The Art of Prototyping

by Francesca Desmarais

One of the intriguing aspects of interaction design is the rapidly changing landscape and the overlaps with other disciplines and complex systems. To test and iterate ideas within this milieu, we design our prototyping process as much as we design final products and services.

Over the past year alone, CIID Consulting has worked on projects that criss-cross medicine, teaching, hotels & leisure, youth unemployment, banking, home organisation, paternity leave, airports, and sharing music. Our projects have used classics like websites, apps and raspberry pi, but also Slack chatbots and beacons. We’ve made movies, told stories, written code, run workshops, and even cooked an experimental meal with stakeholders.

The one constant throughout all of this: our design focus is on experiences. Throughout all of our projects, we explore people’s interactions with products and services that happen over time and within a context.

To fully explore the experiences we design, we have to open our toolboxes and custom design prototypes that best fit the exact context of a given project. There’s no set criteria we follow, or set tools that we always come back to. A prototype could be a fully coded app or as simple as a customer making a phone call to a mock service. Each project team approaches the prototyping phase as a design process in itself: how can we best simulate an experience to ask and answer relevant design questions?

There’s not a set prototyping method we follow: it’s more of an art, creatively juggling intuition and experience with analytic thinking and adventure.

Much like conventional arts such as painting or music, prototyping has traditions and cannons (ex: start with low fidelity and iterate to higher fidelities). But like other arts, prototyping is also about breaking rules and the freedom to create outcomes that represent an artist’s vision. The freedom to craft in creative and meaningful ways. Perhaps a touch poetic, I like to think of prototyping interaction design as an art that is part science experiment, part show business, and part intrepid exploration.

Part Science Experiment

Effective prototyping requires a level of analytic thinking. You are, after all, testing hypotheses about experiences and behaviours. It’s important to define what you are testing before you even make a prototype: what are the most important open design questions? How can you craft your prototypes to answer these questions? In What do Prototypes Prototype?, Stephanie Houde and Charles Hill group prototyping questions into questions of role (i.e. what can a product or service do for a person’s life), questions of look and feel (i.e. what’s the experience?), and questions of implementation (i.e. is this even possible?).

To ease the analysis of a prototype, it also helps to isolate the variables you are testing. A good rule of thumb is to only test 1 to 2 ideas per prototype. For a recent project, we segmented one concept into six different prototypes and explored distinct options (and assumptions!) of the concept through each of the prototypes.

Part Show Business

It’s probably obvious, but to prototype an experience, you have to involve people, and that requires a bit of presentation. It’s important to remember that a prototype is not self explanatory. We usually spend time ‘setting the scene’, explaining the project or bigger picture, making people comfortable, etc. For a project exploring healthcare 20 years from now, my team and I even got people in the mood by showing clips from science fiction films.

As with a good show, you need to play to your audience! It is critical to think about the expectations and knowledge of whoever will see your prototype. Are they intended users? Are they fellow designers? Are they stakeholders or investors? In general, lower fidelity prototypes are easier to critique and contribute feedback to, while higher fidelity prototypes are better to validate ideas and evaluate reactions. For one of our projects last year, the client expected prototypes that would set a vision for their employees and we went the extra mile to make beautiful, high fidelity mock-ups and videos for this inspirational purpose.

Experience prototypes also involve a bit of smoke and mirrors, somebody behind the curtain making the experience work. Often you don’t need to have working code to test the experience of using a product or service — one of our favourite tricks is to simply use the tech on a phone and stick the phone in a rough prototype. This is enough to convince people, but saves time and money before breaking out our circuit boards and micro-controllers. Orchestrating an experience and ‘being the backend’ can also be valuable to learn what types of data and processes you will eventually need to code.

Part Intrepid Exploration

Ultimately, prototyping is not a rigorous, tightly controlled process. Intuition and ambiguity play an equally important role – at CIID we like to measure powerful ideas by the number of goosebumps and ‘that feeling in your gut’. Much like an exotic journey, interaction designers use prototypes to fill the holes in our maps and be inspired by the people we design for.

As when traveling, we’ve learned to embrace the unexpected. This applies to both the hidden gems that you didn’t expect to find (that incredible restaurant with the local flair), and the uncomfortable failings (food poisoning?). When designing prototypes, we create opportunities for co-creation and give people the opportunity to add and contribute to an idea. For instance, when making paper prototypes we often leave blank spaces for people to write in what they’d like or expect. And when an idea falls flat, we forget our pride, learn what didn’t work, and try again. The key is to get into the wild with a prototype and learn to adapt your directions.

When it comes to interaction design, the art of prototyping is knowing how to focus, present, and explore experiences so that you can learn to make services & products that add value to people’s lives. It’s not about which tools (paper prototyping, Arduino, Flinto, etc.) or even the resolution and fidelity. Interaction design prototyping is about experiences and behaviours.

Observing people in their environments, interacting with the right prototypes, gives us a unique window into design possibilities and potential value. We believe spending time to think through and design the right prototypes is invaluable to the outcome of a project.

This post was originally published on 29 January, 2016 by CIID Consulting.

The Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design is a platform for enabling impact through innovation. With a commitment to disruptive thinking and action, people from all over the world congregate at CIID to work on or study innovation processes driven by prototyping and learning by doing. Since its inception in 2006, the talented and passionate people at CIID have been designing for empowerment and value creation for individuals, organizations, and society at large. The organization today includes an education program, a start-up incubator, and an Innovation Studio working with global brands around the world.

