[box type=”tick” style=”rounded” border=”full”]I thought this would be a “fun” activity, and for some students it is. But I’ve noticed that more than most projects some students feel a lot of pressure to “be creative.” In a way, that’s not the most important thing here. From your daily life in School / Work / Sport / Entertainment / Family / Friends, just try to notice some “need” where you could create a device / box / widget / app / garden hose adapter / you name it, that might fill that need.

The real KEY to this activity is “Design > Test > Repeat”. When in doubt: make anything. Use it for a couple of days, and gather feedback. Most successful things wind up with “jobs” other than the one first imagined. Even the legendary Steve Jobs thought that the most important thing the iPhone would ever do was to make voice calls![/box]

Good Design

We live in a world of design. Sometimes we think very specifically about design, like:
fashion from Alexander McQueen, 2001

  • edgy fashions from Alexander McQueen
  • sexy Apple devices
  • thinking the new Yahoo logo is ugly.

But we also use someone’s design a thousand different times a day, often without thinking about it:

  • The handle on your car door
  • The plastic spray trigger on a bottle of window cleaner
  • Your bicycle
  • Wearables, like Activity Trackers, Heartrate Monitors, Watches
  • The hardware design of your phone
  • The software interfaces of the Apps on your phone

Sometimes we speak in terms of “UI/UX” which is short for User Interface / User Experience. You’ve probably had the experience of using something and thinking that nobody ever tested it because it just feels so wrong to you. You’ve probably also used something where the form factor or the software interface just felt so intuitive and right.

You could spend a whole lot of time and money developing the design of things, only to discover that they don’t work or that a lot of people hate them. Enter, Rapid Prototyping!

Rapid Prototyping

cardboard prototypeAt the heart of Rapid Prototyping is, well, Rapid and Prototype. The idea is to work quick, and cheap, and iterate a lot. So you make a very simple hardware or software device. Very simple! Then use it yourself, and/or have others use it. Get quick feedback and make revisions.

Say you have an idea for a device you’ll eventually call something like iPad Mini. To get started, you don’t need aluminum and glass and electronics and machine tools. You could start by taking a piece of cardboard and cutting it out in the shape and size you’re thinking of, and then draw some buttons on it. Great. Now carry it around all day for a couple of days and use if for everything. Is it convenient? Too big? Too small? Too heavy? Oh, it’s cardboard! Maybe tape some metal or a sandbag on the back so you can approximate the weight and balance that your eventual device will have.

In class? In an office meeting? Pull out your cardboard device and push buttons! Seriously! Sure a few peeps might laugh, but I think they’ll also be impressed with your research. You can let them try it and give you feedback.

The idea is that whatever you choose to design, a hardware device or a software interface, it takes almost no time and no money to create, but it already lets you start figuring out what features you do and don’t want. What helps and what hurts. It doesn’t matter that it’s crude and not functional. You’re testing the use case an the user experience. Along the way you might find that your supposed use case is wrong, that your device isn’t really needed in the way you do school or work or exercise or leisure. Or your prototype might help you expand your use case to a much larger space than you imagined.

Your Project

photo of 2 women in black dresses in a white cube art space "sketching" in air with the trace of their movements shown as lines1. Think about some need you’d like to address.
2. Design something.
3. Make a cheap, fast prototype.
4. Use it for a couple of days.
5. Make a Version 2 prototype from what you’ve learned.
6. Use it some more.
7. Blog your experience with words & pix. Vids if you like.

Your device can be about anything you care about. Like aerospace engineering or business meetings or nursing. Or cars or cosplay. Anything. As long as it’s about something that matters to you and you think you can create something to fill a need in this space.

Start this week right away so you’ll have time to make at least 1 revision during the week!

design… test… repeat…


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