New Workshop: Prototyping Deep Dive

From 23 – 25th of February the first deep dive workshop on prototyping took place at HPI academy. Besides the beginners’ course formats, which address design thinking newcomers the deep dive formats are directed at advanced design thinkers who want to dive deeper into specific aspects of the design thinking process.

“You have to be open otherwise no method can help“

The setting for these three days advanced design thinking workshop couldn’t be much better: ProSpace, the spacious, bright room with moveable furniture, high tables, sitting cubes as well as a prototyping corner with toys and all kind of fun stuff – an “all-in-all-design-thinking-environment” located at HPI-campus at Potsdam/Griebnitzsee.

Why are we planning to do prototyping for the next three days? “We want to explore the unknown unknown,” as Carmen, architect, designer, and design thinking coach, puts it in a complex nutshell. I can truly feel the passion for design thinking evolving here at Griebnitzsee on this wintry Thursday. The next three days are going to be all about understanding the complexity of prototyping. “Prototyping is not just a phase, just as Pluto is not a planet,” clarifies Marco right at the beginning of the workshop. The goal of this new workshop format is to let the participants experience that prototyping is more than only a single phase in the design thinking process. One of the guests from the UK is quite keen on that idea, responding my question “What would you love to prototype right away?” with “I really think you can prototype everything.”

The contributors from around the world gather in the kitchen to start the day with small talk and coffee. With its spacious charisma, the place itself, located right next to the D-School, implies a lot of room for innovation. Just one thing catches the experienced design thinker’s attention right away: no whiteboards – the core instruments of the design thinking process. “No need for whiteboards today,” lead coach Katrin explains to me. “This is an all-out prototyping deep dive.”

“The challenge and discovering the problem space” is the mantra for today. After welcoming  everybody warmly, Katrin introduces herself, the space, and the three group coaches, Carmen, Marco and Johannes, and announces the roadmap for the day: “From understand to synthesis with prototyping.” To whet our appetite, Prof. Dr. Patrick Baudisch, chairman of the department of human computer Interaction at HPI, takes over with a presentation on his current research projects on personal fabrication and 3D printing. After intense, theoretical insight into the ‘digital new,’ Baudisch lectures on 3D-printing technologies and interactive fabrication systems that that offer ʺliveʺ prototyping possibilities. “The concept of designing interactively with a 3D printer certainly looks unfamiliar to us now. However, as the underlying technology continue its fast-paced development, in the near future, we will be able to interact with matter very much like we interact with virtual contents in VR today,” Baudisch says, summing up his session.

Now it is time for the teams to go into action. Lead coach Katrin reveals the design challenge for the next three days: “Redesign the moving experience.” She adds that “only in Berlin 425 moves are carried out every day. And for most people, moving is not a pleasurable adventure.” Reason enough to start, bearing three prototyping principles in mind: “Don’t build walls, don’t build giant structures and always select an adequate level of detail.” To start off this 3-days-dive Carmen holds an input session on prototyping for observation. While observation tools like interviews and stakeholder maps might provide insights into behavior, preferences and user motivation, empathy prototyping methods can tell us something about the user’s personal feelings towards a service or a product. We can even get insight on the user’s anger and frustration. One of the tools for testing empathy is the “love and break up letter”. The stakeholder writes a love or a break up letter for the product or service, he or she is confronted with. This method allows the stakeholder to articulate feelings and inner thoughts. The stakeholder may also come up with information he or she might consider to be unnecessary, which might, however, provide surprising insights into the innovator. Not only the love and break up letter method, but also diaries and workbooks, 3D models and cultural probes can be used as empathy prototypes, Carmen adds. The goal is to be as creative in developing the research as in the ideation phase.

Shortly afterwards, Johannes introduces a prototyping tool for storytelling: “Comic Life,” a software used to create your own comics. The team members are asked to build a prototype with Legos in order to illustrate their hypothesis of the problem of how to help the protagonist out of his moving dilemma. And so the three teams create: “The horror of leaving home,” putting the protagonist “Fabian,” a young guy who just moved from a small city to Berlin with his customized furniture, in the focus of the prototyping narrative. Team two wants to help “the student who has never moved but created a moving world in his mind” to close the “gap between what he thinks moving is and what moving really is.” With the promising title “Less is more,” team three introduces a hero who moved from China to Berlin with a baby and who faces all kinds of struggles, for instance because he loves to buy things, but at the same time likes a tidy and clean environment.

“When things become open … like *POW … a lot of things develop.”

One of the international guests here at HPI Academy hopes to get a lot of new input when it comes to the prototyping methods, he tells me with a coffee in his hand just before day two is about to start. Another participant’s answer to my question “What do you really want to prototype just once?” is simple: “My life,” she answers. Well, let’s see if the coaches manage to meet these expectations today, but one thing is for sure: deep dive day two will be all about experience.

The group starts day two with a craftsmanship-workshop on paper and cardboard. Today we are supposed to work with our hands – with some cutters, cutting mats, glues, pencils, and scissors. “First please try and get a feeling for the materials,” Carmen, the coach, instructs the group. “It’s about your personal experience with the prototyping materials”, she points out. While Carmen leads the group with a hand-held camera, we learn how to build a radio cabinet  out of paper and cardboard, which is supposed to play the main role in today’s “Radio Gaga Prototyping Lab.”

What follows the cardboard session is another craftsmanship-session with Arduino/Teensy conducted by Johannes, who truly has a passion for this physical computing platform. The platform  started as a program for interaction between design students in Italy. Its aim was to find an easy and affordable way to create interactive devices that connect the digital with the physical world, like simple robots. Johannes uses Arduino today to build a simple tune generator for the “Gaga radios.” As an open source technology, Arduino is a prototype itself, Johannes points out. “When things become open … like POW… a lot of things develop.” This is how Johannes makes the long story short, while incidentally formulating one of the main Design Thinking principles: it’s all about creative collaboration.

After a full afternoon working on cardboard and technical craftsmanship with Arduino on the second floor as well as an alternative session on rapid prototyping on the first floor, day two ends with two final presentations. The second floor came up with a self-made “Radio Gaga concert,” performing Pinks Floyd’s “We don’t need no education,” while the first floor presented their results on the challenge: “How to change the coffee break experience.”

 “The best way to have good ideas is to have a lot of ideas.”

Day three is all about ideation and testing for a revolution of the moving experience, and – of course – it is about prototyping. Asked what excited him the most in this prototyping workshop, one of the participants laughs and tells me during the third breakfast spent together, “It was the age regression. On day one I felt like an 8-year-old again.”

Day three starts with an input on ideation held by lead coach Katrin: “The best way to have good ideas is to have a lot of them.” Katrin motivates the group for the upcoming brainstorming session and instructs the team: “pick out something in our crazy ideation/prototyping area and let it inspire you while brainstorming.”

The last “official” task of day three is to present the ideas, prototypes, and the test results. The three groups came up with three different approaches and three short video clips to present their ideas. The first team dived deep into the desire for self-awareness and customized living spaces and furniture. At the same time, team B built their prototype on the idea that young people, moving to big cities, tend to miss their familiar surroundings and familiar spaces. Whereas Team C developed a more structural prototype to test a reward system based on the kinds of rewards people would like to earn in order to get rid of things in their homes before moving.

Three colorful, crazy and different approaches to innovate the moving experience! Our guests from different countries, branches and cultures returned home after three days of prototyping with practical experience, proving that only through creative cooperation can we shape the future in our complex and dynamic world.