Early-bird tickets at a reduced price are now on sale for CIID: Service Design Through Experience Prototyping. In this intensive 3-day workshop from May 13-15, 2017, you will learn and apply advanced service design and experience prototyping techniques both in the digital and physical realm. You’ll also walk away equipped with a complete toolkit for rapid user-focused innovation and a certificate from CIID.

Get them as quickly as you can here.



The Rules of Good Collaboration

by Eilidh Dickson

As our industry evolves from relying on manufacturing to being more heavily service-based, the role of a designer is evolving away from that of a ‘rockstar’, one-man genius. Here are CIID’s key principles for managing teams of collaborative fusionists that excel at designing services across our modern, complex systems.

The demand for good service experiences is equally as important as the desire for beautifully crafted and well manufactured objects. Because services are comprised of many interaction points over time, and are generally complex in nature, you can no longer rely on a single ‘rockstar’ designer to invent and design them.

You need a cross disciplinary team that can approach a challenge holistically and from multiple perspectives. This requires collaboration across perspectives and collective respect for the nuances of factors outside one’s individual expertise. This shift in role is not only benefitting our society and economy, but it is also creating an influx of designers who can work collaboratively to solve tough problems.

Over the years of leading design teams, we have captured what we believe are key principles for managing teams that are happy, productive, and embrace collaboration.

Good CollaborationGood CollaborationGood CollaborationGood CollaborationGood Collaboration

1. Do Research And Involve Everyone

Conducting research with your potential customers or users is key to creating internal team alignment. It not only informs your design process and makes sure you are addressing genuine needs and desires, but it also creates a shared vision for whom you are designing, and why.

When a team has a shared experience of meeting the people they are designing for, they instantly have a shared reference point. You eliminate the tendency to design for yourself or make a decision because ‘I would like this’. You remove bias and have a clear profile of the people you are aiming to help. From a practical point of view, the whole team doesn’t need to be research experts or lead research sessions, they just need to be involved in the process.

2. Formalise Reflection And Feedback Moments

It it important to structure reflection and feedback moments throughout a project. It allows the team to set expectations, it enables team development and transparency, and it encourages good team morale. Below are the key moments to factor in throughout a typical project.

Internal Kick-Off Workshop
Asides from clarifying project roles and responsibilities, an internal kick-off is a great opportunity for individuals to articulate where they would like to develop during the project and the skills they would like to strengthen. It allows team members to express what is important to them for the project and any hopes and fears they have.This could range from practicalities like ‘I have a Tuesday yoga class I need to leave early for’ to ‘let’s really push prototyping during the project’.  It also means that the team isn’t catapulted into a project. There is ramp up and team building, which is especially crucial for newly formed teams.

Daily Stand-Ups
Host a daily stand-up meeting every morning. It is a great way to start the day. It allows the team to talk briefly about what they are working on that day, what their goals are, and if they need any help. It’s not about content at this point – it’s about giving everyone a clear overview of the project progress and identifying any issues that need to be addressed. Stand-ups should be short and focused. No computers. No distractions.

Design Reviews
Where possible have regular review sessions. Everyday if possible. Period design reviews minimise the danger of ‘a grand reveal’ and get teams comfortable showing work that is in progress and talking through their decision making process. It provides an outlet for design feedback, encouragement and it ensures that any separate work streams are aligned. They are also inspiring!

Project De-Brief & Dinner
At the end of a project have a team de-brief. Discuss what the challenges and successes were, and identify any recommendations for future projects. It’s often a good idea to get someone who hasn’t been directly involved in the project to facilitate.  If you work in an agency, it is also useful to consider a client de-brief. Usually this works well as a meeting between both project leads (agency and client). Again, it’s an opportunity to talk about what did or didn’t work, and how to keep growing your relationship. It’s then the responsibility of the Project Lead to communicate the feedback back to the team.

At the end of a project it’s also very important to appreciate the hard work you have put in. Go for dinner, drinks, karaoke, what ever floats your boat. The important thing is to spend time as a team outside of the studio and give yourself a pat on the back.

3. Lead By Example, Stay Humble (this one’s for the leaders)

If you are a project leader/manager/director, it sounds obvious but you need to lead by example. Your role is to provide the platform and support for your amazing team to flourish and do great work. The most important factor is to stay humble. Egos are disruptive and there is a fine line between a being an assertive leader with creative confidence and a fully fledged ego. Lets be honest, if you have an ego, people either won’t want to work with you, or even worse they will begin to mirror you — and a bunch of egos in one room is an absolute collaboration killer.

4. Evolve Your Space

Your physical space should reflect the culture you are trying to promote and your way of working. If you want to work collaboratively, your space should enable teamwork and transparency; big desks you can all sit round, wall space/boards to present your work on, whiteboards to live sketch on. It is also important to adjust your space as you progress through a project. As you move through project phases, document and clear away material that is no longer needed. It’s important to have inspirational content around you, but not be overloaded with material.

Early-bird tickets at a reduced price are now on sale for CIID: Service Design Through Experience Prototyping. In this intensive 3-day workshop from May 13-15, 2017, you will learn and apply advanced service design and experience prototyping techniques both in the digital and physical realm. You’ll also walk away equipped with a complete toolkit for rapid user-focused innovation and a certificate from CIID.

Get them as quickly as you can here.