Prototyping in the Interaction Design Process

Before the birth of the final product, all the design expressions we build (including text, diagrams, sketches and models of various dimensions) can be regarded as prototypes. The construction of prototype runs through the whole design process, design evaluation and design decision. Prototype is an important medium and means to explore and express interactive design. It can be said that the goal of interaction design is to enhance communication and exchange between people, and the process of interaction design is centered on prototype construction. Prototype construction, as a design practice activity, is the core driving force to promote innovation in interaction design.

1. Different disciplines have different concepts of prototypes

Designing interactive products often requires cooperation based on multidisciplinary teams. For example, when designing children's interactive products, it is necessary to invite children's psychological research experts and children's behavior research experts to participate on the basis of industrial designers, electronic engineers and mechanical designers. If the products are based on software, programmers who are good at writing code also need to join in; If the product needs network support, web designers, information architects and other professionals need to be invited into the design team.

Although so many experts from different disciplines come together for the same goal, their communication often has different understanding of the same problem because of their different knowledge. The understanding of the concept of "prototype" in various disciplines is quite different. Industrial designers often call the built entity model "prototype"; Programmers call the code used for testing "prototypes". For user experience researchers, the "prototypes" may be storyboards or scenario boards; For design management or design decision-makers, a thing that proves whether it can be put into commercialization is the real "prototype".

In fact, the "prototypes" in the minds of so many people from different backgrounds are only part of the construction of "interaction design prototypes". Just as interaction design is an interdisciplinary subject, the complex that organically integrates the concepts of "prototype" in many different fields can show us the full picture of the real "prototype in interaction design". The narrow understanding of the prototype based on the background specialty is not conducive to team cooperation and prototype construction. The prototype construction itself requires us to make the various regions of our respective cerebral cortex cooperate seamlessly, open professional boundaries, and integrate the wisdom of each relevant design member. What is really important in prototype construction is how to use the process of prototype construction to promote the exploration and demonstration of future products, so as to promote the continuous improvement of design.

2. Classification and misunderstanding of prototypes 

based on the existing literature and our own design practice. At the present stage, the method of discussing the prototype is mainly based on the characteristics of the prototype itself, which can be divided into:

  1. The construction method of the prototype; '
  2. The fidelity of the prototype. 

The following try to make further analysis.

1. The way the prototype is built

 Generally, when we discuss a prototype, we always mention what the prototype is made of first. For example, whether it is a paper prototype or a solid material or it is designed with a prototype design tool. We tend to think that prototypes made of more advanced tools or materials will be more professional; Using more advanced tools represents that the design has entered a deeper stage; It will also show better results.

This is the number one misunderstanding of prototyping. Equating the sophistication of prototyping tools or materials simply with the depth of the design process will hinder design innovation. Everyone knows that the more time you spend doing something, the less willing you are to revise it. A small demo that can be done in minutes with PowerPoint Why bother to create a Director or Flash project? In the process of interaction design, the various prototypes constructed should not be linear and have clear contextual relationships, but should be non-linear and synchronously advanced at multiple points. In fact, it doesn't matter what medium or tool is used to build the prototype, what matters is how designers use it to explore and demonstrate all aspects of future products.

2. The fidelity of the prototype. 

Most Monographs on interaction design divide prototypes into two categories: low fidelity prototypes and high fidelity prototypes. In many cases, it is easy to equate a low fidelity prototype with a preliminary design phase and a high fidelity prototype with a near completed design.

This may be the second big mistake in prototyping. Designers need to make good use of various tools to build different kinds of prototypes. Sometimes, high fidelity prototype does mean that the design is close to completion, but it should be noted that this is not the case in all projects. Many times, computer 3D virtual prototypes with high fidelity are built at the early stage of the design process, while low fidelity prototypes of internal mechanisms can only be built later. It should be emphasized that the fidelity of the prototype is not equivalent to the essence of the design, but only some special stages in the whole design process.

3. Prototyping in the Interaction Design Process

1. Some current design process problems

In our design practice and design education, design process refers to a series of design activities made by designers or design teams for the development of products or services. The current popular typical design process can be described as follows:

  • Design definition: determine the design purpose, technical requirements and indicators;
  • Design analysis: evaluation and analysis of existing products (for improved  design) or potential user needs (for innovative design);
  • Design research: investigate and study similar design solutions in this field or related fields;
  • Confirmation of design points: specify the specific requirements in the design, and put forward the design concept and specific design scheme;
  • Design expression: express the design scheme through visual language or tools or by building entity models;
  • Perfect development: continue to refine the design on the existing design scheme, and further improve the feasibility of all aspects;
  • Test and evaluation: Test and evaluate the final design proposal to decide whether to mass product then.

