A conversation with Carlye Lauff, Assistant Professor of Product Design at the University of Minnesota and Senior Instructor for LUMA Institute
“I think one of my favorite quotes that I heard was this idea that a picture’s worth a thousand words and a prototype is worth like a thousand pictures. And this idea that you bring this thing that you can interact with, you are going to have such a depth of conversation of feedback, you are going to just have this amazing conversation and learn so, so much instead of just showing up to your client and saying, “Okay, let’s talk about it.” Right?”Carlye Lauff
In this episode of Control the Room, I had the pleasure of speaking with Carlye Lauff about her experience working at LUMA, prototyping, and teaching at the University of Minnesota. We talk about her new book called Design Innovation Methodology Handbook – Embedding Design in Organizations. We then discuss the difficulty of building Prototyping capacities within organizations. Listen in to learn how to use prototyping to build empathy with users, the curse of knowledge, and failing better.
[1:40] How Carlye Became A Product Designer
[5:25] A Prototype Is Worth A Thousand Pictures
[11:15] Defining Low And High Prototype Fidelity
[25:00] The Connection Between Growth Mindsets And Psychological Safety
[32:40] Prototyping Is A Mindset
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Carlye on LinkedIn
Carlye on Twitter
Carlye on Instagram
About the Guest
Carlye is a design researcher, innovation strategist, and enthusiastic instructor. She holds roles as an Assistant Professor of Product Design at the University of Minnesota and a Senior Instructor at the LUMA Institute. Carlye earned her PhD in the field of Design Theory and Methodology, and she pioneered her own doctoral research around understanding the role of prototypes in companies. From leading human-centered design training to develop research-validated design tools and methods, Carlye is passionate about shifting problem-solving mindsets and unlocking creative potential in teams. She has helped more than 25 global organizations re-think their design processes and strategies, ranging from Fortune 500 companies to government agencies to universities. Carlye has lived and worked in Singapore, Australia, and the US.
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Douglas: Welcome to the Control the Room podcast, a series devoted to the exploration of meeting culture and uncovering cures for the common meeting. Some meetings have tight control, and others are loose. To control the room means achieving outcomes while striking a balance between imposing and removing structure, asserting and distributing power, leaning in and leaning out, all in the service of having a truly magical meeting.
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Today, I’m with Carlye Lauff, who is an assistant professor of product design at the University of Minnesota and a senior instructor for LUMA Institute, where she trains companies in design thinking. She’s also the co-author of the Design Innovation Methodology Handbook: Embedding Design In Organisations. Welcome to the show, Carlye.
Carlye: Thanks for having me. It’s great to be here.
Douglas: It’s so good to have you. I’d like to start off with how you got your start. How did you find your way into dreaming and studying prototypes?
Yeah, I feel like it’s a long and convoluted path, like I think most people will say when they come on the show. When you’re young, I feel like you don’t always know what all the different careers are out there until you start meeting more people and you start seeing what the different possibilities are. I actually started in engineering and I think that was a really great foundation for me, and so, I studied mechanical engineering.
One of the really cool things about that program was that you go through semester-long projects, usually for clients or for people, and you’re developing this technological solution as the output of these projects. And one of the things I found during my undergrad studying engineering was that, this is really great that we’re coming up with these good solutions to these problems, but there’s this whole other human side to it. Right? There’s this way that people … Like what are their needs? How do they perceive the final prototype? How do they interact with it?
So I felt that there was this missing link between that human side, along with the technology, and I basically sought out to find graduate studies and programs to make myself more holistic and well rounded, and I feel like now I’m finally at that place where I’m a little bit engineering, a little bit design, a little bit business, and a little bit psychology, I would say. So I’m at this weird intersection of all of it, and I like that. That’s what I’ve been trying to strive to do ever since I figured out there were all of these different disciplines.
That’s so amazing. It reminds me of my path as a software engineer and being so focused on the building of things and then just starting to have those curiosities, percolator on, what’s the ultimate need or purpose here? How is this serving someone and what do I need to learn to help support that?
