Week 2: Prototyping

I found the readings to be really useful this week since they all address one of the fundamentals of design: prototyping. “Prototyping” is often a term thrown around by us designers, but sometimes we need to take a step back and really ask ourselves what a prototype is actually doing.  Every project and every designer are different, meaning the ways of prototyping are extremely variable.  However, before designers start a prototype they should figure out the best way to go about creating one.  There are a lot of options when it comes to prototyping, and a lot of questions we need to ask ourselves. Do we want to convey the role of the design, the look and feel, the implementation, or a combination of these? Who is our target audience?  Is it beneficial for us to experience it in a subjective way? Will this best be shown digitally or as a “cardboard mockup”?  What should the resolution and fidelity of the prototype be in order to get the best results?

In the reading “What Do Prototypes Prototype?” by Houde & Hill, prototype is defined as any representation of a design idea. This has room for a lot of variation. However, the focus here is the significance of what the designer is prototyping, and what is being represented, rather than its attributes. It is how the prototype is used by a designer to explore and demonstrate some aspect of the future artifact that is important, not the tools or media used to create it. The article discusses the prototype triangle, which includes the role (function in the user’s life), implementation (how it actually works), look and feel (sensory experience), and the integration, or balance of all three.  These are the factors that can be integrated into a prototype to make it successful.  Another thing to look at is the fidelity of the prototype, or the closeness to the final design.  This differs from the resolution, or amount of detail put into the prototype. There are issues to watch out for with both low-fidelity and high-fidelity prototypes.  Low-fidelity prototypes are sometimes mistaken for being close to the final design if its not made clear, and high-fidelity prototypes may not be the most efficient way as they are usually costly and time-consuming, and often prototypes lead to change anyway. Prototypes are meant as an experimentation, therefore it is good design practice to define “prototype” broadly, as well as build multiple prototypes.

The next reading, “Experience Prototyping”, is one that I found to be an extremely relevant approach to prototyping. As designers we are mostly focusing on the experience of the user with whatever product or design we create.  It is too often that we design without fully experimenting the different interactions and experiences that could potentially take place with our design.  The article talks about focusing on active participation to provide a relevant subjective experience.  Prototypes can effectively combine active and passive approaches, which may produce the best understanding of the experience.  I completely agree with the point that a low-fidelity solution may be the best for this kind of prototyping, because it suggests that the design system itself is the focus (as it should be), not the tools and techniques. In my game design class, we are using experiential prototyping to test the game we are designing. It is a physical twister-like game, so the most effective way for us to test it is to create the environment that this game would exist in and play it over and over again. We were using a subjective approach, but then decided it would be necessary to get other people to try our game, in which we realized it was not as fun for them as it was for us.  This was an important part of the prototype – it made us step back and ask them questions about the game’s problems.  Not only is this type of prototyping usually more fun for the designer than simply drawing something up at a computer, but it is effective in creating different user experiences which can be used to focus on the design itself, not the finished product.

The “Carboard Computers” reading is an extension of the concepts and ideas from the first two readings.  Its main point is that the design process must include users. The designer must find a way for users to participate in the design through action.  All of the readings discuss different types on prototyping and the positive and negative that come along with them. As designers it is up to us to decide which prototype will best suit a certain design project.  In doing this, we must first work on how to represent the design itself effectively, taking away focus from the tools and techniques used to create it. The functionality is significant, and this is where users and experiential prototyping can really come into play. Multiple prototypes should be created in order to get closer and closer to envisioning the final artifact.  Prototyping is an important part of design and one that should not be taken lightly. There is a lot to think about with prototypes, but weighing these issues and making smart decisions about prototyping is the key to designing a successful final artifact.

Permanent link to this article: http://interface2011.coin-operated.com/2011/09/week-2-prototyping/

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