Investigation into the insights generated through the application of interactive prototyping during the early stages of the design process
The early stages of the product design process are defined as those when initial product concepts are conceived in accordance with a design brief. High numbers of ideas will be generated as designers iteratively develop concepts towards more refined design solutions. The early stages of the design process are rich with trial and error providing the optimum time for making major design decisions with minimal risk. Prototypes play a critical role in designers' ability to explore and evaluate concepts against the user's requirements and needs during this time. The role of prototypes is emphasised to an even greater degree when adopting user centric design methodologies.
The term computer-embedded device is used to describe a type of product which features embedded processing power. Examples of this type of device include hospital monitoring equipment, satellite navigation devices, microwave ovens, washing machines, car park ticket machines and mobile phones to name just a few examples. Such devices typically feature bespoke hardware with custom user interfaces. These devices are inherently complex to design due to reliance upon a multitude of disciplines including industrial design, software engineers, electronics engineers and human computer interaction experts. The need for such a multi disciplinary team presents a major challenge for industrial designers when attempting to prototype this type of product.
A number of attempts have been made to alleviate the prototyping challenges faced by designers associated with these products. Some of this work has resulted in the development of so called prototyping toolkits which aim to abstract some of the electronics and programming knowledge required to create interactive prototypes. However, previously there has been little research which focused on exploring the interactive prototyping needs of designers during the very early stages of the design process. This thesis explores the needs of designers involved in the development of computer-embedded devices during the early stages of the design process, in relation to interactive prototyping.
The research includes the development of an experimental prototyping toolkit. The toolkit's development was informed through the findings of a critical literature review which identified suggestions relating to early stage interactive prototyping requirements. The toolkit provided a means of directly exploring to what extent the requirements previously suggested met with the actual needs of designers working at this stage of the design process by creating an intervention in existing design processes.
The research trialled the toolkit with six carefully selected industrial collaborators. These collaborations ranged in profile and market from an independent User Centric Design consultant through to a Global Mobile Phone Corporation.
This research has found that it is possible to produce tangible interactive prototypes during the early stages of the design process within a timescale of one to two hours. The research has also concluded that the barriers towards interactive prototyping during the early stages extend beyond being solely attributed to a lack of suitable prototyping tools. The research identified major limitations in the existing prototyping tools available to designers, as well as a lack of integration between the industrial design and the interaction design associated with the design of computer-embedded devices. This lack of integration poses a major barrier towards the successful design of computer-embedded devices.
- School of Art and Design