First Prototype

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Two weeks


In this assignment you will first state questions that you seek answers to. You will then build one or more 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 in two weeks (March 12).

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 comitting to a final direction. Write down a list of at least five questions and rank them in order of importance to the overall success of your project.

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
  • 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.

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