14 June 2010

Prototypes - approach with caution?

In the opening talk of Day 2 Glen Adamson presented us with the idea that a prototype can be a positive or negative thing.
A prototype can be used to persuade, to sell a vision - which can be slightly sinister in some cases. It can trick us into a false sense of security, letting us think we are seeing something completely resolved which can prevent us from questioning and exploring - 'a prototype can be a troublesome thing.'
During the discussion that followed the morning session Rosan Chow defended the prototype from this level of criticism, telling us that prototypes do no harm - it's the way people use them that can be harmful - or as another delegate put it - 'Guns don't kill people, people kill people'.
I had never previously thought of a prototype as something which could be negative - that it's powers could be used for evil rather than for good!
During the short film 'The American Look - A tribute to the men and women who design' you see the management team looking over a slick prototype of a 1950's Chevrolet. They glance at it, then shake hands with each other, nodding and patting each other on the back before heading off to smoke their pipes.

Still taken from 'The American Look'

I have to say that this is never the way I have seen a prototype treated in industry.
In my experience prototypes are scrutinised, pulled apart and questioned
The type of analysis required from different groups and the type of prototype required can depend on who the audience for your prototype is and at what level they will need to engage with it.
Throughout the conference the 'rough and ready', lo-fi prototyping method was a popular approach for our speakers. This reinforced the idea that a prototype was an unfinished, developmental tool.
Stuart Brown presented a slightly different angle. The high flying, time poor surgeons he was designing for would not have engaged with a basic prototype and so the design team employed high end rapid prototyping techniques to present their concept.

This Symposium as a Prototype?

It was mentioned on several occasions that this conference was a prototype. If so, did it fulfil the 'characteristics of a prototype' which were discussed over the two days?
The event was exploratory, opened up a discussion space, brought people together across different cultural and professional barriers, sparked conversations in the lecture theatre and outside.

Michael Schrage, Alex Murray-Leslie, Cat Rossi, Liz Sanders and Chris Van der Kuyl

The symposium was a carrier of many different types of knowledge which the delegates could pick and choose from according to their interests and experiences. The conference has also helped us make some sense of the future and explore where craft, design and prototyping is going.
In my opinion all the characteristics of the best kind of prototype!

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