This is a picture of a prototyping set-up for an innovative mobile device that a team of students from the University of St. Gallen and the University of Stanford have built in the course "E310: Global Team-Based Design Innovation”.
I really like this approach to prototyping and the students have done a great job, yet my experience is that if you show prototypes like this around, designer (in this case students) will be confronted with two different kinds of feedback. One response is “I don’t know what this should be and if you try to build it like that it will never work.” Another response is “Yes, I get it. Maybe you can try this and integrate it like that”. It is sometimes difficult to understand how one single design can induce such different reactions but to understand it, one has to look at the different outcomes in an innovation process.
Initially there is an idea, which has to be evaluated and might then be transferred into a concept. This concept itself is evaluated and then transferred into a state that is ready for production. This results in two different kinds of prototypes: one that is the “proof of idea” (showing that your idea actually works and is helpful) and the other one which is a “proof of concept” (that your idea fits into an overall concept).
The reason for the different answers is that for one group prototyping works as a “proof of ideas” while the other group looks at the prototype and interprets it as a “proof of concept” that is ready for production – ready to make money from.
These different perspectives are both valid, yet it is important to communicate what kind of prototype you are showing and what kind of answers you expect. It is no problem when people see a “proof of concept” and think it is a “proof of idea”. The problem is if you show a “proof of idea” and people think it is a “proof of concept” that is ready for manufacturing. Then their feedback will focus on reasons why it is not ready for production (when you actually haven’t even tried to present something that is ready for production).
Is this only relevant for designers creating tangible prototypes? No, it applies to everyone who is working with different ideas to create a concept no matter if it’s a graphic designer, web designer or industrial designer.
The essential point is to present different ideas and explain how they shape the overall concept but one has to clearly distinguish and communicate if it is an “idea prototype” or a “concept prototype”.
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