Posts tagged ‘prototyping’


Recently, after finishing a major piece of work, we took some time out for a creative design exercise. Similar to our previous #100 Shots experiment, we again challenged ourselves to think from a different discipline point of view, and a different topic all together from what we usually spend our days thinking about. We knew we wanted to do physical prototyping, we wanted it to be quick and we wanted it to feel like purposeful play (so not just “fun”).

We were prompted by the CAPITheticAL exhibition currently on at the Gallery of Australian Design. The exhibition shows the entries to the competition to design a hypothetical Australian capital city.

Our challenge: Design a civic square in a capital city in three hours!

We chose not to do any pre-research on urban design and town planning – except for the exhibition and our own experience and exposure to cities around the world.

Our approach
1.    Taking a small burst of inspiration/research move quickly from
2.    Concept and sketching, to
3.    Three dimensional prototype.

Bonus incidental activities also occurred such as sharing travel stories of favourite cities, scalpeling fingers, discussions about the amount of static electricity generated when cutting into Styrofoam.

The result
The People Mega-vista                                                                                             The Nation’s House




What did we learn

  • We are not urban designers.

Physical prototyping

  • Having a concept is critical – regardless of the type of design. It meant that the design could change during implementation (i.e. as we prototyped) but the intent remained true.
  • Making is dictated by the level of skill with material or knowledge – which means unfamiliarity with materials or the subject can end up dictating a design because you do what you can with what you know.
  • Scale is hard – when you’re drawing a building in relation to a lake, and then you try and do that in three-dimensions, it’s a particular skill.

Design is design is design (but it’s still a skill)

  • Thinking in physical dimensions is challenging. While we think it is learnable with study, practice and a design mindset, it is not instinctive (like we’d expect of visualising being a design skill across the board).
  • No research means you spend time changing as you build/prototype because you have no rationale to back you up or give you direction.
  • Where you position your concept informs the build – too much detail too soon may mean you may miss the big picture (because you’re focused on details like getting the little tram right) or miss the concept intent (because you forget that the environment needs to cater for people living nearby).


So what did we learn from all that

Amongst the obvious (such as concept is king in design, prototyping is a way to learn how to make the design better because you understand and can solve implementation challenges quickly) the overwhelming feeling we had was that experimenting with technique is fun for learning, but when something is on the line – like a real outcome or generating a real solution is sought – experienced professionals leading the application of tools and techniques means you will get a better result.

We reckon this is pretty relevant when we go into organisations who question the value of design and have tried to do it themselves without experience or aptitude towards design as a discipline. It makes demonstrating practical design over theory or espousing “design thinking” without contextualising it to actual human and business outcomes even more important.

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We’re getting towards the end of a pretty big project that has involved working with a large complex organisation (one of the largest and most complex here in Australia) which means we were in reflective mode on both our approach to the project and the outputs we’ve been creating.

One of the key ‘outputs’ was to map the complex relationships supporting a key service of our client. The map is designed to be a way-finding, decision-making, impact-assessing representation of how stuff is supposed to work and the routes goals and outcomes travel.

Sometimes it’s interesting to look back and track the progress of a map and we thought we’d share what we’d done and why so here’s the journey of iterations of the map we’ve been working on.

First iteration, with the client design team to try and make some sense of the anecdotes:

With the Design Team

Next iteration, taken from the insights, inputs and literature that is known:

Taking the insights from the users, stakeholders and literature

Then, the iteration developed with the users and stakeholders:

With the users and stakeholders

Until you can pull all the pertinent elements together on whiteboard:

Whiteboarding all the pertinent bits

And then finally, pulling it all together:

Pulling it all together

And the client sees it in this form and says: “Yes, I love it” – hopefully (and in this case they did!).

The process affirmed our approach, which includes:

  1. Keeping it messy.  Don’t get the diagram looking too good, too early – it means if it’s wrong, or there’s a better way to present it people have already imprinted a particular look and it’s very hard to shift them.
  2. Support scribbling. We deliberately leave the work rough and scribbled on when we engage users and stakeholders. That way they feel they can scribble on it too. Just like a good prototype – it invites improvement.
  3. Visualise don’t process map. It never ceases to amaze us how powerful putting something in a visual form is. Yes, yes “picture’s worth a thousand…” and all that, but when you go to a client site and they’ve had literally years worth of documents and powerpoints full of text and process maps but still don’t get their world and you have a conversation with them, using a pen, and clumsily sketching connections just watch them (some of them) take the pen and go for it!
  4. Prototype the map, don’t craft it. Producing something that is knowingly wrong (what we like to call a ‘sacrificial prototype’ (nod to IDEO for that term)) can be just as powerful as getting it right.
  5. Be realistic about feedback. Don’t be overawed by the apparent awesomeness of a great looking diagram – sometimes a positive response can just mean the viewer may not have actually taken it in, but it definitely looks like ‘something’ to them. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But like the juicy salif, if it looks great but doesn’t perform the function it says it does, well then it’s just a good looking piece of design. And design must lead to function because, in this case, function is implementation.


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