@Christopher DeLorenzo

@Christopher DeLorenzo

Why We Prototype

The beauty of our imagination is its ability to spread like wildflowers towards extraordinary unrestricted realms which can extend far beyond reality. As designers we inhabit two worlds; we are here but we are also there- in the abstract, in the maybe-perhaps, in never-never land. We tend to drift, to wander within thoughts into possibilities and other-worlds as we envision future scenarios, even if said scenarios are beyond reach, beyond human capability. In this way designers are pioneers of uninhabited realities, stretching the boundaries of truth by working within the delta of what is and what could be. Although we freely envision all that could be, when it comes to the execution of our ideas, thought is not enough; concepts need to be articulated in order to become temporal. The art of design succeeds by way of evolving our visions tangibly given the limited constraints of our current reality.

Design as a practice oversees the development of thoughts beyond the mind. In order for us to make the intangible tangible, we must begin by giving form to the intangibles. No idea is born fully developed; ideas emerge muddled but full of possibilities and it is by extending our thoughts visually and tangibly that we allow them the chance to evolve [1]. Prototyping is the practice we utilize for the transition between the interpretation and representation, between concept and reality.

Prototypes serve to provide requirements for an active breathing structure as opposed to a theoretical one. As designers we tend to get caught up in abstract lexicon, however we genuinely do not know what our concepts will truly be until we begin interacting with them. The only way to know whether an idea is viable or not is by testing it [2].  By bringing concepts into context, prototypes help us break away from any illusions that our ideas exist in a compartmentalized state.

No matter how useful a designer finds hypothetical framework, for those who will be experiencing the given product or service, form is of the essence. Therefore, it is important that designers express these concepts in tangible-visual representations (concept sketches, rough mock ups, role-playing, story boards, etc.) which users can interact with thereby generating useful feedback and insights. The true power of prototypes lie in the interactions they invite and insights they unearth [3].

By working with users when we prototype we are able to test and explore our design at various levels, understanding what it “looks like”, “behaves like”, and “works like” [4]. The affordance provided by tangibly interacting with a medium which embodies a concept renders unexpected outcomes and therefor yields deeper and richer understandings. Through hands on interaction and evaluation we develop accurate understandings of what is meaningful to the users, discovering any unarticulated needs and essentially finding out what works and what doesn’t, adjusting and refining our concepts accordingly. Proper feedback allows us the ability to strike a balance between innovation and relatability, thereby giving our designs not only purpose but function as well.

It is through the execution of our imagination that design evolves from the abstract into the material. When we extend our thoughts beyond the unrestricted idealistic realms of our minds we allow them the chance to truly mature. In the world of design thoughts are of no significant value if they do not come to exist and live outside themselves. As designers we give life to our ideas through prototypes which serve for their expression, exploration and modification thereby allowing us to test a concepts’ desirability, viability and feasibility as it pertains to the intended user and context [5]. The same way we write to think, we prototype to design; to design is to prototype. Through prototypes we transcend our ideas allowing them the ability to take form so as to function and live practically and purposefully.


[1] Lockwood, T. (Ed.). (2009). Design thinking: Integrating innovation, customer experience and brand value (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Allworth Press.

[2] Norman, D. A. (2013). The design of everyday things (Revised and expanded ed.). New York, NY: Basic Books.

[3] Schrage, M. Serious play: How the world's best companies simulate to innovate. Harvard Business School Press Boston, 1999.

[4] Schrage, M. Serious play: How the world's best companies simulate to innovate. Harvard Business School Press Boston, 1999.

[5] Klemmer, S. R., Hartmann, B., & Takayama, L. (2006). How bodies matter. Proceedings of the 6th ACM Conference on Designing Interactive Systems - DIS '06. doi:10.1145/1142405.1142429