Prototype material

This week we had the subject prototype and prototyping in our class. Our teacher Joëlle led the discussion. She was soon talking about materials which we can use to prototype. There were hundreds of different ways we can make prototypes but a key statement was, that the material needs to be cheap (material and time), modifiable and reusable. It is our responsibility to respect the budget and people that trust in us but also the environment. To satisfy all these points, it is a good practice to use trash. It is free, it was thrown away and as important, it can stimulate our creativity.

Types of prototypes

Prototyping is often considered as playing. It is. It is fun, and this might also be the reason why designers like to prototype so much. But besides of fun and saving time, there’s also a serious part. One of our readings (Lim, Youn-Kyung and Stolterman, Erik.2008.The Anatomy of Prototypes: Prototypes as Filters, Prototypes as Manifestations of Design Ideas focused on the categorization of prototypes.University of Washington, Tacoma) the authors highly focused on two ways to prototype. Filter and manifestation.

Filters

Filtering is more like trial and error. The prototype is usually very reduced to the only thing you would like to filter out. The incompleteness is its strength. For example which weight or size the end product could have if you are designing a portable product that you wear on your wrist.

Manifestations

This is very useful if you i.e. want to find out which material the product should have at the end. So you build it, test it and see if your choice was right.

What is a prototype?

This question seems to be a bit strange and easy to answer. But the more we discussed this, the harder it was to distinguish. At the end there sometimes there’s a product. Sometimes not. Sometimes the prototype is the product i.e. in research programs. But also products are almost never finished, especially digital products. There’s always something to improve. If you take a look at Siri, it wasn’t really a product when it was released. It somehow worked a bit but wasn’t really useful at the end. Apple was then able to push Siri on millions of phones to improve their speech recognition and the AI behind over the years. This is such a valuable tool as we can the more voice interfaces emerge (in Apple’s case today the AirPods). Although, when Siri was released it was a product it still was a prototype for years.

So, the border between a product and a prototype can get very blurry if it comes to a working prototype. A product on the market doesn’t need to be a finished product, so it could be a prototype.

Reinvent the wheel

On one point we all would love to reinvent the wheel. But we have to be critical about it. The wheel works very well and if we want to reinvent it there is the risk of inventing the same thing again. In my opinion, we have to be respectful of things invented before us. They might look as if they are designed in an unconscious and randomly stupid way. But we have to take the time why it is like that, why designers took the decision in that direction. So, we can learn a lot from geniuses but also save a lot of time. Me when I was doing my apprenticeship, I took a lot of effort to examine the native iOS apps of Apple to understand the decisions taken by Apple designers. In this way, I learned so many things I can use in every project. Some products have a tradition of hundreds of years of experience. It would be very stupid to be ignorant and think that we can to it better in just a couple of weeks of designing.