Prototyping Workshop for DFA


Monday, I led a prototyping workshop for the teams at Design for America. It’s one in a series they hosted for their summer session at Northwestern University.

There were four teams, each at very different stages of their projects. One team was especially interesting. They were addressing in-home safety for seniors, specifically, reducing falls during the night. The understood that most accidents happen in the dark when people get up in the middle of the night.

The other three teams had all coalesced around similar solutions and were just trying to figure out the best way to execute. This one team was different. Each team member had very different ideas of how to best address the problem. The prototyping workshop was especially helpful because it enabled each person to articulate their distinct visions with each other. Once the concepts were out in the open, they all had a clearer picture of what the other had in mind. The ability to say, and show each other something more tangible moved the conversation ahead by leaps and bounds.

Before the workshop, they all had a hard time getting concepts across to each other. They were stuck. Every one of them thought they had the right idea. It wasn’t until they started making tangible things that each one of them understood what the other was thinking.

Consensus now, or argue later


I have worked on a lot of products in my career and peoples’ ability to balance logic and emotions is woefully inadequate. People approach product design and development as if it were just a series of approved steps. It’s not. Design evolves. It should start from a very logical place and morph into something emotional. The key to a successful design is managing that transition.

The time to be logical is in the beginning, before anyone has had a chance to see anything. Use this time to build consensus, and not just about goals and objectives. Think ahead of the emotional responses you are looking for – from the team, the stakeholders, and especially the end users.

Don’t move forward with the design process until you’ve done this, or you’ll be sorry. As people start to see things, the design becomes more tangible and their reactions more visceral. Unfortunately, most people can’t articulate their emotional responses, especially when their expectations aren’t met.

Achieve consensus around the emotional responses you are looking for, and be specific. Do this upfront and don’t show anyone anything until everyone agrees. Having a common language around emotions will enable you and everyone else involved to communicate more effectively as the design process evolves.