There are two ways to have an idea.

The first way, you think of something—maybe an idea for a mobile app to help people go vegan. You spend a week mapping out the full vision for the project: every single thing you could do with it, start to finish. You spend weeks researching the best technology for app development. You think about whether you should build it for iPhones or Android first, and you create a pros and cons list. You talk to developers, designers, funders, anyone and everyone who could help.

After six months of planning, talking, and designing, you haven’t even started building the app yet. The world has continued to change and evolve, and you don’t even have a prototype to show for six months’ worth of work. You’re not even sure if anyone will use the app—does it actually help people go vegan? You don’t know. It’s been so long, and you have very little to show for it.

You get discouraged, then move on to the next shiny idea that you think of—or you continue slogging through an endless development process for another six months until you maybe release the first version.

The second way, you still think of the cool app idea—the beginning is the exact same. You also spend some time thinking about the needs this might solve for people and what the functionality will look like.

But then you immediately proceed to the mock-up.

The first screen from my very own vegan app mock-up.

Your First Mock-Up

First, you get out some paper. You cut out little phone-sized pieces and draw your app on it, screen by screen, showing what typical user functionality might look like. If you’re real fancy, maybe you design these on your computer. (Totally not required, though.)

As you put your idea down on paper, you’re forced to make real decisions about what your idea could actually look like. This takes you out of the fuzzy, feel-good daydreaming and puts you in decision-making mode right away, which is good because it makes you more action-oriented. With each decision you make about your mock-up, you’re actively creating version 0.01 of your idea.

Then, once you’ve got something created that you think represents the basic underlying concepts of your idea, you send your friend a message: “hey, want to grab a drink and test out this app idea I had?” You get together that night and give your friend the sheets of paper. “Pretend this is an app,” you explain, “and walk me through how you’d interact with it.” Your friend laughs because this is a little absurd, and you know it is—but it’s all part of the process.

Your friend goes through the paper mock-up and talks to you about how they might use the app. They give you feedback, both positive and negative. You immediately discover at least a dozen things you’ll need to design differently, including a couple major changes.

It’s only been a couple of hours, and you’ve already designed your first version of the app and gotten feedback. Tomorrow, you can sketch out a new and improved mock-up and find someone new to test with. After two or three iterations, you’ll have better ideas to run with, and you’ll know what some of the biggest challenges are going to be. You’ve gotten your feet wet, and you can decide if you want to keep going or not. Even if you don’t, you’ve learned something.

That’s the value of the mock-up.

(If you want to see an example, I did this exact process with an app idea.)

Design Thinking 101

Design thinking is a way of building new things to solve problems. (“New things” doesn’t have to mean a physical or digital product—it could be information, or a new process, or a way of having a conversation. It could be anything.)

Rather than try to get everything right all at once and without any testing (like many people attempt), design thinking starts with the user and the problem and then builds up to a solution.

The Stanford School of Design says there are five basic “modes” of design thinking:

The Five Modes of Design Thinking

1. Empathize

2. Define

3. Ideate

4. Prototype

5. Test

We start with the need—what are we trying to solve? We get in the shoes of the person who we’re trying to help (or perhaps in our case, who we’re trying to influence) in order to see things from their perspective. Then we come up with a lot of ideas, prototype the most promising one, and test it out.

Then repeat. Just like we did with the app mock-up above.

This process can be completed in minutes or hours, rather than weeks or months, and it helps you figure out what you’re actually trying to solve and how to solve it.

These questions aren’t easy to answer, and they can’t often be solved just by thinking about it. You have to get out in the world and experience the problem from the viewpoint of your users, your customers.

Who Are Our Customers?

This leads to a very natural question—who are our customers? Whose needs are we trying to solve?

The true answer here is “nonhuman animals”—farmed animals, animals who are experimented on, animals killed for their fur and skin, etc. All of the animals currently exploited and suffering due to humans. (Our customers might also include wild animals who aren’t actively or purposefully exploited by humans.)

