Sketching in Spaces: Low-Tech Prototyping for High-Tech Projects

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Brett Renfer, Bluecadet, USA

This workshop explores the power of low-tech, experiential rapid prototyping in concepting, designing and building interactive installations in museums. At Bluecadet, we use a combination of role-playing exercises and paper prototypes to accelerate the design process, challenge assumptions, and give our designers—and clients—permission to fail. We have crawled on the ground with our clients, walked through museums interacting with paper phones, and have dressed up as river creatures—all in service of finding a product and process that’s fun and functional outside of the constraints of software and hardware development.

Following a case study presentation demonstrating a variety of approaches to rapid prototyping, workshop participants will learn how to tackle complex problems themselves. Focused activities will combine bodystorming, role playing, and paper prototyping. Participants will be given a real-world design challenge to practice a compressed version of the processes we employ with our clients. Working in small groups, they will concept, build, and act out an interactive experience—in an hour. We will conclude with “What’s next?”—a discussion of how audience testing can bridge the path from product to prototyping, and how to leave space for iterative prototyping throughout the design process.

Our intention is to demonstrate the power of learning through doing by gently nudging participants to try a new process and imagine how it might fit in with their own work. We see a tremendous opportunity for the use these processes throughout the museum world, and hope to encourage designers and institutions alike break out of our digital boxes and quickly experiment with new interaction paradigms.

Anecdotally, “bodystorming” is a term that was coined at MIT in the early 2000s, although it is perhaps best known in the design world as a part of IDEO’s human-centered design toolkit (see below for additional references). It has been used primarily as a tool in the service design industry, especially as a way for clients to understand and empathize with their users and/or customers. As with all designers in our field, we stand on the shoulders of giants, and have worked to create methodologies that uniquely expand on their pioneering work with these processes.

“Bodystorming is an innovation tool that helps to create stories or themes out of the things we observe around us… and translate this knowledge into rapid communication and generation of ideas”

Kachur, Oksana & Jones, Peter. “Bodystorming”. [ Retrieved: September 20, 2017]

In IDEO’s “Human-centered Design Toolkit,” they describe a range of low-tech techniques used in the development of new products and services. They include “Role Playing” as well as “Live Prototyping” as a part of their toolkit–encouraging designers like ourselves to find ways to inhabit our scenarios during both concept development and implementation. More importantly, they discuss the power of failure–a central tenet, in a way, of this workshop.
“...put something out into the world and then use it to keep learning, keep asking, and keep testing. When human-centered designers get it right, it’s because they got it wrong first” (p21). “Human-centered Design Toolkit”. [ Retrieved: September 18, 2017]

Experiential Learning
M.K. Smith introduces discusses David A. Kolb’s theories on experiential learning, a fundamental underpinning of experience-based education. He also offers some insightful challenges and issues with these approaches, the most relevant being the inherent cross-cultural challenges with these types of teaching methodologies.

Smith, M. K. (2001, 2010). ‘David A. Kolb on experiential learning’, the encyclopedia of informal education. [ Retrieved: September 18, 2017]

References and Prior Experiences
This workshop is based in part on the client workshops described above, as well as bodystorming-specific workshops conducted from 2013-present. In classes as a part of NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program as well as Parson’s Design and Technology master's programs, I have led classes around designing “interactive spaces”. Each of these courses includes at least one class around experiential prototyping, and includes a focused exercise similar to that which I will conduct in the workshop. I will be conducting a class entirely focused on prototyping at NYU in Fall of 2017.