Prototypes and prototyping in design research

Authored by: Stephan Wensveen , Ben Matthews

The Routledge Companion to Design Research

Print publication date:  October  2014
Online publication date:  October  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415706070
eBook ISBN: 9781315758466
Adobe ISBN: 9781317636250


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A hallmark of many forms of design research is that they entail the design and deployment of prototypes in some role. If there is a unique character to design research in comparison to research approaches in other fields, it is likely to relate to the role of and focus on designed things as components of the research process. In this chapter, we will discuss the spectrum of roles that prototypes and processes of prototyping play in design research, illustrating these different roles through published examples. The role of prototypes as vehicles for design has been well documented in previous research. Houde and Hill’s (1997: 369) article, ‘What do prototypes prototype?’, defines prototype as “any representation of a design idea, regardless of medium”. Basing their discussion on years of practice in prototyping at Apple, Houde and Hill distinguish three dimensions of the design space of questions that prototypes explore in design practice: the ‘Role’ of a product, its ‘Look and Feel’ and its ‘Implementation’. Lim et al. (2008: 7.3–7.4) propose a similar but more extensive discussion of prototypes in design, defining prototypes as “filters that traverse a design space” and as “manifestations of design ideas that concretize and externalize conceptual ideas”. From these studies and others (e.g. Lichter et al. 1994), the field has developed a comprehensive account of the usefulness of prototyping to design practice.

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