Rapid & Continuous Prototyping

In this post I’d like to address making as a way of thinking. The two processes work closely together and feed into each other. And one does not precede or follow the other. Neither are the two distinct. Typically students spend a large amount of time thinking about an idea, rather than putting together a rough concept and putting it out there to see if it works.

When one is working on projects that are driven by deadlines and require several iterations, waiting for that bright idea to manifest into perfect form is foolish. And we all know the dangers of falling in love with that one idea that shines brilliantly in our heads!

My approach to design is always by getting my hands dirty. And in sifting through media, materials and making, I find better ideas emerge and a process evolve. Rapid Prototyping is a design method where quick and dirty prototypes are created to give body to an idea or a thought. These do not have to be finished or perfect, but merely indicative enough of the idea. This is very effective when one is working closely with the community or users. Feedback from users can be quickly gathered by testing the prototype. Iteration and thinking by iterating then becomes a steady process, a continual cycle of design and evaluation.

This was my approach from the go for ‘The Seeing Hands Project’. After a few weeks of primary research and interactions with the children at Mathru, the students were given a design challenge or a mini project. The design brief was to create a very quick and dirty tactile book which could explore any of the senses. The students were thrown off at first and seemed daunted. But in retrospect I think some of the best ideas emerged from this session of rapid prototyping.

Aishwarya’s rough prototype that explores the sense of touch.

Aishwarya made a board book for her rough prototype. The book explored the sense of touch. She gained some very valuable insights from testing this rapid prototype, which she went on to use in a very different form in her final book. “Children, visually impaired or not, love to touch and feel things, and listen to sounds and smell the objects. To them, a book is treated as a toy and not a book. So if a book has a number of complexities it doesn’t matter, if the tactile bit of the book appeals to them, there’s no stopping them from coming back to the book.” — Aishwarya Cariappa

Krattiika’s mini project being used by the children

Research for this project had to be conducted differently. The children were far too young to be ‘interviewed’. So playing with them with rough prototypes or smaller projects proved doubly useful. The children got a welcome, fun break from their straightjacket-schedules at school; and for my students, primary research and iterative design just flowed.

Here is another series of prototypes that I would like to draw attention to. Noopur Tiwari worked on designing a hopscotch for children with VI. Children with VI also have slower physical development issues, as they do not explore movement and play as freely as children with typical vision do. Here are the series of working prototypes that Noopur evolved through continuous iteration and testing. With each prototype, her understanding of the user evolved and her concepts fleshed out.

Noopur’s first prototype for a hopscotch for children with VI. At this stage she was only testing for tactile sensitivity.
The second prototype only looked at the aspect of joinery and explored possible tile shapes and sizes. This allowed for the student to understand the difficulties faced by the children in joining and breaking tiles apart to make varying tessellations.

Rapid prototyping is also useful when only one aspect of a product/artefact needs to be tested. In this instance, rather than spend time on making the entire hopscotch several times, the student made fewer parts, testing only specific attributes at a time.

From extensive user testing, Noopur then made the third prototype. This hopscotch was made with readily available materials. Previous tests had revealed key insights into how the children were using the tiles, what optimal sizes the tiles should be in. This prototype was tested as a whole and not in parts as the others.
The Hopscotch. Final form.

Prototypes can be in any form, models, storyboards, rough layouts, wire frames. Thinking in this way, by making, makes the thought tangible and available to be looked at by another. I would strongly recommend this tool, it helps in a steady and solid design process.