyone else is right.” Do your prototyping with all your heart, and then be open-minded to how anyone receives your prototype. Feedback is how you know if the prototype is going well or poorly. Did the prototype lead to a new generative direction? Did the prototype change someone’s mind about something or plant a new idea? Does the prototype energize your audience into moving the prototype to higher resolution, or does the prototype kind of get dismissed? If you’re prototyping and your audience doesn’t care about your prototype, maybe you need to totally overhaul your prototyping or maybe you need to totally overhaul the audience you’re after.

Q5: What’s a go-to prototyping tool you use most regularly? (Please feel easy interpreting “tool” loosely — object, state of mind, constraint, whatever…)

DG: Paper and pen, sometimes scissors, are high impact vs. effort. And conversation. Having a strong point of view and an open mind to modifying that point of view is the best prototyping tool. If you don’t care, your prototype (physical or conceptual) will fall flat. If you’re passionate and care about discovering the best outcome, then your audience will give you impassioned feedback—whether it’s supportive feedback or devastating critique. And if you care about the outcome, then devastating critique might be the best feedback you could ever hope for. I also love making stuff, so tools like Blender (3D modeling/rendering) and Adobe products are great. Laser cutting and Arduino are two other tools that have been really powerful for me.

Q6: What’s missing from the discussion of prototyping?

DG: We’ll do “sacrificial prototypes” early in a project, which are intended to create dialogue. They’re not meant to be “the big idea.” E.g., for a sustainable footwear packaging project, we made sketches that we knew would not be “the right answer” but would trigger opinions that would test some boundaries of our constraints with different audiences (retailers, customers, manufacturers, etc.). We then synthesized research and built prototypes that were intended to converge on the “right answer.” Often times it feels like prototypes are just about being weird without having the intentionality of driving to a refined outcome.

Q7: What’s a change in how you think of prototyping *now* contrasted to how you may have thought/acted in the past?

DG: I used to work on projects that were much more tangible in nature. I also worked with people who were very comfortable with the processes and tools associated with prototyping. Prototyping was a given and teams smoothly went from sketches to quick lo-fi prototypes, then had the craft to make prototypes that looked like and worked like the intended outcome. CNC milling, 3D printing, painting, decals, lights, motors, etc. The world moved more towards digital and it feels like there’s a big gap where people who prototype user flows are getting better prototyping tools (e.g., Figma, ProtoPie, Origami, Framer, etc) but are unaware of what it takes to go from visual design to functional implementation. There can be a huge skill gap between prototyping digital experiences with visual tools vs. functional tools. Digital products generally have ongoing A/B tests, which are prototypes, where mechanical products don’t really have the ability to change much after manufacture.

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Scott Witthoft

Designer + Educator + Author // My new book — This Is a Prototype —