Paper to Pixel: Prototyping Workshop

I recently facilitated a two-hour workshop about how to prototype on paper and then transitioning those ideas to a phone app experience. It was amazing what everyone came up with in such a short time, from interviewing each other, brainstorming ideas, selecting a direction to wire frame, then linking the images up and sharing among the teams.

The prompt I used was allergies. I had teams of two interview each other using and empathy map to gather insights. The goal is to ask open ended questions about how the interviewee may have experience being with someone that has an allergy, in social situations, or observing interactions in a restaurant. Most of us know of someone or have had an experience to reflect upon that can give us a starting point to build on.

We then all came together to share key insights. These were particular pain points that came up in the interviews. People would write an insight down then post it up on the wall and say it out loud to share with the group. The group quickly identified themes from all the ideas. Once doing this for about ten minutes we began exploring possible solutions that solved some the the leading themes. With only eight people in the workshops we had a large number of insights and then about twenty solution directions to explore.

Once each team selected an idea to build out further they used phone templates to draw a series of wire frames of what the app might do to solve the particular situation. What might the core screen contain and what is the basic navigation. Some focused on a specific feature or set of interaction steps.  I then had teams download the POP by Marvel app which is a simple tool for linking up the images.

They next took pictures of their wire frames, then link them up so that one could click through a sequence as if in a real app. It is a tangible method that allows others to understand your idea and thus give constructive feedback. The fact that it is very low fidelity is also a great way to receive feedback because people understand that it is only an exploration.

This was a quick way to demonstrate that one can generate many of ideas and test them quickly and cheaply. All this took about two hours and all had something to share out at the end. A ton more ideation and refinement needs to go into this, but it is an example of how one can move quickly to create something to share and receive feedback on. It is also just a fun way to spend an afternoon!

Want my slide deck? Check it out at this link.

If you are interested in doing your own prototyping, try these resources:
POP by Marvel
Balsamic Mockups
Adobe XD

A big thank you to AIGA WashU Student Group for hosting this workshop.
Intro image of event poster by Lauren Fox.

Design Thinking: A Human Centered Approach

I have facilitated a number of workshops called “Design Thinking: A Human Centered Approach” developed by an arts organization called COCAbiz. The companies I have worked with include accounting, marketing, health insurance, schools, banks, and agriculture. While I facilitate design, the workshops are couched in a broader leadership and innovation framework led by COCAbiz’s Steve Knight. What is fascinating is how teams work together and what they can create in just a couple hours.

The workshop has a five-step approach. In teams of four members explore feeling empathy, defining insights, ideating, prototyping and testing ideas. I give a little history of design thinking as popularized by IDEO and others, share personal case studies then we launch into two hours of making. The prompt they work on is “How might we create a wow that works sitting experience for Steve?” The final goal is to create a chair out of one sheet of cardboard. Teams ask Steve questions to learn to empathize and identify insights they can ideate on to define key features they might explore. Prototyping with small sheets of paper then allows them to use their hands to make shapes and structures that in turn facilitate discussion and comparison as they narrow the direction. They then test one agreed upon idea, or a combination of prototypes, by building one chair with a large sheet of cardboard. No glue or tape is allowed.

Having done a number of these now I have some insights:

Gaining empathy is hard work.
There is much discussion about “empathy” in design fields and many others. The basic idea is that getting to know your user the better you can create products and services for them. Ethnography is another method to gain empathy given that what people say is not always what they do, so observation is critical. Marketers use surveys or focus groups; others use large data sets to see trends and build from there. Designers though use small sample sizes to learn from and build off those insights combined with design trends in the market. Great insights always come from asking question that illicit a story beyond what your are trying to directly solve. Questions such as recalling early memories of comfort or places that invoked warmth and security are some that can inform a deeper understanding of people, and thus inform a more empathetic direction in the product.

