Pretotypes and prototypes

Why is prototyping so important and how does it fit in to the design thinkers tool kit?  In this short read David Kester looks at some recent projects he has observed and been involved in and shows how invaluable it is to get prototyping early and then keep iterating to build your minimum viable product (MVP).  From a floating school to a sexual health service the prototype proves key to de-risking projects.

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Prototyping in design is often much misunderstood.

A few weeks ago I had the great pleasure to interview the Nigerian architect, Kunle Adeyeme. He is a deeply thoughtful, talented and hugely experienced architect tutored under the great Rem Koolhas at OMA and now running his own highly successful practice NLE in Holland.  One of his areas of research and investigation has been in the field of amphibious buildings.

Just before our interview on stage at What Design Can Do, two interesting things happened:  Kunle was awarded a Silver Lion for his new design for a floating school at the Venice Biennale.  The original prototype that he built with the local Nigerian community in Makoko was destroyed in a storm.  The fact that it had always been conceived as a prototype and had been a wonderfully successful living experiment was completely missed in the media.

 

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Kunle Adeyeme’s original prototype Floating School on the left and the developed scale sconecpt at the Venice Biennale.

Prototypes and what some call “pretotypes” (very early concepts for user testing) are the vital stock-in-trade of a design thinker.

When a telecoms company came to us recently we worked with product teams to develop pretotypes in the form of quick storyboards.  They were developed following customer observational research and provided the syndicate groups with a super-fast (2 hour) method of establishing concepts  they could test in “cognitive walk-throughs” with end-users.

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Quick prototypes developed to test, iterate and also eliminate early concepts with end-users

One of my colleagues (who I admire greatly for his work in health design) Chris Howroyd, has deployed this sort of fast, quick and constant prototyping to develop, test and bring to market on of the most successful new health services for the treatment of sexually transmitted disease.  It’s a 24 hour self-testing service called SH:24.  The programme is re-writing the script for these services in the UK.  A comparison of the early storyboards and the current operating model is a powerful demonstration of the value of prototypes, and constant iteration in order to bring to market minimum viable products (MVPs).

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Early prototypes and the user journey for the sexual health service SH:24

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Pearson Lloyd’s design for an NHS commode on display at the Design Museum alongside one of the early prototypes

Pretotyping and prototyping has its origins in industrial design.  My good friends at Pearson Lloyd created endless prototypes in order to develop the multi award-winning NHS Commode in a project Chris and I ran at the Design Council.  The techniques of prototyping have been adapted by interaction designers and service designers.  They are there to be used and incorporated by innovators and are an essential tool for design thinkers.  The benefits are huge:  designing around the user; aligning multidisciplinary teams around evolving ideas, and that great design thinking mantra…”failing early and cheap”  so that success comes with minimum risk.

Is this the World’s cheapest solar lamp?

Original article: http://www.designindaba.com/articles/creative-work/world’s-cheapest-solar-lamp

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For the millions without electricity in Africa, basic lighting remains a luxury. Kerosene lamps are expensive. Candles and fires are hazardous and ultimately affects a household’s air quality. Manchester-based design consultancy Inventid’s recent development of what they are claiming is the world’s cheapest solar light could present a solution for this ongoing struggle.

Developed in collaboration with Chinese manufacturer Yingli, the hand-sized lamps retail for around about R63 ($5) and are able to stay lit for up to eight hours when fully charged. Called the SM100 solar light, it is reportedly twice as bright as kerosene lamps and features strap slots so that it can be used as a head-torch or easily strapped to a bicycle.

The lamp was trialled by about 9,000 families in Malawi, Uganda and Zambia. It was important to Inventid’s founders that the product’s initial trial be far-reaching in order to best address potential users’ needs.

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“Working closely with charities in Africa we gathered local insights into family routines, the layout of dwellings and environmental conditions,” explains co-founder Henry James. “We listened to the aspirations and ideas of people whose personal experiences have shaped a product that is co-created in Africa.”

Though the SM100 solar light was developed in partnership with charity SolarAid, Inventid have chosen to sell them at cost rather than give them away. According to SolarAid’s founding director, each lamp sold generates money for food and essentials in East Africa.

