DFA Prototyping Workshop 2013 Summer Session

Ideation Space

Ideation Space

I led another prototyping workshop for this Summer’s Design for America teams. As usual, the teams were full of energy and great ideas. This session’s teams were taking on the following issues:

  • Improving literacy among younger children
  • Helping people with dementia stay engaged and attentive
  • Helping young homeless people keep from losing important personal items like their ID, Social Security cards, etc.

I was there to help the teams move from brainstorming to expressing their ideas in more tangible forms. I wanted them to come away from the afternoon with an understanding that “prototyping” is more than just making things, but a whole new way of communicating.

Each team had very different visions amongst their members as to how they could address their constituency’s problems. By the end of the afternoon all the teams had something visceral they can now take to people and validate.

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How you react to feedback determines if something is or isn’t a prototype


Stop splitting hairs over what is and isn’t a prototype. Just know that a prototype is an input, not an output.

Okay…but how do you know if something is an input and output? Apply this simple rule of thumb. Say you’re getting feedback about your ideas from other people. If your reaction is “great”, then it’s an input. If your reaction is “son of a bitch!”, it’s an output.

Once you no longer value feedback, you’re past the point where prototyping can help. You’re just seeking approval. You’re also not designing anymore, you’re implementing. That’s only a bad if it’s not time to implement. Figuring out the timing for that is an entirely different conversation. Stay tuned…

Prototyping Workshop for DFA


Monday, I led a prototyping workshop for the teams at Design for America. It’s one in a series they hosted for their summer session at Northwestern University.

There were four teams, each at very different stages of their projects. One team was especially interesting. They were addressing in-home safety for seniors, specifically, reducing falls during the night. The understood that most accidents happen in the dark when people get up in the middle of the night.

The other three teams had all coalesced around similar solutions and were just trying to figure out the best way to execute. This one team was different. Each team member had very different ideas of how to best address the problem. The prototyping workshop was especially helpful because it enabled each person to articulate their distinct visions with each other. Once the concepts were out in the open, they all had a clearer picture of what the other had in mind. The ability to say, and show each other something more tangible moved the conversation ahead by leaps and bounds.

Before the workshop, they all had a hard time getting concepts across to each other. They were stuck. Every one of them thought they had the right idea. It wasn’t until they started making tangible things that each one of them understood what the other was thinking.

What you need to know about prototyping


Prototyping is a pretty hot topic within the design world. Most of the time, things veer off into discussions about tools, techniques, or methodologies. You only need to know two things about prototyping – when to start and when to stop. Start when you have questions like “what if” and “how about”. Stop when you have to choose between two desirable, but incompatible options.

Decision-making is inextricably linked to design, and prototyping is most effective when you and others can see what the choices are. Otherwise, you’ll just find yourself talking about your options instead of evaluating them.