What I tried to do in this essay was to reflect on the meaning of design, and the role of prototyping in interaction design. I recommend to read the full essay Prototyping Interaction Design (PDF). I'm briefly summarizing the essay's concepts in the following paragraphs.
What is design? ‘One of the great strengths of design is that we have not settled on a single definition’ (Buchanan, 2001). Jones (1992) collected many definitions of design in his book Design Methods. I tried to reassume the key points of the design process in the most general view I could.
Design means absorbing stimuli from the world around us, envisioning the future, and translating this vision in 'useful' (in a broad significance of the term) creations for the society.
The creativity is the lifeblood of the new ideas and visions. Sometimes these ideas arise spontaneously, more often from a data gathering process, but always they arise from stimuli from the world around us. Every day, every second, our brain receives and elaborates thousands of stimuli and this knowledge is stored inside us. How to recall and access this information, and how to use it to create new visions, are skills that a designer should have and train. In the majority of design processes, the first phase is related to framing the problem, via the understanding of: the aim of the project, the target group for which the design is for, the context and the actual situation. All this information can be captured through the data gathering.
Secondly, by envisioning the future I meant that the main purpose of design is to ideate and transform the way in which people experience their lives. This first step could be labelled as the ideation stage. From the ideation completely new ideas or new alternative solutions for existing problems in a determinate context can appear and the inspirations can be quickly captured and exposed.
Thirdly, with translate a vision I want to express the key skill of the design process: the ability of translating blurred and vague ideas in concrete creations. The prototyping play the main role in this stage. Prototyping involves the ability of envisioning different ways of viewing the same idea, by using different materials and different tools, in order to present, express, explore, analyse, compare, test or even verify different alternative solutions for an idea.
Finally, I used the term useful in a broadly sense because design is not always useful. It should be considered as a way of creating something new or different that could change human behaviours, thoughts, or experiences.
Interaction design, as defined in ID&T (2012) website, ‘is the practice of designing interactive digital products, environments, systems and services. It focuses on behaviour – how users act and how products respond to user behaviour.’ The focus is shifted on behaviour of the users. The interaction designers work to create new ways of designing relationships between users and products, users and environments, or users and users through their creations. It’s not only a matter of creating something physical, it requires a deep pondering on how people can use this creation. I think that one of the greatest aspirations that an interaction designer may have is to change human behaviours.
As I mentioned in the introduction of this section, prototyping plays the main role in translating a vision into something concrete. Prototyping allows designers to present, express, explore, analyse, compare, test or even verify different alternative solutions for an idea. In a brief definition, I can say that:
Prototyping is the art of translating ideas in a form that the audience can understand and handle.
I used the word art because I think that the prototyping combines the methodical approach – of implementing, analysing, testing and validating – typical of the engineering/scientific field, and the creative approach – of presenting and expressing several different views of the same concept in order to explore new ideas. The prototyping is a bridge between the abstract thinking and the concrete solution that is possible to implement.
The second word on which I want to focus is form. As designers, when we prototype something we are called to choose the proper form to express an idea. For interaction designers the form is usually not unique. Each form of prototyping allows different reflections on the ideas.
Finally I want to focus on the word audience. When we choose a form we should ask ourselves: for whom we are prototyping? In the design process we have many different people involved: users, designers, researchers, engineers and company stakeholders. In my opinion, one of the most important skills that a designer should have is communicating his ideas in an effective, charming way. As designers, what we have to do is to present the idea in a form so that it is easily understood and handled by the audience.
To briefly summarize the concept, the advantages of the interactive theory in the design process are:
Then I analysed different forms of prototyping, I've worked with. I started from the text and graph based prototyping: text-based scenario, persona, abstract models, and requirement specifications. Then I analysed the 2D graphical/physical representations: 2D sketches with pencil, storyboard, moodboard. 3D physical and tangible representations: cardboard model and 3D paper model, clay, textile, foam and Styrofoam, Lego model. Drama and Interaction methodology for prototyping: dramatization and role-play, use of 3D representations for dramatization, image storytelling. Finally, I discussed IT aided representations: software/GUI-based representations, 3D modelling and 3D printing, video prototyping, sound and music prototyping.
Interaction design requires the ability to observe an object from many points of view: functional, spatial, temporal, interactive, emotional, visual, sound and music, etc. Interaction designers have to learn how to use different materials in order to explore all these aspects. As shown in the previous section, each function has a proper material to be accessed with (see Figure 10): functional with several of the material discussed before; spatial with 3D representations and 3D modelling; temporal with scenario, storyboard, dramatization, image storytelling, video prototyping; interactive with previous plus software/GUI-based and sound prototyping; visual with 2D sketches, 3D modelling and software/GUI-based prototyping; emotional with moodboard and sound prototyping; sound and music with sound prototyping. IT can help interaction designers during the prototyping providing them with new tools and materials to work with. Of course, this increases the complexity and requires more knowledge from designers, but it also offers many new opportunities to envision the future.