Carlye: Definitely. I mean, that people part, I think a lot of engineering schools do integrate it into the curriculum, but you are fitting so much into four years that it’s hard to take a few extra classes in psychology, take a few classes in entrepreneurship, and doing that customer discovery of sorts. So, I’m pretty excited now as assistant professor of product design at the University of Minnesota, our program is really unique, I feel like in the United States, because we have our students do about a third engineering and technology, a third more traditional design, and a third of blend of this business, entrepreneurship, psychology, anthropology, to make them more, we like to think of them as whole minded designers or like modern-day polymaths. You could almost think of it.
Douglas: Yeah. It reminds me of the classic role of the architect back in the day, historically they would study everything and do everything. Right? Because when you were talking about studying engineering, I remember when I was at Virginia Tech, the architecture school’s really pretty, I would say, rigorous school, students often sleeping under their desks and stuff. And a lot of my friends were in the architecture department and I was always really fascinated hanging out in the department and watching all the stuff they were building, and so much of it was about prototyping, they were building models and preparing these kinds of experiments.
Carlye: Yeah. Prototyping is a huge part of design school, architecture, product design, even in engineering, you’re building a lot of prototypes whether or not that is always communicated or explained. And that was one of the first things that got me interested, building prototypes in engineering school and then going out and starting to test those with users, really piqued my interest, because I feel like there’s a lot going on there.
I think one of my favorite quotes that I heard, I don’t know, years ago now, was this idea that a picture’s worth a thousand words and a prototype is worth like a thousand pictures. And this idea that you bring this thing that you can interact with, you are going to have such a depth of conversation of feedback, you are going to just have this amazing conversation and learn so, so much instead of just showing up to your client and saying, “Okay, let’s talk about it.” Right?
So, having that thing there to interact with is just incredibly powerful, and I feel like there was this missingness in the research and even in school to communicate to students and others like the power of prototypes basically because they are incredibly powerful artifacts.
Douglas: Yeah. Once there became a body of work and a focus around even just, let’s refer to this thing as a prototype, because before that, I was exposed to the concepts, even at a young age, like my dad would be … he grew up on a farm and often he would have to create a little jig or make a little thing and go, “Can I simulate this before I actually go full on to investment in making this happen?” Conceptually, I understood the benefits of, sometimes we need to fake it and understand it and experiment.
In the world of software back in the ’90s, we typically would create proofs of concepts. Right? Not a proof of concept that you would sell to a client, but a proof of concept where it’s like, “How’s this going to work when I try to connect this thing to this thing and then this?” So you kind of put it together and almost see how it all behaves in the system. Right? Once I started catching one of these design mentalities around applying these concepts in a more, I would say, conceptual way or more visual way, it’s like, “Oh man, this is even less work.” Then I can get the discoveries much sooner.
Carlye: Making learning is so incredibly powerful, and there’s a lot of research to support that. Having people make things, you just learn about it differently than talking about it, then reading about it. I find that there are two interesting things that have come up early in my research that I don’t think I have perfect answers to yet, but I’m still exploring is that, people’s perception of prototypes. So this whole idea of like, “What does a prototype mean?” Language matters. I think the word prototype, depending on your discipline might mean a proof of concept, might mean a SketchUp Mockup or something like that, might be more of a work like, or a model.
So, I think that there’s this hardness about the word prototype, and if you’re not an engineer and if you’re not a designer, it might seem unattainable. It might seem like, “Well, that’s not for me to do. I shouldn’t make anything. I should give that to the people who make things.” But you can prototype anything. I mean, you can prototype a process, you can prototype a service, an experience. You can do it very simply. And what we like to call is, start with low fidelity prototypes, start with really, really rough approximations of what you’re trying to get at.
And I think throughout my whole career, I hope to reduce the barrier for people to prototype because I think there’s so much power. So I want to get prototyping or making into as many hands as possible, and I hope people can start to feel comfortable and confident that they have tools to build prototypes, to make their ideas real. But I think it sometimes starts with language. Right? And starts with accessibility to what you think is a prototype, and whether you think you can even make one.
Douglas: I think that’s totally right, and it’s born out in a personal experience of mine, which I’ve got a Google alert set up for prototype, Google prototype.
Carlye: I love that.
