AIGA Converge 2017 – Long Paper

Title: Developing Complex Systems With Low-Fidelity Prototypes

Author: Thomas Maiorana, Assistant Professor of Design, University of California, Davis

Abstract: If design is to continue to make a credible claim that it can solve the world’s most pressing problems, our tools must evolve to address increasingly complex, dynamic and connected product systems. This paper explores the ways which low-resolution prototypes can be used to address complex challenges with minimal risk, investment and time.

The practice of rapid-prototyping has become central to product development, but changes in the ways that products and services are conceptualized, built, distributed, and used require a new way of thinking about this critical practice. Traditional prototypes focus the object or solution. But modern products are increasingly utilizing human interaction and social systems as a core part of the offering. Technology-driven prototyping tools can handle complexity, but fail to offer the flexibility and inclusive necessary for rapidly changing landscapes where a variety of contributors and approaches are necessary. Unfortunately, most low-resolution prototypes are ill-equipped to handle these complex environments. Designers will need tools that illuminate potential futures to their stakeholders, teams, and a growing list of collaborators. And they will need to do this in less time. This paper explores ways of reimagining prototypes so that they may be used to help understand complex systems in rapid, low-risk, ways. This paper will illustrate the ways which a variety of prototyping methods bridge the gap between analog, digital and social systems. Examples from software to festivals will yield insight and actionable frameworks for designers of complex product systems and services.

Keywords: Prototyping, Low-Resolution Prototyping, Prototyping Relationships, Uncertainty, Resilience, Complex Systems, Design Thinking, Empathy