Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Rapid prototyping for tangible user interface designs

As designers we apply participatory approaches of engaging users and stakeholder in the design process for better design outcomes. Using white board, affinitive mapping, brainstorming, wire-framing, prototyping etc. in order to arrive at functional specifications are common practices required in product development. These activities not only serve the purpose of design but also to communicate ideas and concepts to various stakeholders.


The idea is to understand if conventional design techniques would stand complexities around designing Tangible User Interfaces (TUI). Let’s explore in detail. TUI is a user interface, where a user interacts with digital information through physical representation.  Designing for TUI brings various challenges to designers primarily due to physical representation of digital information and variety of complex interactions available. Watch this video for a better understanding. 




For designing a TUI system, a designer needs to consider physical objects, physical actions, interactions and physical environment because everything is an interface that interacts. More than just complexities around TUI itself, there are challenges with respect to effective communication of design concepts to stakeholders for their buy in. This leads to a few questions to our use of conventional design approach. How effective our conventional design approached would be for TUI designs?  Should we adapt to rapid prototyping technique? Would rapid prototyping help designers conceptualize and communicate ideas better.


Consider a brainstorming session; we bring a mix of designers, developers, implementers, managers, stakeholders and users. Brainstorming brings ideas to the table in order to solve a design problem.  During such sessions, the effectiveness of communication is maintained by making use of whiteboards, post-its, paper and pen. Mostly the systems we design are for two-dimensional space. But when it comes to design for three-dimensional spaces, we should be using three-dimensional objects. We know it is important for people to express their views and have effective communication to develop innovative ideas. Rapid prototyping with three-dimensional object would be major drive to bring people into action.


In designing for TUI, it seems important for designers to use three-dimensional objects for prototyping. By introducing such dimensions communication and engagement of groups can be increased. This could help designers to visualize the space that they are designing for. And in addition, designers can investigate on affordance and metaphors used of the group to formulate the thought process. This approach can produce positive outputs during discovering phase of a product development lifecycle and to frame them during definition phase.

Special Thanks to
Vinay for editorial hands
Tangible Bits for sharing the video

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