Douglas: And it’s often filled with prototype cars. Apparently that’s the most common type of prototype in the world, at least, according to Google. And that really made me think about the semantics and people’s perspectives around this stuff. Right? Because if everyone’s looking at it like, “Oh yeah, a prototype is something you make before you take it to a massive scale.” And it’s like, “Oh man.” That could be pretty daunting for people. Right? I’m not going to hand-build a car before it goes into the assembly line or whatever. I think you and I both know that there are much easier ways to approach it, to get those early learnings.
Carlye: Yeah. Prototypes, I always think of it as, it’s a way to bring an idea or a concept to life in some type of tangible way, you want to be able to build something or have a prototype to test and learn. You’re always trying to learn, if you just build something and you don’t learn anything from it, then I often think of that as maybe like, “What are you doing? Or have you not actually critically thought about why you’re building the prototype?” Because you should always learn, and that’s either learning very strategically. Like I’m trying to figure out this very technical piece of the puzzle before we get to mass manufacturing or you’re just trying to learn if people are interested in this concept. Right?
Even from day one of a project, you could have some really great sketches of an idea. And if it’s taking it out of your head, if it’s making it more tangible and able to communicate to somebody, then to me, that is serving the purpose of a prototype. It is trying to envision that future state of something and be an artifact to interact with others with. Right? And so you can interact with others through better communicating and getting their feedback, maybe negotiating what requirements might be in that design. And it also helps you maybe make some decisions because you are able to point back to these things that you create early on.
Yeah. In product design, we do tend to have a progression of prototypes when you start with new projects, and right now one of the research projects I’m actually working on is to better understand that prototype evolution during design projects. So you might start with something like a sketch or a sketch model where you’re making it out of paper and cardboard and foam. Right? But eventually, you’re not going to manufacture this thing out of cardboard and foam. So how do you evolve until this alpha, this beta, before you go into injection molding for your components, how do you evolve prototypes over time? I think it is a pretty interesting question that hasn’t been explored a ton in the research yet.
Douglas: Yeah, and that’s something that you’re actively researching, if I understand correctly.
Carlye: Yeah. It is. I have one student right now this semester working on a project, and it’s in the early stages, but I’m pretty excited by it. We’re starting with physical prototypes just because my background is more mechanical engineering, physical product design. But I think a lot of the learnings can easily translate to other disciplines where maybe you have more digital products that you’re developing as well. And right now, what we’re trying to understand in this research, there’s a few things we’re trying to understand about prototype fidelities.
I think the first one is that in both academia and students in schools and in industry, we throw around the terms, low fidelity prototype and high fidelity prototype, all the time. You’ll be sitting in a meeting, you’ll be sitting at a company and they’ll say, “Yeah, we really want a high fidelity prototype model.” And okay. What does that mean? Just like what does the word prototype mean, what does a high fidelity prototype model mean?
And so we are trying to figure out what are the different factors or metrics under these types of fidelities, and at a very high level, we’re thinking right now that you can have higher, low fidelity in terms of form. So like the basic form factor for something more of the aesthetics of it, you can have low to high fidelity in terms of function. So how the thing you’re creating actually functionally will work.
And then this third component, which is more about interaction or user interaction with the product, sometimes you can actually fake functionality. We like to call this Wizard of Oz prototyping. If anyone’s seen the Wizard of Oz, which basically, can you fake the functionality by trying to have as authentic of a user experience as possible? So you could be prototyping for enhanced user experience to try to replicate what the final thing would feel like in the hands of a user.
Douglas: So in that example, you’re talking about animations and transitions and things like these that might give them more of the illusion that it’s happening and it’s real.
Carlye: You do have to be, it’s almost like, you have a theater production of sorts. Right? You are setting the stage and you are trying to create this pseudo authentic experience. Right? But the person that’s testing it doesn’t know that maybe you’re actually kind of … You got some little bit of smoke and mirrors going on per se. That can look really … I mean, Wizard of Oz prototyping is fascinating. If anything, I want to actually explore this topic more and what it looks like for different products. But yeah, you can fake a lot and see how people interact with things and then figure out like, “Is that the user experience I’m going for or not?” Which can be interesting. Yeah.