So we need to keep the needs of these animals in mind first and foremost.

But, these animals can’t interact with us or things we create in the usual marketplaces and institutions that humans use. They’re subject to laws and market forces, but can’t participate in them. When thinking about various aspects of solving their needs, it makes sense to also consider those who can participate in markets and institutions: humans.

Solving Human Needs to Help Animals

One need humans have is the need to feel like a good person, to feel like they’re important and making a positive impact in the world. They also need to have harmony between their beliefs about themselves and the actions they take.

Participating in animal exploitation is an obvious affront to many of those needs, a glaring contradiction in people’s beliefs and actions. People who become aware of this (as eventually happens) experience some level of cognitive dissonance or a shifting of their identity. We can help resolve this dissonance by helping people remove themselves from the system of animal exploitation. (And once people agree with the aims of the movement for animals, there’s tremendous opportunity to solve the needs of self-actualization and contributing to the great story of humanity.)

This need alone can be broken down into many different smaller needs: the need to find alternative products and services, related to food and otherwise; the need to communicate their decisions to their social groups and feel supported in their decisions; the need to make a difference in their local communities by supporting ballot initiatives that end animal exploitation; and so on.

Each of these is a need that we can solve. Design thinking can help get us to a good solution, and the mock-up is an integral part of that process.

Corporations also have needs: they need to be profitable; they need to have positive public relations; they need to provide value to society; etc. How can we help solve these needs for corporations in a way that also serves our true end customer of exploited animals?

Creating Needs

And, perhaps somewhat uniquely for social movements, we can create these needs in corporations and individuals where they might not have existed before, in order to solve them in a better way. Someone might argue that they really don’t need to give up eating animals, that it doesn’t cause them any harm—and it’s possible that this is completely true. Remember, the true need here is actually with the animals who are being killed.

What do we do in these cases? Well, we have to find a way to translate the animals’ needs into human needs. And we can do that by creating needs in humans that need to be solved in certain ways.

For example, let’s say that a corporation confines and kills animals by the millions, and they claim that they don’t need to change that practice. We can foster negative publicity around that company so that their need for positive public relations (which might ultimately be driven by a need for profits) has to be solved by ending their exploitative practices. If an individual feels that they don’t need to stop harming animals in order to be a good person, we can figure out how to introduce cognitive dissonance and create a need to resolve it.

This kind of “need transference” is something that has existed in every previous social movement as well, creating needs in the non-exploited population that must be resolved by ending the exploitative practices. Corporate marketers do this all the time, too—creating needs for products that solve “problems” that didn’t exist ten years ago. We can create needs that can only be resolved by ending the farming of animals, ending animal experimentation, etc. We can create a societal need that can only be fulfilled by rewriting the relationship between humans and other animals.

To create these needs and then solve them, we can use design thinking.

As part of the design thinking process, we can use mock-ups.

And to create a mock-up only takes a few minutes—and that’s something you could do right now.

So why not do it right now?

Next Steps

Here are some resources to help you get going with design thinking, mock-ups, and this basic idea of testing out your ideas in the real world as quickly as you can:

We need to accomplish as much change for animals as we can, as quickly as we can, which means we need to make good use of our time. Mock-ups, design thinking, MVPs, etc. are all ideas that focus on doing something to get feedback. Time has shown that the best way to find solutions is through trial and error, over and over and over again. Good ideas don’t come to those who don’t try things.

Through taking action and testing our ideas, we can make the best use of our time and figure out what’s going to create the most change for animals.


The Animal Movement Project (AMP) is a platform dedicated to building the movement for animals.

We share thoughts and ideas that can take the movement for animals from x to 10x. Our focus is predominantly on animals exploited for food since they account for more than 99% of the animals exploited by humans. The topics covered are often about ways to tie the pieces of the movement together or to fill in the gaps. We focus on connecting people, ideas, and resources to each other.

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