littleBits of Fun

Prototyping for users with littleBits

This week, we explored prototyping using littleBits kits in studio. We began by experimenting with the kits before moving to our assignment. Whereas in the first portion where we focused on understanding how the kits worked and their functionality, the assignment required us to focus on applying what we learned to a situation with a specific user group. This seemed challenging at first, but we tackled the problem by breaking it down.

The storyboard we created for our device (read clockwise).

First, we looked at the user groups we were designing for (children learning to cook) and the problem (forgetting to turn the stove off after cooking). Next, we came up with three concepts that could solve the user’s problem. We then created a storyboard of the best concept to visually demonstrate how a user would interact with it. After that, we created a schematic to specifically hone in on how the device would actually work. Lastly, we built our prototype, which would automatically detect that the oven is on and turn it off after a certain amount of time. After building, we checked to see that it was feasible, desirable, and usable.

A flow diagram to illustrate how the device would work and which modules were used.

My teammate and I certainly enjoyed this sprint a great deal. Experimenting with the various littleBits modules and seeing the lights turn on and speakers sound was immensely fun. One thing we struggled with though, was making our prototype as simple as possible. Originally, we were going to make a buzzer sound after a certain amount of time to alert the user and remind them to shut off the stove, but we realized we could simplify it further by automatically turning off the stove and making life even easier for the user. The timeout littleBits module was also frustrating to use, since there was no way to decipher how long it would take to turn the oven off, but we were ultimately able to solve the problem nonetheless.

Deciding which modules to use to solve our problem was difficult at first, but focusing on the user helped us realize how to proceed.

It is interesting to also consider the following: how useful is prototyping in the real world? While the littleBits kits may seem like a child’s toy, the fact is that there is great potential in them. With many possible combinations, the kits can be used to prototype numerous ideas. Of course, they cannot serve as a high fidelity prototype, but the littleBits’ power is in its ability to quickly and easily communicate what a concept could look like, using very simple parts. Ultimately, prototyping is an important step in refining a design by moving from the two dimensional plane of drawings to a physical model that can be held and used. The littleBits definitely prove their usefulness in that crucial process.

Video link: