P 3 - First Prototypes

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In this assignment you will first state design questions that you seek answers to. You will then build rapid prototypes to explore the solution space for your final project to answer some of these questions. You will share your prototypes in a five-minute presentation in class on Monday 11/4.

Background Reading

To help you think about what to include in your prototype and - just as importantly, what to exclude, we recommend you read the following article:

Houde and Hill. What do Prototypes Prototype?, in Handbook of Human-Computer Interaction (2nd Ed.), M. Helander, T.E. Landauer, and P. Prabhu (eds.): Elsevier Science B. V: Amsterdam, 1997.

The authors distinguish between "Role" prototypes that examine the product in its larger use context; "Look and Feel" prototypes that approximate visual appearance; and "Implementation" prototypes that resolve technical questions. For this assignment, we ask you to create both a first Look and Feel prototype as well as an Implementation prototype.

Assignment Parts

List of Questions

Prototypes are means to an end: they exist to generate information about your design problem through exploration and testing. You can also think of prototyping as risk management: you're reducing the likelihood of a bad design.

Think about a list of important questions which you need to answer before committing to a final design. Write down a list of at least five questions and rank them in order of importance to the overall success of your project.

Examples of questions could be:

  • What is the most accurate way to sense liquid-level in a mug?
  • Can light sensors reliably distinguish between different liquid types?
  • How can we securely attach our laundry sensor to laundry machines?
  • How should users express their plant-watering preferences on their mobile device?
  • What are the size and weight constraints for a comfortable wireless, battery-powered, wrist-worn accelerometer for dancers?

Try to address some of the most important questions first through your prototypes so you can adjust course while there is still time.

Look and Feel Prototype(s)

The Look and Feel prototype should explore the appearance and behavior of your device from the user's perspective. This will likely involve multiple aspects:

  1. A screen-based user interface for a tablet, phone, or browser. Powerpoint walkthroughs or a Balsamiq Mockups prototype are good ways to explore this aspect of your project. Go for coverage, not detail. You don't need to code up your interfaces yet.
  2. The physical shape your hardware device of your some on-screen UI and potentially some interactive elements on the hardware device. Paper sketches, physical mockups (e.g., clay, play-doh, balsa, foam) or quick-and-dirty CAD models are likely methods for exploring this aspect. Don't spend too much time on detailed CAD work yet - you don't have enough information about your design yet for this investment to pay off.
  3. Potentially a second interface on the device itself (e.g., touch sensors, switches, LEDs, audio feedback). Paper sketches / physical mockups are sufficient for this aspect at this stage.

You will submit appropriate source files, images, and a writeup that explains this prototype. A video may help, but is not required.

Implementation Prototype

We want to see some progress on core open technical questions of your project. This could be a demonstration of a working key sensor or actuator or mechanism; or and end-to-end test of wireless communication from device to device to characterize throughput and latency; an experiment to demonstrate working IR communication with existing home electronics, etc. The key questions can be mechanical, electronic, or related to software. It's your responsibility to define the right questions here, though we're happy to advise you.

Implementation and Look and Feel prototypes do not have to be integrated and probably shouldn't. Build different prototypes. Exploring key questions in isolation is faster at this stage of the process. Integration is time-consuming; you'll have to do it eventually, but it's too early to do so now.

Again, you will submit appropriate source files, images, and a writeup that explains this prototype. A video may help, but is not required.


An important part of this assignment is to capture what you have learned from constructing the prototype(s), and what you need to learn next. For example, you may have to test your prototype with users or by running a deployment of your sensor in the wild for a day or two. Or you may have uncovered new questions. Write up your strategy of what you will do for the following week to move your project forward.


You will have five minutes in class to present your progress and get feedback from others. Prepare slides for this. We recommend covering the following:

  • Reintroduce the overall vision and high-level goal of your project: who are your users and how will you help them?
  • Describe key tasks that users perform with your device
  • Describe the key questions you addressed in your prototypes.
  • Show the prototypes. Live demos can be challenging. It's especially hard to demo while speaking - at most one out of ten people can do this effectively, most lose their audience. So consider showing pre-recorded video or a sequence of images that show what you've built/sketched/modeled. Alternatively, have one person demo and another speak.
  • Summarize your progress and describe what's next.

You will submit a link to a Google Presentation as before (either public or private, shared with citrisinventionlab@gmail.com)

Grading Guidelines

  • Prototype
    • Look and Feel: 10 pts
      Did you explore how the physical device will look like? Did you explore how the graphical user interfaces will look like and what functionality they will offer? Did you exploration cover the key tasks of your device?
    • Implementation: 10 pts
      Did you show significant progress in resolving key technical challenges?
  • Initial questions and reflection: 5pts total
    Did you list at least 5 design questions that cover a range of different aspects? Did you describe what you learned and how you plan to move forward in the next iteration?
  • Presentation
    • Design of presentation 3pts
      Is the presentation visually clear and does it contain the right information?
    • Delivery of presentation 2pts
      Did you get through all content in the allotted 5 minutes; did you keep the audience's attention?

Submission Instructions

Create a Wiki Page for this assignment

Begin by creating a new wiki page for this assignment, for example by modifying a user page to add a link to a new wiki page for this assignment. The wiki syntax should look like this:

[[P3-GroupName|P3 - First Prototypes]]

Replace GroupName with your project group's name. Then click on the link and enter the information about your assignment.

One you are finished editing the page, add a link to it at the bottom of the page with your full name as the link text. The wiki syntax will look like this: *[[P3-GroupName|GroupName]].

Add Links to Finished Assignments Below

  • InventionLabGroup (Paul, Bjoern, Mark).
  • KAL (Kevin, Alvin, Lanssie).
  • Lighting Quick Reflex (Achal Dave, André Crabb, Lee-Huang Chen, and Steve McKinley)
  • Green_Building (Jeremy Faludi, Juan Miguel de Joya)
  • Cubes (Kate R, Dylan B, Derek K, Fred C)
  • Balance (Kate H., Rahul M, Aadi S, Eric X)
  • EnerGen (Kliulai Chow-Yee, Sean Arietta, Shankari K.)
  • Kichwa(Orianna DeMasi and Jordan Kellerstrass)
  • flow. (Jackie Leverett, Zach Wasson, and Tim Lee)
  • PECS (Michael Andersen, Joseph Bynoe)