Douglas: It reminds me of the Savioke story from Jake’s book, Design Sprint, and how they wanted to make the robot dance, but it didn’t make sense to have the engineers program it to dance for this test. So the CEO literally had a wired remote control around the corner because the tester was like in a hotel room. So they’re around the corner hitting, literally making it move with a remote control. Which is totally what you’re talking about. Right?
Carlye: Yeah. And a lot of times when you’re thinking about that, if you are trying to test something where the user thinks like what they’re inputting, like the computer’s algorithm is outputting something, you actually oftentimes have human people behind that before you even developed those algorithms or you have somebody typing on the back on another computer or you have them controlling the motion, but the user doesn’t know that. Right? They think that everything is going the way that they’re perceiving the world around them. They don’t see behind the curtain per se. I think that can be a really great prototyping technique to start to understand how people will really interact with products before you go through full development on them.
Douglas: That’s an interesting point. I think you can make the argument based on what you just said, that any of these companies that are doing low code or no code as a way to get bootstrapped and get going are prototyping their company. One of my clients right now, I’m doing a little bit of fractional CTO work just because I can’t let that part of my life just totally die and they help homeowners get stuff around their homes fixed and whatnot. And they’re dispatching handymen and contractors and stuff.
A lot of it’s smoke and mirrors behind the scenes. Right? It looks like the uber kind of thing, but there’s a lot of people just making phone calls and doing things and stuff. I love this idea. I mean, that’s a whole nother type of prototype. Right?
Carlye: Oh yeah. Testing business bottles. And so they’re famous, there’s this good case study out there I think like two that maybe some listeners will be familiar with, or look it up, is like the company Zappos for shoes. They were basically prototyping their business model on, would people buy shoes online and get them delivered to their house? Before eCommerce online was like a huge thing. Right? That was a big risk.
But they basically took pictures of shoes in stores, had people buy them on their website and did direct mailing, had a ton of people working behind the scenes before they really got this whole facility up for, holding all the shoes that they would buy to then distribute to users. So it’s like you can prototype business models too, before you invest in maybe a ton of capital resources even, which is pretty cool.
Douglas: Yeah. It kind of reminds me of something we were talking about in the pre-show chat around this notion of depth versus breadth on your prototypes. Right? Like are we going to go wide and understand our entire landscape or are we going to go really deep on one specific area that we know might be problematic or might be really the linchpin to understanding the predicament we’re in?
Carlye: Yeah. I love that idea of going broad or going deep, and I think that’s really true with prototyping, and it depends on your company, your organization, and your own design processes. But I think earlier on in a project when you’re trying things out and you’re trying to understand your customers, your end-users better, if this is going to work, I like to go abroad. Right? I like to actually build multiple types of prototypes or be very nimble and quick in terms of, you don’t want to waste time building something deep that nobody’s going to want. Right?
And so, can you try to do almost smaller, shorter experiments to see if it works before you go deeper, and it’s kind of toggling between those two of going broad and then learning some things maybe going … Let’s just say you start with 10 different ideas. Right? Then you whittle it down to five, then you whittle to three, and maybe … We call it parallel prototyping a lot of times in our field, you are parallel prototyping multiple paths and almost combining best practices from and things you learned from those different paths. So your final thing you’re going to launch might actually have bits and pieces from all of the prototypes that you developed or piloted and tested. So I love that idea of going broad and then going deep.
Douglas: I think to me that resonates with two things you mentioned earlier, which were just this notion that I know you’re studying the evolution of prototypes, but prototypes are evolutionary. I actually read an article years ago that talked about that prototypes can fall into two categories that are either throwaway or they’re evolutionary, but even throwaway prototypes, you could argue, probably serve a purpose in a broader evolutionary process. Right? If you are leaning into this learning that you talked about and if it’s threading through that process. So I’d love to hear a little bit more of your thoughts around how leaning into the learning aspect of prototypes can inform how you think about what to prototype and how you approach your prototypes.
Carlye: Yeah. So, leaning into the learnings for prototyping is rule number one for me, I think that, to prototype or to say that you have a prototype, you should be trying to do some type of test, answer some type of question, have some type of assumption. And so to me, building these prototypes or creating something for people to interact with, all starts with what questions do you want answered.
