NEW SYSTEM ECOLOGIES
Our world and experiences are increasingly digital and connected. In the future, mobile communications and networked objects and spaces will be ubiquitously embedded into our environments and products. In fact, it is already happening today with increasingly sophisticated cell phones that allow for entertainment services such as mobile TV, GPS, and photo-enabled “tag and scanning” and payment services. Additionally, the technology is spilling over into new tangible forms such as wearables (interactive clothing), interactive retail and a plethora of blue-tooth enabled and wireless devices that we wear, carry, or use in our environment. This world, in which computer technology interleaves with the world of material objects, re-defines the relationships between people, our tools, and our possessions turning our products and services into new system ecologies.
The complexity of these new system ecologies is exponential. There is now an infinite amount of variables to work with. What does this mean to designers and the process of designing these complex systems? How do we cultivate innovation within a multi-disciplinary team? And how do we design for these complex systems and who do we design them for?
MERGING NARRATIVE + WORKING MODELS
Experiential Prototyping is a new way for designers to participate in the process in order to design innovative and successful solutions by expanding storytelling with a basic understanding of electronics, sensors, and programming integrated into these new design systems. The entire process, from translating research into stories, to inventing features and systems, to the final pitch, guides collaborative teams in the ideation phases using the combination of research-based narrative, interactive scenarios, and working models used for evaluation and communication of these new system ecologies. The outcome of this method is not the ultimate design; rather, it is an outcome that allows for communication and evaluation of a product, service or process before it is fully built and prior to the next stage of the design process. It merges narrative with working models to provide context that leaves just enough blank space for inspiration among the design team members. Experiential Prototyping achieves this through:
- Invention: employs the design team to invent systems and features within the context of the story through the use of research-based stories.
- Evaluation: invites the users to test specific features within the system and allows the design team to test interactions and features to refine through the use of “activity spaces,” simple models and functional interfaces.
- Communication: conveys the system to an organization or to potential investors through the combination of research-based stories that have been translated into visual solutions and working tangible models.
So why is it important for designers to lead this new practice of design? The complexity of interactions in our new world of mobile and wireless system ecologies is exponential. As people and objects interact in a fluid and invisibly networked system of tangible artifacts and data spheres, the technological infrastructure requires a more sophisticated approach to design. Experiential prototyping offers this by featuring the use of social narrative, resulting in both research into, the desires of potential users and the different ways real people would relate to and use not only the product by themselves, but also with other people, with other objects, and within the environment of the infrastructure which supports the usage.
The benefit is an incredibly rich, layered and inexpensive way to prototype, dialogue, and enlarge the scope of new and innovative products, the infrastructure that supports the product in a way that is “user friendly,” and the ways in which actual people will interact with and experience using both product and infrastructure simultaneously. In other words, the benefits of Experiential Prototyping include:
- creating a better context for understanding the social context of new products and systems,
- building an environment for very productive brainstorming and ideation around stories and prototypes,
- moving the testing of interaction to an earlier stage of the design process, which will save money and development time,
- facilitating a more interdisciplinary process, bringing the ideas and expertise of team members into the design as early as possible,
- providing the opportunity to test and question basic assumptions in the design brief at the earliest and most important stage of product definition,
- expanding the potential for developing useable features for a system before it is built in its finished form,
- providing a method for developing a successful solution during the ideation and prototyping process, and
- providing a means to move a collaborative team toward a shared vision.
THE DESIGN PROCESS
First, let's take a step back and look at the design process as it is today. We are all familiar with this process as it goes through the design brief to ideation to prototyping to development.
Experiential Prototyping is wedged between the ideation and prototyping phases. It widens the boundaries of traditional design methods in the creation of products, services and technology by creating story-based prototypes before the prototype.
The method can be compared similarly to the way “concept cars” are used in the process for transportation design. The concept car is a "blue sky" combination of form, function, and overall experience that you can hop into, drive, interact with the dashboard, and get a sense of the overall experience. Concept cars are not made for production, rather they are used to inpire design at a later stage. Similarly, Experiential Prototyping for complex systems becomes a tool that provides an experience of the overall system to inspire design at a later stage however, much more inexpensively.
First, design and media is used to translate design research into visualizations of people's behaviors and needs that allow features within the larger system to evolve. In the case of the mobile music system, stories were created for three characters, Aaron, Theo, and Angel. Each character's personality, behavior, and relationship within their social context began to guide the development of features for both products, services and technology infrustructures within the architecture of the system.
MERGING WORKING PROTOTYPES WITH NARRATIVES
Sensors, microprocessors and a basic understanding of programming turned the character's stories into an interactive experience. In the case of the mobile music system, the Experiential Prototype became a touchable story-driven design experience used to evaluate and communicate the character’s specific features of the system within the context of their stories. With this, the design team or users (if it is used for user-testing) brings the stories and features within the system to life and allows one to physically experience them. It utilizes physical computing in a completely new way that allows teams to design and evaluate the different ways real people would relate to and use new and innovative products and/or services by themselves, with other people, with other objects, and within the environment of the infrastructure which supports the usage.
Case Study: Mobile Music ›
Case Study: Mobile Music
Other Experiential Prototypes & Projects
Thesis Paper (pdf)
jennifer [at] teeji .com