Prototyping makes you think and talk critically.
Using one’s hands to make something forces exploration and is a form of thinking. What is fascinating to observe from groups of people that do not make physical things every day is how much conversation little pieces of paper in the form of chairs can generate. Describing how something works and why it will meet the user’s needs becomes real when seeing it, even if seemingly little half blobs of a chair. It generates debate and having many options forces comparison, which in turn helps identify key features that meet a user’s needs. The more prototypes the more teams can decide what to keep and what to toss. Often times we make the predictable, but by having many option on the table we start to see elements that build with others to create novel options.

Testing in small ways builds risk aversion.
“Fail faster, succeed sooner” attributed to David Kelly of IDEO is a core design idea used by many entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs I think have a high innate tolerance for risk while designers I think do it in very small increments in order minimize the sense of risk over the entire process.  A designers constant looping and testing helps form confidence in the final solution through incremental steps. When the workshop participants arrive at the finish line and chairs are lined up to test holding ten pounds, which is part of the challenge, the fear of failure I think is somewhat masked by having prototypes of many possibilities. In the end, with many colleagues presenting options, there is also the sense that one will win. From there they can keep iterating to build an ideal chair for Steve if they keep going for more rounds. And as Kelly might say, they have gained some creative confidence in the process.

Insight Combination


Insight combination is a “a method of building on established design patterns in order to create initial design ideas” and is typically used at the synthesis phase of a project after some initial research. I have run this exercise a few times with limited success. However, in my most recent class called Interaction Design: Understand Health, I ran it with what I would call a seamless process that resulted in students generating a great amount of ideas to build upon. The exercise was developed by Jon Kolko (at least this is the only person I can find linked to it) and you check out the deck he uses at ac4d at this link. I peppered my talk with some health related projects such as PillPack that I think exemplify ideas that blend new technology in ways that produce really novel solutions.

The project I have students working as a warm up this semester is to explore allergies. I gave them each an allergy from the top eight and had them live with it for a week. A bit of empathy experiences to have them learn how others live with health challenges. A stumbling block I find for many students is simply coming up with an idea to pursue after some initial ideas. How does one turn some contextual research into an idea to develop further can be a challenge. By the end of this exercise they had all come up with ideas that each would advance into storyboards and initial wireframes of the idea. If you want to try out the method, follow Jon’s slide deck and have fun! I highly recommend it.

Design Management


This diagram comes from the Centre for Design Innovation which they attribute it to the Institute of Design at Stanford. I modified it somewhat to put people on the left of the venn diagram. It is part of the “design thinking” model made popular by IDEO and the d.School. During my design management graduate work I spent time thinking about the intersection of these elements.  My definition has a focus on health care because I explored that sector during my graduate research work, i.e. a “better quality of life” direction.

“Design management is the effective use of design strategy, operational constraints, and business objectives to generate innovations that enable a better quality of life. Design managers lead teams to consider viability, feasibility, and desirability of products, services, processes, and systems in order to implement business and organizational strategy.”

I took inspiration from a few others. They are:

“Design management is the cultural, strategic and operational use of the design resources (internal and external) available to an organisation, directed towards the creation and attainment of business and organisational objectives.” – Professor Peter McGrory, University of Art & Design Helsinki TaiK

“Simply put, design management is the business side of design. Design management encompasses the ongoing processes, business decisions, and strategies that enable innovation and create effectively-designed products, services, communications, environments, and brands that enhance our quality of life and provide organizational success.” – Design Management Institute

“Design management is the effective deployment by line managers of the design resources available to an organization in the pursuance of its corporate objectives. It is therefore directly concerned with the organizational place of design, with the identification with specific design disciplines which are relevant to the resolution of key management issues, and with the training of managers to use design effectively.” – Peter Gorb, Designthinkers 2001

“In the SCAD DMGT program we prepare students to lead any organization in creating the conditions for generating innovative solutions. When these solutions begin to emerge DMGers [co-­]develop the internal structures and systems for successful implementation. DMGers are experts in not only empowering teams to think creatively and differently, but also in leading the organization toward saying ‘yes’ to innovation and toward taking risks in order to be successful at it.” – Victor Ermoli, Dean Savannah College of Art and Design