I don’t think enough people spend enough time in that planning phase of like, “What should I prototype and why?” And I actually was so motivated by this need to get people to start thinking about what they need to prototype and why, what questions they’re trying to answer, that a few years ago, I developed this tool. It’s very, very simple. I tried to make it simple because I don’t want it to be another burden for people, called the Prototyping Canvas. Very much building off of the building blocks of business model canvas, of like, if you have a business, right, you have all these different bit and pieces that you want to think about for your business, it’s kind of like, “What are all the bits and pieces you need to think about for building a prototype?”
And a lot of that comes down to the different assumptions and questions you have, sometimes broken into the categories of desirability or the human side. Right? What questions or assumptions are you making about the user right now? What are you making assumptions around the technology, and what are you making assumptions around the type of the business or the model that you’re trying to put forward in order to make money off of this for a company or whatever. You’re not just launching a product or launching a service because for the heck of it, you probably want it to either self-sustain or make you money or be able to exist. And so, are you making assumptions on maybe more of the business side of things as well?
And all of those can be the initial foundation to then figure out, “Okay, with those questions, what do I actually need to build to test?” And that could look like with my simple example with Zappos, maybe it’s like, “Are people going to buy this off our website?” And maybe you just try to figure out, get a landing page together, get some people who are boots on the ground who are getting ready to ship, and send these things off. I’ve seen things like landing pages work so well in terms of just initial trying to gain interest in people around a future business idea even. I’m not sure if I answered your full question there, but maybe if there’s bits and pieces I didn’t. Yeah.
Douglas: The thing that kept coming back to mind for me is like, so often the builders and creators, designers, engineers that are the ones seeing that things might not, they’re the ones questioning. And sometimes the business leaders, the ones with the visions often, not always, but often will be driven by ego, and it’s hard for them to question, why wouldn’t anyone want to do this? Right?
I think prototypes can also be really powerful in those situations because even if we can’t get the leader, the visionary to start to have those questions, once the prototype starts to poke the holes and expose them, then that can be really powerful. But we had to be really careful when we’re building it and how we’re setting expectations on how it’s getting used. So I was just curious if you ran into that before, because when you’re telling that story, I couldn’t help but think, “Oh yeah. That’s the one Achilles’ heel in their questions is like when people aren’t willing to question.
Carlye: Yeah. I think you bring up a really great point. I mean, if people are unwilling to set aside their own kind of ego or biases around things, it can become quite troublesome. I think there’s a whole opportunity of better understanding the culture of teams for experimentation. And I know there’s researchers out there looking at things like, “What is the culture and the team make up and what are the conditions to allow people to basically experiment and test?” If the conditions are right and you’re allowed to do those things and you’re not being afraid that your manager is going to say you’re fired for trying something, but instead says, thank you for trying this. We learned so much. I mean, that is a very different culture, and obviously, that’s a culture I would want to be part of.
And so, finding those cultures could be quite hard, but I think companies are getting better at it. At least I feel like they’re getting better or getting better talking about this culture of experimentation, but there’s two other interesting pieces, I think from the psychology side of things that I’m also starting to explore in my research that are really related to this idea of being comfortable to prototype in your team. The one of them is much more on the individual level, and that is your own perceptions about yourself in terms of how you perceive, react and respond to failure?
So I think of this as it kind of goes back to a few foundational researchers around this idea of like, I think it was Angela Duckworth, is like coined with a growth mindset versus fixed mindset maybe, or it was Carol Dweck, some of those really great psychologists who have studied this phenomenon, this idea as human beings, are we conditioned to think that like, when something doesn’t work, when something fails like a prototype, because you often have to like, a prototype is not meant to be perfect the first time or else we need to create a lot of them. So there will be some “failure” that occurs. Right? Something that doesn’t go well.
But if we attach that failure to yourself, like if I try to build a prototype and it doesn’t work, maybe I think that this is me. Maybe I’m stupid. Right? This is all about myself. If you think about this as having a very fixed mindset about the way that you approach problem-solving or approach prototype building, versus if you have much more of a growth mindset in terms of like, when you test something, do you learn from it, and you actually disassociate yourself from the thing you’re creating. If you can disassociate yourself from that thing, it’s going to be much more powerful for prototype development.
