The art of prototyping

XIII.1 January + February 2006
Page: 12
Digital Citation

A UI prototyping sampler

Michael Arent

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This special <interactions> issue on prototyping was inspired by a variety of activities that Jonathan Arnowitz, Nevin Berger, and I have been engaged in with others over the past several years. These activities were primarily focused on one aspect of prototyping, effective software prototyping, and included authoring an upcoming book, conducting tutorials, providing training, and giving presentations, in addition to real-live prototyping efforts at our more-than-full-time jobs. Prototyping is a broad topic with a history steeped in the invention process. It is important in staking claim to intellectual property and is an essential design activity that keeps the lifeblood of product innovation and creativity flowing.

This issue presents a small sampling of different views on and varied experiences with prototyping, and different activities that involve prototyping as well. The articles range in variety from Dan Rosenberg's mixed reflections on the state of prototyping over the past 20 years to Bill Gaver and Andrew Boucher's very innovative design exploration employing unique prototyping tools and techniques to explore ludic values of curiosity, exploration, and play within the home. Somewhere in the middle of this range, Bruce Hanington posits the immense value in exposing allied "non-designer" professions to at least a limited set of basic prototyping tools through intense workshops and short courses.

From the dimension of the unexpected, two of the articles touch on the surprising use of tools for prototyping (or is that "the use of surprising tools for prototyping?")—Excel at one end of a continuum to JUNK at the other end. In a case-study format, Nevin Berger presents the discovery and successful use of Excel as an unexpected prototyping tool. In a similar vain, Nancy Frishberg exposes us to bringing the materials of kindergarten (a.k.a. junk) to the world of design—transforming material that is perceived as useless into something that has surprising utility in both communication and the expression of design ideas. In a planned collaborative effort, Nancy's brother, Leo Frishberg, has written a companion piece to Nancy's on Presumptive Design—the act of designers putting their assumptions in front of users in the form of explicit prototypes to find out how wrong they can be and what users really want.

This special issue is not an exhaustive exposition on prototyping. Its intention, rather, is to spark wider discussion and debate on the topic and, hopefully, inspire further writings and activities that can be presented in future issues of this magazine. Enjoy.

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Michael Arent
SAP Labs

About the Author:

Michael Arent is currently the director of User Interface Standards at SAP Labs in Palo Alto, California. He leads a team of user experience professionals in defining and specifying the user interface building blocks for application software targeted to the small, medium-size and enterprise business marketplaces. Prior to SAP, Michael has had a distinguished career as a manager and individual user interface design contributor with such companies as PeopleSoft, Adobe Systems, MetaDesign, Sun Microsystems, and Apple Computer. Michael has a BSc degree in design from the University of Cincinnati and a post-graduate degree in design from the School of Design Basel (Switzerland).

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©2006 ACM  1072-5220/06/0100  $5.00

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