15 June, 2016

The Power of Parallel Prototyping Approach

A prototype is an early sample, model, or release of a product built to test a concept or idea. It is a term used in a variety of contexts, including semantics, design, electronics, and software.
Startups celebrate prototypes. Most startups today, start with building samples of features or interfaces, show them to potential users, gather feedback. They, then, iterate on the feedback by improving on the initial prototype. Nordstrom Innovation Lab did a wonderful job with prototyping while building a Sunglass iPad App.
Characteristics of a Good Prototype
Each prototype must have below characteristics:
  • Prototype does not represent complete functionality or low level details
  • Prototype are easy to change
  • Prototype is a throw-away deliverable, knowing that initial prototype matures to a satisfying idea or minimal viable product
Types of Prototyping
  • Paper Prototyping: Prototypes are created on paper
  • Video/Audio Prototyping: Prototypes include video and/or audio demonstration of how the product might potentially work in a real environment
  • Digital Prototypes: In some contexts, paper or video prototypes are given shape by building them using digital tools like Photoshop, Axure or other prototyping tools, which are known as digital prototypes

Key stakeholders for different prototypes include immediate colleagues, product managers, development and QA teams, potential clients, existing clients, investors or others who may find benefit in initial designs.
Research Based Approach to Prototyping
 Serial vs Parallel Prototyping (Image Source: Steven P. Cow)
Prototyping can be performed using two approaches listed below:
1. Serial Prototyping
This is an approach where only one prototype is created for a design problem and critiqued. Sometimes, multiple prototypes could be created, but design critique happens one at a time by hiding other designs, without comparing multiple prototypes.
  • Only one prototype is critiqued at a time
  • Stakeholders review the prototype and provide suggestions
  • Stakeholders are forced to think from the perspective of the only available prototype and may not get diverse ideas to critique
2. Parallel Prototyping
This is a prototyping approach where three or more prototypes are created for a particular design problem and critiqued at the same time.  
  • Multiple prototypes are critiqued at a time
  • Features from multiple prototypes can be used to create a new prototype
  • Stakeholders can choose from multiple prototypes
The Power of Parallel Prototyping
Steven P. Cow's team conducted an extensive study to understand parallel approach and found that parallel prototyping leads to better design results, diverse ideas, and increased efficiency.
Parallel approach is beneficial compared to serial approach as it facilitates comparison and collaboration. Other benefits include:
  • Promotes individual exploration
  • Feature sharing among multiple prototypes
  • Promotes team work and consensus among prototypes
Asking right questions early in the product development cycle helps in identifying gaps and ironing out complex flows. Parallel prototyping approach might be the way forward to build good prototypes.
Scott Klemmer, Associate Professor at University of California, San Diago once said:
Prototypes are questions. Ask lots of them
Are you asking right questions?

01 June, 2016

Design for All Five Senses - A Multi-Sensory Approach to Design

Jinsop Lee, an industrial designer, believed that great design appeals to all five senses. He called this, the Five Senses Theory. Jinsop also gave a Ted talk on this topic long time ago. According to him, one can grade any experience on all five senses. For e.g, you can grade eating noodles on sight, smell, touch, taste and sound. Similarly, you can grade your biking experience. Jinsop graded himself on a bunch of adventure experiences like bungee jumping, playing games on two different consoles and others. The five senses graph for Jinsop’s experience on Nintendo Wii against older gaming consoles is displayed below. This clearly tells which gaming console he preferred.
This Five Senses theory can be applied to User Experience Testing too. Users can be asked to review the applications under test and map them on a scale of 1-10 on all five senses. The broader the area covered, the better the experience. Further, this theory can be customized to rate the applications at features level or flow level. The Flow example below describes user’s experience when he was using (learning) the app ‘X’ for the first time.
 The Feature example below shows how the user felt about ‘Seen’ feature on Facebook Chat window.
Several such experiments can be performed with users/testers to understand how different senses respond to different scenarios in applications. Like any other framework driven by individuals, Five senses theory has its limitations too:
  1. It varies from person to person as everyone’s senses may not work the same way.
  2. All senses may not be applicable for all people. For some specially abled people, they may not even be able to hear or see.
  3. It is hard to implement on large sets of users
  4. For some products, all senses may not be applicable. For example, how do you rate this article for taste using this theory?
Despite its drawbacks, Five Senses Theory is a good technique to understand how products can be designed by cracking into the pulse of users.
Have you tried a similar approach before?