*Original Article From our Associate Creative Director, Stuart Mayhew*
My 5 year old daughter is constantly teaching me how to be more creative and improve my innovative thinking. In fact most children are incredibly innovative and could teach adults like me an incredible amount about how to think outside the box. Being innovative comes naturally to my daughter, as she proves herself very capable at solving problems in interesting ways. Why do I think she is so good at what she does? Because she prototypes with passion, without fear and with a huge curiosity that all children have for knowledge. These are all very noble traits for user experience prototyping. It never ceases to amaze me how as a child she teaches me an extraordinary amount about creative output and process all without thinking about it. How could a 5 year old possibly teach me, an experienced designer, about design and user experience prototyping. Let me explain...
Sitting down with my daughter and starting any creative task is a joy, the first step has to be fun and playful. She is full of wonder, and in most cases, the things she discovers are brand new to her. She approaches any task; whether drawing; making something, building or cooking with no preconceived ideas of what the solution is going to be ahead of time. Her innocence to the task is what is most refreshing. To her, the focus of the task is the playful fun aspect of what she is doing. If she learns something valuable from it, all the better, but she isn't restricted by existing solutions she has seen before. She prototypes without constraint and improves her knowledge and experience with each new iteration.
This is one of the keys to user experience prototyping; to work against assumptions and be prepared to experiment. Prototyping allows this to happen. Prototyping is arguably one of the most valuable tools in creative user experience design. Without prototyping, the creative process tends to get stuck; it gets hung up on safe solutions that are tried and tested, over and over again. Prototyping helps you take a breath and dive into the unknown with a huge level of safety - you are free from catastrophe should something go wrong. If you're not failing, you may be playing it to safe.
Children do not think twice about scribbling something down, cutting a piece of paper or molding some Play-doh, they just dive right in. Give them some loose goal of making a car or house, and they go at it with huge enthusiasm. This is how designers should prototype; have a small goal at first, and go at it with a passion for discovery. Move forward without fear of failure, but with the mind of watching the results to see how improvements could be made. Most importantly, from a designer’s standpoint, is to iterate and iterate again.
Something else interesting comes from watching children play with materials and crafting ideas. You see all kinds of communication begin to form around a table, especially if many children are playing together. They begin to look at each other’s work, even the shy begin to open up and talk about what they have made. They find a common language and focus that they can relate to, through their creations. The prototype essentially becomes a tool of creative communication. This, to me, is one of the most valuable aspects of prototyping as a team. Communication allows people on your team, regardless of background and involvement, to have a language and focus to start communication. Prototypes are communication tools for creative designers.
Children have much to teach us about creating that is critical to user experience prototyping; they use their hands much more in creative exercises. So why not use your hands more, engage your senses, and more of your body in designing? Touching something real is far different from just looking or thinking about an object. Building a physical model of a room or device can lead to new thoughts and interactions you would otherwise struggle with in a purely digital form. Prototypes that can be made into a physical object are great ways to truly get a feel for something. Sometimes these things have to be felt to be understood.
So how do you make something real? My daughter would be as happy to make a dog with clay as to draw it on paper. In fact, using different mediums for the same goal or object can give wonderful new insights. Why not make an interface out of clay, or fold paper to make an interaction concept? Because of the safety of making mistakes that prototypes allow, anything that goes wrong is going to be forgiving to your error. Errors in prototypes are a sign of how well you are asking the questions to a design problem. If your prototype is only giving positive reactions and working great on the first try then the odds are you are not pushing hard enough to a new solution to your problem.
So, next time you have a project or task that requires some new innovative thinking, first consider making a prototype. Make it as real as you can, and get people interacting and communicating. Accept the fact that the design will not likely will not be perfect the first time and it will change multiple times. Keep your attitude like that of a child learning at school or at home and keep an open mind to the experience. Do these things, and user experience prototyping can be a very rewarding exercise and skill that will show great improvements to your innovative process.
If you haven't checked out Stuart's blog. CLICK HERE. It has an awesome work portfolio and awesome articles on design.