What is prototyping, and why?

Clint sessions part 2

I was away during this day but I have read the texts that where the base of this lecture and will reflect on them here

Space exploration

The Anatomy of Prototypes: Prototypes as filters, Prototypes as Manifestations of Design Ideas, by Lim, Stolterman and Tenenberg, discuss the use of prototypes in the design process and formulates a new framework for thinking about prototypes. They argue that the old way of thinking Lo-Fi or Hi-Fi is flawed as it does not really take into account what the prototype is for.

The authors talk about how externalizing your ideas by sketching and prototyping help you traverse your design space and find new solutions and problems in the process. In the their study of prototyping they build a framework to define the anatomy of a prototype. This anatomy makes it easier to discuss and evaluate the purpose of the prototype and what meaningful knowledge it brings.

The fundamental principle

Prototyping is an activity. A prototype is not a product but a tool to explore a possible design and it should manifest the qualities you are interested in researching without distorting the concept as a whole.


You should strive to make a prototype that is simple and efficient. The simplest you can to just measure the things you want to measure.


The anatomy model consists of two main parts:


What do you want to explore with your prototype. If you just want to get a sense of how the artefact feel when handling you might want to focus on appearance, but if you want to get to know if the GUI interactions you may need interactivity and more functionality.

  • Appearance: The physical properties of the design. Colors, size, weight and more.
  • Data: How accurate is the data in the prototype? Do you have real or filtered data? Do labels real?
  • Functionality: Are all the functions implemented or just some or even any?
  • Interactivity: Is feedback real? Can you interact with the prototype or is it just a block of wood?
  • Spatial Structure: This may be app layout or relation to different parts of the prototype.


THe manifestation is more about the look and fell of the prototype. These qualities can impact the data you get out of prototyping, often in ways you might not know beforehand.

  • Materials: What materials are used? This will have an impact on the look and feel of the prototype.
  • Resolution: How polished is the manifestation? This is what people talk about when they discuss fidelity in prototypes.
  • Scope: How much is implemented in the prototype? Closely tied to filters.

Is it relevant?

I think the empirical studies this is based on are a bit low quality. 8 subjects in a study makes it hard to draw any reasonably grounded conclusion but it speaks to my gut feeling. I don't think is the best way to grade a papers contribution to the field but I don't have the experience to do a thorough analysis of merits and faults in their thinking. The researchers seem to add a lot to de vocabulary about prototypes and give us new tools to analyze and discuss prototypes.

The take away for me here is "find the manifestation that, in its most economic form, will filter the qualities in which the designer is interested, without distorting the understanding of the whole", this is in my opinion an elegant way of phrasing a quite complex problem. A key insight is that different manifestations can give different evaluations where the audience perceive different aspects. LoFi vs HiFi can give different insights and are not necessarily different quality.

The text as a whole was very interesting and gave me new insights but it was also very repetitive and complicated. It could really use some editing.

The Houde & Hill triangle
The Houde & Hill model: Role - Look & Feel - Implementation

Prototype Prototype Prototype

In what do Prototypes Prototype, Houde and Hill introduce a model for talking about what a prototype does as opposed to the more traditional discussion about what it looks like. Their stance is that every artefact a designer uses is a prototype. They introduce the notion that prototypes can be "ready made" objects and all artefacts that answer design questions are prototypes. A brick can be a prototype if you want to test the weight and size of a product.

A balanced triangle

Houde & Hill introduce a model for planning and evaluating prototypes, a triangle that is not resting on any corner or side to show that none of the qualities discussed is the base or the point. The model has three corners: Role, Look & feel and Implementation and when you combine them you get integration.

  • Role: Artefacts high up in this dimension explore what role the product would have in a users life. It is about how you would use the product and could be as crude as a hand drawn story board or a highly polished video prototype.
  • Look & Feel: These prototypes are meant to evaluate how the artefact look and feel when used. We can disregard user value and functionality and focus on delivering a prototype that explain the aesthetic values of the design. It can be a very polished slide show or just an object trying out size and weight.
  • Implementation: This kind of prototype is a functional product but without the right UI. It could be a smartphone voice assistant that is not in a smartphone but otherwise work as intended or algorithms that solve a problem.
  • Integration: Artefact that prototype all aspects are integrated prototypes. They are more or less complete and can show problems and opportunities in the package.

A seminal piece

As a seminal paper on prototyping it feels more like a think piece than research. It raises interesting questions about the importance of a correct vocabulary to discuss prototyping. It also broadens the term prototype and shows the importance of making different artefacts to test different aspects. The thought on audience is also interesting and I feel I have made mistakes in that regard multiple times. I have not understood my audience and therefore showed the wrong prototype.

To sum it up

Both texts give me a new language for describing my prototyping. They also gave me insights into the importance of iterating and making quick prototypes. I have a tendency to overwork my prototypes as if they where products. This could also be in part attributed to a lack of opportunity to work in an iterative way during our courses. We often have to show results after just a few days and that is not enough to make many prototypes.