The recent winner of a silver award in the design for society and design for sustainability categories at the European Product Design Awards, the SM100 solar light can also be bought online for £10 in the UK, with all extra profits going to SolarAid.

Building a weather station

Open Data Durban in partnership with The MakerSpace Foundation hosted International Open Data Day in a dual-charged effort to ignite openness and participation in the Durban community. Together with environmentalists, ecologists, data wranglers, techies and active citizens we built an Arduino weather station. According to Arduino.cc “Arduino is an open-source electronics platform based on easy-to-use hardware and software.”

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How did we promote diversity in the day?

On arrival participants had to select different coloured stickers of what they thought represented their interest and skill set, choosing either a data wrangler; a maker; an environmentalist; techie and more importantly learners.  The latter being an obvious choice to Mondli, Nolwazi and Nosipho three learners from Umkhumbane Secondary School, located in Chesterville, a township on the periphery of Durban CBD. We invited the learners as part of our data club’s programme, where learners will also be building an Arduino weather station which will be rolling out soon.

It was essential that the teams were made up of each of the skill sets above to: ensure the project speaks to the broader theme of informed decision-making through the micro-weather station data; assisting participants assemble electronics; make sure the IoT device is programmed through code; to gain critical environmental insights towards practical use of the tool and more importantly to enable and create a guild of new-age active citizens and evangelists of open knowledge.

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Each team was provided with an Arduino weather kit consisting of dust, gas, temperature and rainfall sensors and all other relevant components to build the weather station. We did not provide the teams with step by step instructions for the build. Instead, we challenged them to google search the build instructions and figure out the steps. Within minutes, the teams were busy scouring the instructions from various websites such as Instructables. This emphasised the openness of sharing knowledge and introduced the learners to open knowledge and how someone from another place in the world can share their expertises with you.

What were some of the insights from the environmentalists?

Bruce and Lee, both retired ecologist and environmentalist respectively were charming in their approach to problem-solving and tinkering with the electronic parts. Although not well-versed in the Arduino toolkit their gallant efforts saw them learning and later tutoring the learners on building the weather station.

Their insights into the environmental status of Durban was unmatched and painted a grim picture of the Durban community’s awareness of the problems that exist.

What were some of the insights from the techies?

Often at our events, we have a number of techies come in who are brilliant at coding but have no concept of data science or how coding can be used to address various issues such as economic, social and environmental. This event helped to introduce techies to how coding Arduino boards and sensors can be used to gather weather condition data and further use to data to monitor the weather conditions in a given area. This data then allows the public to be aware of their weather conditions such as the concentrations of harmful gases in the air. The city can also map out pollution hotspots and identify trends which aid in decision making to eliminate or manage the air quality.

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How did the learners participate in the session? What were some of their learnings?

There were many different languages spoken by the participants which made communication across all groups a challenge however the confidence and enthusiastic wanting to learn prompted the learners to ask some captivating questions for the group members more notably in their pursuit of understanding how things work in the space.

All the attendees were attempting to build the Arduino weather for the first time. The adult attendees were quite hesitant at first to share what they were doing with the learners because they were not certain if what they were doing was correct or not and did not want to confuse the learners. Once the adult attendees were confident with the method of building, they then began to communicate more with the learners.

Outcomes of the day

We eventually saw one complete weather station built by Sphe Shandu who stayed behind after some team members tinkered with other goods in the MakerSpace, minus the LCD component (no team figured this out).

Learnings

  1. Lend an extra hand to students that engage with maker spaces for the first time in an urban setting, they have a natural innate understanding of the moving parts (3D printers, laser cutter, electronics etc) in the MakerSpace and not necessarily the context of new-age manufacturing, practicality and potential outputs.
  2. After lunch, the teams became quite weary. Progress dived down but the teams managed to pull through and complete as much as they could. Long events tend to be vigorous at the beginning and hit a stall towards the end. A possible lesson learnt is to host much shorter events.
  3. Teachers need to be incentivised to attend the programme outside formal school learning.
  4. Parents prove to be the most difficult stakeholders to engage – although involved in their children’s learning they need to be engaged to attend such functions.
  5. Attendance for community events on Saturday are most difficult to rally large numbers.