Thursday, November 13, 2008

the value of prototyping and where I went wrong

I had a conversation with Richard Banks a few months back about communicating ideas and concepts for multi-touch products. He showed me some of his ideas in the form of sketches which had a pair of hands "photoshopped" on top of the image to suggest the idea of multi-touch.

These images got me thinking about other ways to communicate my own ideas, not only for multi-touch application concepts, but for some of my other ideas for interactive products.

On Tuesday, a board of industry designers and researchers came to Dundee to answer questions from undergraduate Product Design students. Richard himself was one of the members, along with Tim Reagan and Nicolas Villar, fellow researchers from Microsoft Research in Cambridge, Anab Jain from Nokia, Bill Gaver now at Goldsmiths and Charlie Rohan from NCR, Dundee.

Above from right to left: Bill Gaver, Nicolas Villar, Anab Jain, Richard Banks, Charlie Rohan, Tim Reagan and Jon Rogers (member of staff from the UoD)

Some interesting points came up from the discussion, particularly about the relevance and value of prototyping. 

Richard said we "using our hands helps us to think" which I found very refreshing. I have often said I like to get my hands dirty when it comes to design but have of late doubted such an approach. During the Fable project, I spent around 3 months of the 7 month project prototyping the software with the immense help of my tutor Andy Law. And all I wanted to do was prove a point and the value of the concept. But was it really worth months of neglecting the people I was designing for only to produce a tangible and physical artifact which was the materialization of my research and development?

Above: an early prototype of Fable

In some ways, yes. I proved a lot of people wrong when they told me I didn't have enough time to make a fully working prototype and it meant a lot to me (and my ego) when I was able to show Fable, my creation, to the public in Dundee at my Degree Show, and London at New Designers. But as I mentioned in a recent post, people were more interested in the story of Fable itself, from my research into people right the way through the application of technology. So should I now focus on communicating the story of my work rather than the physicality of the work itself?

Tim Regan answered this question without me even having to ask. He said "When I prototype, I often use it as a way in learning new software. Don't do this! Use the materials you are comfortable with."

Why spend weeks computer programming when I am not a computer programmer? I am a communicator.

Richard's advice was to "understand the question" and "get precious [with prototypes]," giving an example of how Anab Jain communicated her "placebo" prototypes from a postgraduate project in a short video. play full film

From both Richard's and Tim's advice, I think I got halfway there with prototyping Fable. I understood the question and who I was designing for and I was very precious with my prototyping.

I just didn't use the materials I was comfortable with.


rbanks said...

Crap. I hadn't realised you were there, Giorgio. I would have liked to have chatted with you about this years work. Really sorry I didn't get that chance.

Beth said...

Gio, Prototyping has always created waves after waves of questions from designers and educators alike. But after all the effective frame work is done, it still boils down to effectively communicating the prototype to the consumers.

Data is usually gathered through (mitutoyo) coordinate measuring machines that present accurate information about a certain product. On the other hand, having the specifications and the model match is not the end point of prototyping, it involves effectively interpreting the data to come up with an enhanced output.

Well explained points. Good luck!