15 June 2010

The Prototype and the Design Ethnographer

I could write a book about all that I learned during the conference!
However I will force myself to narrow it down to my 3 main takeaways :

"Prototypes can help you find the thing you weren't looking at"

As ethnographers we are trained to observe and look at everything from every angle - but there is always something you can't or don't see.
Prototyping is another tool or approach which can help you look at a problem or research area from a new perspective.

"Prototypes can bridge boundaries"

One of the biggest issues facing design ethnographers is how to bridge the gap between research and design.
As an ethnographer the last thing you want is your insights and research to just sit on a shelf - you want it to be used in the creation of something tangible - having prototyping as part of the design ethnographer's toolkit is one way to do this?

"Prototypes can open up the research and the design space"

I had previously thought of prototypes as a way of beginning to close down the exploratory phase of a project - moving on to the concept phase. As a result of the conference I have seen that they can be a great tool for opening up the space and can be used at the very front end of the project as a conversation starter and method of engaging with your participants.


We also got to the chance to speak with experts in their field such as Liz Sanders, Colin Burns and Michael Schrage who were extremely friendly and generous with their advice - Liz Sanders even gave us one of her 'Velcro toolkit' prototypes to keep in our studio!
And they say you should never meet your heroes......!

In conclusion:

The event was fantastic and very relevant to my practice. It shattered the preconceptions I had about the role of prototyping in research. The range of speakers all had very different ways of using prototypes which resulted in some lively discussion and debate.
If the symposium were to be held again (please, please hold it next year!) I would have just one request - that we have a prototyping workshop during the event itself!

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