Friday, August 08, 2008

Cheap prototypes, valuable insights

Ran across a very interesting pair of guest posts about "Prototyping on the cheap" by Sean Howard, at Experience Matters, the experience design blog of Calgary-based interactive marketing agency Critical Mass.

There are many stages in a development (and research) process where I believe prototypes are highly effective and powerful parts of our arsenal. However, more than one person has brought up the costs associated with building prototypes and that this cost can preclude their use.
Rather than focusing on prototyping the device or service directly, we can prototype a manual, quick start guide or even a magazine article about the product. Clients, stakeholders and even audience members can then use this to envision and grasp the final product without a prototype having ever been built.

~Sean Howard, "Prototyping on the cheap - Part I", Experience Matters, 20 May 02008.

This way of thinking about prototyping; simulation via a "second-order" representation that evokes a much larger reality than you can feasibly build, is very much in alignment with the "tip of the iceberg" principle of future artifact design that we've developed in the course of our various FoundFutures projects. It helps explains why, for example, in-scenario news reports are such a useful way of evoking a future scenario.

The more effective-yet-cheap a prototype can be, the more efficient and pared-down a model it is for the scenario in question.

Howard goes on to describe a number of approaches to low-cost, high-impact prototyping, including storyboards/comics, short video user scenarios, "re-enactments" (which would include wearable simulators like this), DIY construction, and software-enabled mockups (for example, using Axure RP).

I'm reminded of the day-long seminar I took last July in San Francisco with information design expert Edward Tufte. His mantra; "Whatever it takes". That is, be prepared to deploy all necessary communicative means to convey information clearly and accessibly. This formula, though he uses it in a somewhat different context, helped to crystallise my already ecumenical preference for using whatever it takes, media-wise, in communicating futures for the enhancement of foresight. I've lately gravitated towards "experience design" as a broad, medium-neutral substrate on which to build the practice of communicating scenarios ("experiential futures"). Many of us are still learning from Marshall McLuhan that the medium is the message, and therefore that any and all media are fair game. I don't mean to suggest that anything can be communicated in any old way, because budget, time, politics and aesthetic preferences together provide plenty of constraints.

It may be interesting, in light of this idea of futures communication as prototyping exercise, to revisit some of the posts appearing here over the past several months, at the intersection of concept design and future artifacts.

Related posts:
> Future watch
> Reality prototyping
> Design fiction is a fact
> Warning: This product might not actually exist
> Greener Gadgets
> Public service and self-promotion meet on the adaptive path
> Morphing art and design into advertising

No comments: