This is an article that has been written in the point of view of Human-Computer Interaction and as stated, “interactive computer artifacts”, which I love because it is in the field that I am interested in. This stands out to me as a document that revolves around stating and understanding ‘definitions’. As stated in the first draft of my design manifesto – “Design to me is about creating specific order and organizing elements within it, which best accomplishes a task and establishes a framework for future improvements.” that also coincides with:

A plan for arranging elements to accomplish a particular purpose. – Charles Eames

Just how I reflected on ‘Medium is the Message’ and ‘As we may think’, this article too amazes me of how design principles and methods stated so long ago are consistent with drastic changes in technology, environment and time. However, that brings me to the point of imagining us question these practices. What works well today, need not actually be the best way possible. It’s only when we question and disrupt, that we can evolve these methods. For now, I’d like to get a better grasp of current methods.

From the author’s 3D space model of understanding prototypes, the most interesting aspect was to view a prototype as a representation of separate attributes of the final product. I say this, because in essence when we say ‘prototype’ we imagine it to be a fake, miniature, dummy, or digital version of the entire product. But that serves as inefficient. Therefore, prototyping must serve its well-defined purpose, single or multi-dimensional.

Three prototypes of one system.

The author says that there should not be a priority of one dimension of the product over another, which is great. However, at this juncture, I am not sure if I can totally agree or trust it completely. What I do understand is that prototypes can be built simultaneously, for the same product, but for different product dimensions – thereby making each prototype appear like different products altogether. I’m concerned that if its possible to demark the dimensions of a product all the time. Of course, there will be overlapping integrations between these dimensions, however, sometimes these overlaps may hide under our sub-conscience and hence, throw off the prototype as useless. In totality, I do agree that the best output of user testing and understanding the user and the design is the total sum of the output of individual prototypes designed to test a specific dimension of the product that can add up to ‘integration prototypes’, leading up to high fidelity prototypes almost as good as the final product, in an incremental-iteration fashion.

How the effectiveness of some kinds of prototypes may be limited to a specific kind of audience.

The above quote from the article is what I consider the biggest challenge while designing the best prototype. In essence, a prototype is also a product that can/might have gone through the design rhetoric and is still a product of its own. Hence, not only is it important to define the dimension that the prototype is targetting, but also the right environment, scenario, and audience that the prototype must target. If we miss this, then the full worth of the output collected is lost. Low fidelity prototypes need high instruction while high fidelity ones should be largely self-intuitive with good affordances.

Above is one of the first times that I was a user in another’s (my friend from school, Tuba) prototype. I was puzzled as to what is she actually trying to prototype, but after reflecting on this article, I can understand that to be somewhere between the dimensions of experience and role, because hitting a soft button to generate colored projections made no sense for an implementation. She might be probably looking at a game or an interactive installation where people sit around a table and get involved with each other in something fun. This was also done with minimal instructions.

This brings me to the aspect that this article has not spoken much about – which is important – and that is recording the output of these user tests with prototypes. How do you test them? How do you record results? How do you monitor the experiences? What questions shall be added into a survey and what shouldn’t? How do we the size of the instruction set? I believe, these are important factors to keep in mind when prototyping, else the entire mission is lost.

The most frustrating part of releasing your prototype to user testing is that, the users suddenly become designers, and you need to tell them to go back to being users. – Mario Dcunha.

Yes, that’s right. This is my quote. The digital movie prototype example from this article reminded me of my own experiences. When I share release my prototype to my friends from the non-design world, they say “Well, that looks good, but you know what…” and then suddenly metamorph into design experts, which is not the kind of user I am looking for. When you give a moderately high fidelity prototype to users, they look at the product as almost finished and assume its final form. Based on that, they quickly jump into the judging seat and critique every possible aspect that they can grab hold of. It’s a challenging task to constrain their focus only to the dimension that needs to be measured.

He added that one problem might have been that the user interface was neither
good enough nor bad enough to avoid misunderstandings.

Speaking of examples from this article, I have to mention that what struck me the most was the simple pizza box that can actually give a basic experience of a modern day laptop!  We know that the purpose of prototypes will merge between two or more product dimensions which makes it complex to build the prototype – a screaming irony and a large use of time. Also, when each product dimension is owned by one particular team in an organization, then the complexity increases multifold with the additional factor of clarity in collaboration.

To conclude, are there only 3Dimensions to look at this? The author points out that some dimensions will have varied outputs and behaviors over time – for example, implementation of the product functionality and how maintenance would affect it. Hence I think it’s important to add Time as the 4th dimension while looking at a product, which might not be necessary all the time, but it’s important while we strive to design for the future.

I love this article and I have to save some excerpts from it for my daily use in my doctrine:

  • With a clear purpose for each prototype, we can better use prototypes to think and communicate about design.
  • Selecting the focus of a prototype is the art of identifying the most important open design questions.
  • Clarifying what aspects of a prototype correspond to the eventual artifact – and what don’t – is a key part of successful prototyping.
  • Everyone has a different expectation of what a prototype is.
  • What is significant is not what media or tools were used to create them, but how they are used by a designer to explore or demonstrate some aspect of the future artifact.
  • To design well, designers must be willing to use different tools for different prototyping tasks; and to team up with other people with complementary skills.
  • Two related terms are used in this context: “resolution” and “fidelity”. We interpret resolution to mean “amount of detail”, and fidelity to mean “closeness to the eventual design”.
  • Implementation prototypes can be hard to build, and since they actually work, it is common for them to find their way directly into the final system.
  • Explicitly identify the kinds of the prototype to build in one, two or more dimensions of the model.