The workshop on designing & perception that was the basis for the Product Development Canvas looks into the different tools designers have to inspire themselves, to shape their ideas and to communicate them within their team and with their clients. The workshop is not aimed at teaching how to design, nor on how to create products that express or offer interaction. The workshop is not about how to do. It is about finding out what; what expression? What interaction? What expression works? How do you know?
It started a few years ago. Actually, about a decade. I was asked to create a workshop at the Zürich Design Academy for students of Industrial Design Engineering. The scope of the workshop; ‘perception’. Based on my background in Mechanical engineering, and having been trained by Gerda Smets & Kees Overbeeke on an empirical and iterative approach product design within the context of Gibson’s ecological approach to visual perception (Gibson, 1979), the workshop had to be practical, involving real tests exploring the impact of perception on product design and user-product interaction.
Consequently, I set my ambition at going through a complete design cycle in one week, from idea to prototype, to a empirical validation and finishing with a re-design, or at least with suggestions based on learning from the tests performed. Yes, one week is a bit short. But this limitation is one of scope, rather than time or organization. The time constraint was faced by splitting the basic design process into clear trajectories. The first trajectory covers inspiration and moodboards, exploring perceptual requirements and constraints. The second trajectory focuses on designing a solution, prototyping and product design. The third trajectory covers experimenting, evaluating findings and preparing for the next iteration.
The real challenge was finding assignments that allow themselves to go through such a process within the given time-frame. One week is a bit short to explore, design, build, test and evaluate a new dashboard of a car, or a new water kettle, or a new bicycle. Achievable is, for example, a redesign of a light switch, an egg timer or a thermostat, anything with about one button and not much more than two states.
Since that first workshop I have repeated it several times and in different locations which has allowed me to learn more about the design process. I systematically collected feedback at the end of each workshop which I evaluated, considering also my own impressions. These data combined with related experiences from industrial projects have led to further evolution of the workshop, updating exercises and streamlining the overall structure.
The purpose of a moodboard is to stimulate your creativity, to shape your initial ideas and to help develop them. It is also a powerful communication tool. During the workshop you will experience effective use of moodbaords in the creativity phase as well as means to communicate.
The basic principle underlying personas is straightforward; in the absence of a specific person you are developing for, you will typically design for yourself. If you set out to build something that your mother would like, most likely what you produce is indeed something your mother likes.
The link between customer segment, expression and design properties such form and shape are explored in practically evaluated and tested. During the workshop you will be guided through the process of testing, collecting further input and inspiration for product design.
Every participant has to translate the collected information into a final design, affording the defined expression and addressing the target customer segment.
Some things have remained constant. Constant was good overall ratings by the students. Also constant was the complaint about lack of time (despite various attempts to release the schedule). Constant was the request for a hand-out, as well as me remaining stubborn in refusing to just hand out the slides, as these were created to be presented and were not intended to be read in isolation.
What also remained constant is my intention to write it all up in a more accessible format, as well as my lack of satisfaction with my attempts. There have been many attempts. What you have in your hand is yet another one of these. The next workshop is looming and again I am in a rush to finish yet another draft. I lost count somewhere between version 23 and 29, but this most probably is version number 42: Definitely number 42.
Previous versions of the workshop companion were discarded for various reasons including: lack of focus, overly academic focus, lack of practicality, lack of a paper model (I love paper models), or simply because it turned out to be a thin replication of what Donald Norman did much, much better about 25 years ago with his ‘Design of Everyday Things’. Occasionally, I even went as far to simply hand out copies of ‘Design of Everyday Things’, being the book that comes closest to the content of the workshop. Although this solves the problem of having no hand-out, it does not honour the activities and exercises I had learned to be effective in this workshop. Also, I envisioned a hand-out or book as something you can use; a do-book. It should offer a place for notes, it should have templates to work from, have a puzzle, and a paper model to build, just for the fun of it. Did I mention that I love paper models?
The workshop is still going strong, and not only at the academy. It was the basis for workshops at other schools in Switzerland as well as workshops or consulting for companies. Also the companion finally became reality. Yes, it includes a template, a cartoon, space to take notes on, and even a paper model you can cut, fold and build.