27.03.2018 |

Episode #8 of the course Introduction to design thinking by Lee-Sean Huang


In yesterday’s lesson, we went over techniques for choosing design ideas from a long list of ideas that emerged during the Ideate phase. Today, we will learn how to take one to three of the winning ideas and prototype them quickly and cheaply.

The kind of prototyping that we are doing at this point of the DT process is sometimes called “low fidelity prototyping” or “rapid prototyping.” The definition of a prototype for a design thinker may be different from that of an engineer or professional industrial or product designer. At this point, our prototypes don’t actually have to work. They are meant to be props that help us express and convey a creative concept visually and in a tactile way.

The point is to not just construct a low-fidelity prototype, but to create a story or skit that puts the prototype in context. Your story should address questions such as:

• Who is using the prototype?

• In what context is it being used?

• How does it work?


Prepare Prototyping Materials

You can prototype with anything, but there are some fairly common prototyping materials to help you get started. Feel free to mix and match from this list:

• recycled cardboard boxes

• construction paper

• old newspapers or magazines

• pipe cleaners

• popsicle sticks

• LEGO bricks or equivalent

• molding/modeling clay

• aluminum foil

• scrap textiles (fabric, felt, etc.)

• foam core

• old toys and trinkets

It is also helpful to have materials to hold your prototypes together. For example:

• tape

• glue

• string

Also, prepare scissors for cutting materials and pens and markers for drawing. Place the materials out on a table or other easy-to-access surface. It is okay to be a little messy at this point. Let the materials be inspiration for additional pliant and divergent thinking.

The only limit to prototyping materials is your budget and your imagination. There is no need to spend a lot of money on supplies. This kind of prototyping is meant to be fast and cheap, after all. At this point, you do not want to get too emotionally attached to a prototype.


Think While Making

Set a time limit for your team to prototype. For the first round, 30 minutes to an hour will suffice. Even if you are not completely clear on what you are building, just begin by working with your hands. If you are working in a group, make something and show it to your teammates to supplement talking and discussion.

Remember that at this stage, you are prototyping to learn and get feedback from users. Do not worry too much about production values and construction at this point. Make something quick, dirty, and fast, so you can test it with users. Learn what works and what needs more consideration and continue to iterate on your prototypes.

With each round of feedback and iteration, you and your team can work on making your prototypes higher and higher fidelity. This could mean adding more detail or “realism” to your prototypes. Depending on the nature of your design concept, you will eventually hand off the design to professional designers to get the product or service to market.


Bringing the Elmo App to Life

Elmo Monster Maker is a good example of how a team at IDEO prototyped a concept for the mobile app. The team made a smartphone-shaped frame using a large piece of printed cardboard. They then put a real-life human actor behind the frame to demonstrate how the dancing monster in the app would respond to user’s hand gestures on the smartphone. They then took a video to record the demonstration of the prototype.

This example shows that it is not necessary to spend much time or money to build a simple but effective prototype that brings an idea to life. No coding or engineering required.

Now take some time by yourself or with a team to build a low-fidelity prototype of one of your design concepts. Tomorrow, we will learn ways to test our prototypes and receive feedback from users.


Recommended video

Prototyping for Elmo’s Monster Maker iPhone App


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