Stanford University

Assignment 3: Prototyping

Part I

New team

You will be assigned to a new team for this assignment.


Interactive Explanation

Think about concepts from Linear Algebra, Mechanics (Physics), or Computer Science that is difficult to explain by reading the definition in the text book.

Pick one such concept that is suitable to making an interactive explanation. At least one person on your team should know the concept well. Ideally, everyone will know it. You should imagine explaining the concept to someone who does not know it well.

For this part of the assignment you will need to do two brainstorms:
1. First, brainstorm concepts from these three domains.
2. Second, pick one of the concepts and brainstorm different interactive techniques for explaining it.

You may need to perform the second brainstorm for multiple concepts before settling on the concept you find most suitable.
In your brainstorm, aim for a large quantity of ideas, not quality. We expect to see a minimum of 10 different interactive approaches for your chosen concept.

Here are some things to think about:

  • What concepts in these domains are hard to explain in traditional ways?
  • What is the root cause of the difficulty in explaining it?
  • Can we address those root causes with an interactive explanation?

Many interactive explanations already exist in the world. We encourage you to pick a concept that you have not seen implemented as an Interactive Explanation. If someone has already made an interactive explanation for your concept, you should only pick that concept if you think you can do much better than the existing solution.


Flare and Focus

Once you have chosen a domain, work with your team to brainstorm together on whiteboards, sketchbooks, post-its, etc. Work to "How Might We..." questions that ground your brainstorm with actionable problems. This should produce at least 10 ideas, and probably many more. Sketch them out clearly.

Select ideas that you would like to pursue — we suggest two — and expand on them further. Sketch out the interactions and how you imagine them being used. Include who the users are, the major needs those users bring to the situation, and how your design solution addresses the needs.

Dark Horse

Now that you've identified some design directions you like, it's time to change tack and include a dark horse idea. A dark horse, in horse racing, is a contender who most people don't think will win, but may turn in an unexpectedly strong performance and produce a huge payoff. Dark horse ideas are intended to be something far out there or nearly impossible. In the best case, your dark horse ideas might end up winning the race. However, even in the worst case, they can give us tremendous design insight and prevent design fixation, where the design space shrinks too rapidly.

There are three requirements for dark horse ideas. First, they must be "dark": they must explore a space that is risky, radical, infeasible, and/or in a direction orthogonal to previously explored solutions. They should feel slightly uncomfortable. Second, they must be brainstormed after the more traditional ideas — you can't have a dark path without a traditional "light" path to contrast it against. Third, they must be refined enough that they could be prototyped and objectively tested. That is, it cannot be infeasible: it needs to be something that we could put in front of real people to see whether it would work.

After you brainstorm and sketch out dark horse ideas, choose one that you'd like to include among your set of two top candidates from before. Expand on your dark horse idea like you did for the previous top two ideas.

Three prototypes

One should not place all their faith in a single prototype; having multiple parallel prototypes produces better final designs. Your goal now is to prototype all three of your design ideas. The explicit goal of this assignment is to challenge ourselves to generate convincing but rapid prototypes. Your goal is not to create a mockup or scale model, but to create experiences to which your users can react.

The key to this assignment will be articulating: what's your design idea's biggest unanswered question? Use that question to figure out what kind of prototype you would need to build and how you would get feedback from users to answer it. Do not try to create a single prototype that covers the entire idea. This is doomed to be too unfocused to learn much useful. Prototypes can be hand-drawn, constructed physically, behavioral, or digital. Use any prototyping technique in your arsenal.

Capture your questions and prototypes so that we can understand what you did. Include relevant materials (e.g., images, videos) and a short description.

Submit and Present

On Canvas

Pull everything together into your submission for A3-1 on Canvas. This includes:

  • One PDF that contains your brainstormed idea sketches, and your further explorations of two top ideas.
  • One PDF that contains your brainstormed dark horse ideas, and your further exploration of one of them.
  • Three PDF or zip files, one for each prototype: the question each was trying to ask, and a description (including images) of each.

In Studio

Be prepared to share your top three ideas and prototypes in five minutes in studio. Bring full-page color printouts of your top three ideas' sketches and either your actual prototypes or printouts of the prototypes.