Most of the pages on this website describe how you can make functioning prototypes, however, this page is dedicated to inspiration on how to make prototypes that are simple as possible (also called low-fidelity prototypes). Read more about low vs. high fidelity prototyping here.
The objective when it comes to prototyping is to think in terms of designing a prototype as fast as possible which explores or conveys the concept or dimensions within.
Why are you prototyping?
Before you start prototyping you need to define the reason why, because this allows you to more clearly prioritise what is in important to you to test out. On the right you can see a few examples:
To ideate or refine an experience
Here it is important to get a feeling of the prototype and how it will play out.
To demo an idea to stakeholders
Here it is important to convey the vision and feel of the final solution. What is it that you are invioning and how can you communicate that to the stakeholders.
To test it with a user
Here it is important that the user can actually engage with it without too much introduction and guidiance.
Explore the visual setup
Here it is important find ways to get close to the actual materials feel of the installation.
To explore the viability of a technical solution
Here focus is more on trying out different sensors and actuators to figure out how different technical solutions can accomodate different experiences.
Sketching vs Prototyping
When it comes to prototyping experiences Bill Buxton has written a thorough book on the subject. Although we don't go into detail here - one nuance is relevant to be aware of. He differentiates between sketching vs. prototyping. The activity can be the same, but the intention differs (see illustration from his book). On this page prototyping is the action of quickly work with ideas. Whether you are exploring (sketching) or refining (prototyping) is up to you in your own process.
Advice: Get started quickly and learn through iterating over multiple prototypes and/or iterations. Each iteration should be functioning in its simplest form.
Materials and tools
Good prototyping requires that you have a waste amount of materials to play and work with. Think in terms of things that are easy for you to modify and combine in different ways. The main point is NOT to get stuck in technical problems or waste a lot of time on specific details.
Exisiting technology can often easely be hacked into prototypes as a way to explore or illustrate different experiences. E.g. a tablet can become a backscreen in a scaled down scenography and a bluetooth speaker can be placed inside a cardboard head to make it "speak".
On the page software tools you can find a lot of free software to use for illustration, photo/video/audio editing etc. In general I recommend using google drawing and google slides for illustrations and visual presentation. They allow you to collaborative work with your designs.
Strategies for prototyping experiences
The list below is a collection of different strategies for prototyping experiences. They can be combined in many ways so they should just be seen as a repository to get started with depending on what you want to explore.
Use illustrations to show how your final design is going to look like. Make sure to focus on the central aspects you want to convey. E.g. the physical feeling of engaging with the prototype or the technical solution.
Scenographies / Models
Scaling your installation can be a way to manage the larger installation in a prototypical form. This allows you to visualise installations on a manageable scale. By using figures/stickfigures etc you are able to also visualise the size of the actual installation. The is similar to set design models for theatre.
(Image from student project: Sarah Lyth Astrup, Freja Høy Hansen, Emma Rasmussen, Clara Paridon Rasmussen, Gustav Weber Kinch.)
Acting out and trying out scenarios is a common way to try out what happens in different situations. This can be done with primary stakeholders or with the designer themselves. This is similar to body storming.
Visual mockups can easily create good illustrations for how the design performs in a given situation. This can be combined with the storyboards to illustrate how to progress through the experience over time. This google slides præsentation can be a template for you to get started
Instead of making an actual working prototype one can often use human intelligence as the middle man. In the above example, one wants to make an interactive trashcan with sound, but instead of using sensor and sound samplers a Bluetooth player is placed in the trashcan and samples are played from a mobile phone whenever somebody puts things in the trashcan.
Wireframing is a way to layout content and functionality without focusing too much on the visual aesthetics of the design. Wireframing works best when focusing on user interfaces in a 2D space. Read more here. If using a google slides it is possible to make it interactive through clickable objects that will jump to another slide.
Partially working prototypes
Most of the pages on this website focus on how to quickly develop up working technical prototypes.
Hacking existing tech
A lot of experiments can be done by repurposing existing technology as a mockup similar to the Mechanical Turk. E.g. if you are prototyping a dancefloor then you can use stick figures in front of your laptop screen to illustrate a bigscreen installation on a dancefloor.
Normally modelling is a somewhat tedious process, but there are different tools that have simplified it tremendously. Tinkercad is the most common one. See the guide for 3D printing for an introduction.
Some of the strategies mentioned above are in themselves testing strategies, but put (very) simply testing consists of three fundamental strategies:
Thinking out loud
Thin out loud testing is a classic strategy where a novice user is invited to try out the prototype and think out loud whele (s)he tries to use the prototype and its functionality. Thinking out loud refers to the fact that the user speaks out their thoughts as they go along as an ongoing stream of reflection. Read more here.
While the prototype may not be deployed one can still play out different scenarios of how the prototype can be used and through the experiments gain further knowledge about what to do next. This can be done on scaled scenographies with puppets and/or as a way to engage users in the design process.
Even with simple prototypes, it is possible to field test them. In many cases, you want to explore partial elements or the early interaction without needed to have a fully working version of the design. E.g. if you want to make an interactive element where random people needs to press a button to start the interaction you can place a button (that does nothing) in a public setting to see if people interact with it.
Documenting your prototypes and prototype process is an essential part of prototyping. Through documentation you enable yourself to reflect and think with the prototypes as you go along. You should document by taking notes, video and photos.
Documentation happens ongoingly as you work with your prototype. It is not a "let's do it in the end". By documenting all the time you will be able to show our progress and also use failures as a basis for argumentation for the final product.
Always document in landscape mode (especially when you record video). This works best for slideshow presentations later on.
Take the time to correct your image/video (crop, color, brightness). Snapseed is a good phone app for photo and imovie is the simplest for video.
For both video and stills, think in terms of graphical overlays that directs the user to relevant parts of your prototype.
Do not document your prototypes with a messy background. Find a way to make the background as simple as possible. A Photobooth is ideal. See the picture above - nice and clean uhmm.
Screen recording is an efficient tool for making video presentations. This can be to demo your illustrations/slideshow.
By making a storyboard in an e.g. google slides one can make a simple flipbook. Through screen recording, this can be used as a way to create a simple animation and storyline for people to watch.
Voiceover is an effective tool to create a compelling video that ties a mix of still and video together in a coherent manner for the viewer.
Think in terms of A and B roll. When documenting make sure to take close up video and images and make sure to take wide context-relevant shots of the interactions and the experiments. This allows you to interweave them into the edit in the end.