Last week a new show debuted on the Discovery Channel. Prototype This! describes itself as “a team of engineers and PhD’s are inventing the future one prototype at a time”. I watched the premier with high hopes. As a fan of similar reality shows like Dirty Jobs and Mythbusters, I was looking forward to Discovery’s take on hardware hacking and digital prototyping. It was a let down. The pace felt wrong and there was WAY too much repetition. For example, an animated sequence showing a car pulling off the road must have been played 15 times during the 1-hour show. Tomorrow is the second episode and I’m hoping it gets a bit better.
While the show could use improvement in the editing and writing department, I found that the team’s prototyping methodology is in alignment with my personal views for creating design prototypes. Here’s what I jotted down:
- Give yourself a deadline. By constraining the amount of time available, the team is naturally forced to find quick solutions that “get the job done”.
- It doesn’t have to be pretty. Since the usefulness of a prototype is in proving some idea, the physical attractiveness of the final product is less relevant. Wires hanging out or non-ideal typefaces are acceptable.
- Use existing components. You need to move quickly and re-creating something that already exists is a waste of valuable time and energy. If there’s a physical or digital component that works, just use it. You can always swap it out when you move into production.
- Rely on experts. There’s something to be said for “doing it yourself”. Lots of learnings about your product will be determined this way. Save that for final production and during prototyping, use experts who can accomplish tasks quickly to keep moving.
- Use throw-away materials. The prototype lives simply to show off your concept and then be put to the side. Don’t get hung up on creating something that you can’t bear to throw away when finished. The prototype is NOT the thing!
The design room for Prototype This!