In the eyes of many experienced designers, the above seemingly detailed and standardized design process may be just a reference. Because of such an idealized design process, when encountering specific design problems, it is often only on paper. Why does this kind of design process which seems to have a reasonable logical relationship can not be carried out step by step in the design practice, and can not become the driving force of good design?

The reasons are as follows:

The early stage is too long: generally, we think that small companies cannot withstand the blow of a product failure. In fact, the larger the company, the more afraid it is of the terrible effects caused by mistakes in design and development. Therefore, the more well-known enterprises pay more attention to the preparation work in the early stage of design. They often hope to make fewer mistakes in the early stage of design through a lot of in-depth research work, and find the correct product development direction and drive the product to success by relying on design research. Contrary to our wishes, when we finish a perfect preliminary analysis and start to invest in design, we will always miss the best opportunity for product development. Too long preliminary investigation and research not only dampened the creative enthusiasm of designers, but also easily made various data obtained from different knowledge backgrounds an obstacle to the integration of design teams. Linear development: in our general understanding, the design process tends to develop step by step. Many design teams also set up some evaluation mechanisms at different stages to ensure the work quality of each design stage and the direction of the whole design. But as McLuhan said, "people who only pay attention to logical thinking and linear thinking are no longer feasible. People in the electronic age should be people who perceive integration, think as a whole, and grasp the world as a whole." Similarly, in the interaction design process, the overall thinking also needs to be paid attention to. The design process should be a dynamic and non-linear process, which is full of unknown and challenges. Designers must rely on potential knowledge to find a good direction among many constraints.

Division of labor: The inevitable result of linear development is the division of labor, and each design link will create a group of narrow experts. Experts are always prone to overemphasizing their own professional local considerations and ignoring the overall situation. Once such a situation occurs, the interaction design of multiple disciplines will inevitably become a traditional industrial division of labor in which each discipline speaks for itself. Although we often refer to the place full of creativity as a "creative factory", the creative activity itself cannot be produced and manufactured in an assembly-line method. Maintaining the freedom of creative activities should be in line with all the laws of artistic creation.

In view of the importance of prototyping in the interaction design process, in the initial interaction design research and practice, the general process of interaction prototype construction is as below.


3. The general process of interaction prototype construction

a. In the initial stage of design, the so-called creative inspiration and discovery stage, we need to collect a large amount of information related to design; Learn relevant skills and rules; Observe how the product or service works in the actual scenario; Describe what we observe and what we expect. During this process, we will think of various creative ideas from time to time. These ideas will be the basis for our next work. We need to use various appropriate means to record and save, such as charts, sketches, paper models and other low fidelity prototypes. At this stage, we can achieve the goal well.


b. After discovery and inspiration, we need to enter the stage of strategy formulation. We need to further refine the design work and strategy on the basis of the previous work. We need to use the persona setting method to build typical users and put them into a typical scene of our daily life, further observe the interaction process between personas in the scene and the low fidelity prototype we built earlier, and clarify the main technical details and problems to be solved in the whole interaction process. On this basis, we can further build some high fidelity prototypes that are closer to the final prototype. These high fidelity prototypes will improve our design from the aspects of interaction mode, mechanism, form and color, and gradually integrate into one, close to the final prototype.


c. In the final design evaluation, the design team needs to submit a complete final prototype, and we can consider all aspects in the real environment to determine whether to enter the actual production stage. It should be emphasized that, in the whole design process, the design evaluation actually runs through the whole process. The reason why it is listed at the end is that the previous evaluations are all within the design team, and they are constantly made based on the experience and intuition of the team members. It turns out that in the actual case, even after a discussion based on a low-fidelity prototype, the design will have some intuitive changes. In the final design evaluation, various macro and micro evaluation methods will be fully utilized, and even small batches can be produced for complete comprehensive testing.

However, after researching excellent design cases and design literature, it is found that in this process, the dynamic nature of design is still remarkably reflected. The entire design process is basically step-by-step, and there is no essential difference from the typical design process that is currently popular.

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