Bringing Concepts to Life
This week, in HCDE studio, we made physical device prototypes. A prototype is an early sample or model of a product built to test concept and process. We made them to better understand how a product begins and looks, before being condensed into a small device, like an Apple watch or iPhone. We used littleBits, which are modular electronics that fit together with magnets, to make our prototypes. The littleBits kits include input pieces, like a sound sensor and temperature detector and output pieces, like a buzzer or motor. In studio, we did a short tutorial to practice using littleBits, before starting on our assignment in pairs, so that we could get familiar with how building with littleBits worked. I found the tutorial to be helpful, and understood the functions of the pieces when we started prototyping the concept for our assignment. Our prompt for prototyping was “user research has shown that dog and cat owners who work long hours away from home are concerned about their pets. More specifically, they are worried about their pets who are overweight. They want to find ways to encourage their pets to exercise more and to control their pets’ diets when they are not home.” Since we couldn’t take the littleBits kits out of studio, we had to complete our prototypes in class, which was challenging for me. We came up with three possible solutions to help pets be more active and have a healthier diet while their owners are away, and picked one to make our prototype on. It was stressful to come up with three ideas so quickly in studio, but the fact that we were doing paired prototyping made it a little easier. My partner and I were able to build on each others’ ideas and come up with three concepts faster than if we were working alone.
My partner and I decided to prototype a device for a concept where a pet climbs to the top of a climbing gym in order for one treat to be released down at ground level. This way, the pet gets exercise and has a controlled diet. The device is made up of a power source, connected to a split wire. The wire leads to a button that connects to a buzzer on one side and a sound sensor connected to a motor on the other. The cat wears the button and buzzer on its stomach, so when it climbs to the top of the climbing gym and lies down next to the sound sensor, the button is pressed and the buzzer goes off. The sound sensor picks up the sound of the buzzer and the motor down below is activated to release a treat. A video of the prototype can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gcGdCVnkr1Q
Feasibility, Desirability, and Usability
The prototype we made was not the most feasible concept, because the pet has to wear an attachment or belt of some sort, which would most likely be uncomfortable, and the pet might be able to remove the button and buzzer from its stomach. Also, it may be difficult for the pet to understand that they need to climb to the top of the climbing gym in order for a treat to be released below. It may work better if there is some sort of incentive at the top of the climbing gym, such as catnip or dog food, but this would would ultimately ruin the healthy diet portion of the concept. The concept is also not very desirable for the pet, because it can’t lie down all day unless it can bear to hear the buzzer go off. An improvement to the concept would be making it wireless so that the pet is not attached to the wall all day.
I found the physical was a valuable studio session, because I was able to understand how a product begins. I didn’t realize that it started out as such a big device with so many wires and parts, and then is condensed into a smaller device. I’m curious how the parts can be made so small. In the process of prototyping, I struggled most with coming up with a concept to base the prototype on. I think it would have helped if I incorporated ideation sketches into the process, so that I could better visualize my thoughts.
Wildcard Question: How do high fidelity and low fidelity prototyping differ from one another?
Low-fidelity prototyping can be done in a very short amount of time and without having to spend much money on materials. As a result, the prototype is not high-tech, but it gets the idea across. A nice thing about low fidelity prototyping is that non-programmers can be a part of the idea design. The prototyping we did in studio is low fidelity.
High fidelity prototyping is much more involved than low fidelity prototyping. It results in higher costs for materials and understanding of programming to construct it. The high fidelity prototype is more interactive and can therefore be better for usability testing.