Using Theory as Inspiration

Since I was first exposed to Design Thinking, I have always gone back to Tim Brown’s Change by Design for ideas and inspiration. Brown (President and CEO of IDEO, and the leading exponent of Design Thinking) has written in his book the definitive guide to the application of Design Thinking to both product and process problems. Now that I am starting to think about prototyping solutions for my DOEC project, I’ve gone back to Brown to get some inspiration from the basic prototyping principles he lays out.

When I think about how I might start prototyping solutions, I’m going to keep in mind Brown’s admonition that early prototypes should be “fast, rough, and cheap.” Why? Because the greater the investment in an idea, the more committed one becomes to it. The whole point of prototyping is to learn quickly from iterative experiments: the prototyping process creates the opportunity to discover new ideas that can be further built out in successive iterations. Well taken, also, is the point that prototypes should only involve as much time and effort as necessary to generate good feedback that can drive ideas forward.

I’ve also taken prototyping inspiration from Lim and Stolterman’s article on the anatomy of prototypes. One of the ideas that they explore is that of the prototype as filter: a prototype can be used to explore certain aspects of a design idea by filtering to specific qualities. Rather than prototyping a complete solution, it is possible to filter the solution down to specific components that can be tested individually. Therefore, the best prototype is the one that filters to the specific qualities the designer wants to explore.

As I approach my design prototypes, I will therefore keep an eye out to experiments that are quick and easy to put together, and that are designed to explore specific components of my overall solution.

References: 

Brown, T. (2009). Change by Design. New York: HarperCollins.
Lim, Y.-K., Stolterman, E., & Tenenberg, J. (2008). The anatomy of prototypes: Prototypes as filter, prototypes as manifestations of design ideas. ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction, 15(2), 1–27.

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