But there are a lot of people who associate that prototype with their own intelligence. And I think that is a really, really hard thing to break that disassociation of like, “I am not my prototype. Right? I am just the medium to deliver this prototype, whether it works or not does not reflect my intelligence.” Right?
Douglas: I would say that in itself to is the power prototypes because the prototype becomes this thing that’s not the product, because if we tell the team we’re working on the first version of the product, then they’re going to be a lot more invested or tied to it, versus like, “Oh, this is the prototype of the product.” Which just means it’s like, “Who knows? This may look nothing like this.”
Carlye: Yeah. Yeah. I think sometimes having those signaling words, and I find myself doing it too. This is a really, really early version, we are just exploring. So, I’ll put all of those labels on, I’ll slap all those labels on before I’m saying, “Okay. And now look at it.” Right? Because I’m trying to give myself not to let them think that this prototype reflects my intelligence, I guess, because even I struggle with that sometimes. I spend a lot of time creating this. Right? I care about it, and being able to be okay with it and not working and learning is a really important skill.
That’s very individualized, but I would say that there’s also another factor happening at the team level related to psychological safety. So how safe you feel in a team psychologically to take risks, and that is going to have a huge impact whether or not you feel comfortable prototyping and testing as well. So, I haven’t done a lot of work here yet, but it’s something I’m going to be diving into in this next year is like starting to understand more of the team dynamics and in terms of how safety you feel and how does that safety impact how much you actually prototype within your team.
Douglas: Oh, that’s really cool. I think also this is something I’ve run into and I’m curious to see how this has played out in your research. But when we lean into the question or the learnings we’re seeking, when we’re showing the prototype, it helps frame the intention of the prototype, because if we just say this is an early version of this thing, and this thing is some big vision, then now we frame them on this big vision. But if we just show them and say, “Here’s this question I have, can you help me answer this question?” Now we just frame them right into that question we’re trying to answer, because I always laugh when people tell me designers complain. They’re like, “All they did was tell me they didn’t like the colors.”
And I’m like, “Well, did you tell them that you weren’t interested in the colors? Or did you even tell them what you were interested in about?” Their answer is always no. Right? So we don’t tell people what kind of feedback we want, we’re invariably going to get the wrong feedback. So I’m just curious to hear if you’ve looked at that in your research or in your work and if there’s any new language that we can think about there or anything to know or learn about?
Carlye: What you just mentioned is spot on. I can’t say that I’ve specifically been studying yet what questions have been asked, but I think that, I just want to reiterate what you said in terms of, if you can frame what you’re trying to test or learn a prototype and maybe situate that with the questions that you’re trying to get answered, that will probably set up a much better testing experience, right, or interaction with the prototype, and will also start to allow you to disassociate maybe your own intelligence with that prototype. Right?
And so, moving it from me like, “Hey, do you just want to interact with this, Douglas? Here you go.” Versus like, “Can you answer this question about it?” I think is a pretty powerful way. I think you’re probably onto something, if you want to come, come do some research with me.
Douglas: Right. Right. Also, I’m wondering if the evolution model helps frame that too, because if you’re already thinking in the terms of like, how do I compartmentalize these different needs or almost this maturity of the prototype as it’s evolving, what are the types of ways to present or frame the questions at each juncture, could be interesting. Almost like creating some tools or a framework for folks to make that easier.
Carlye: Yeah. I think you’re right on with it. One thing I try to encourage, at least, my students to do, and a lot of times now as a professor, I’m teaching a lot of classes with students with projects throughout the whole semester a year, and I will encourage intentionally a number of different types of prototypes. You have so many, you have to create throughout the semester and to make them start to really understand this whole evolution of the prototypes and they can look back and actually see like throughout this whole year, we had to create 10 or more prototypes. And this is what we learned at each one of those situations.
I have a colleague at Penn State who does research around this as well. Dr. Jessica Menold, and during her PhD, she actually developed a framework related to that, the intersection Venn diagram of desirability, viability and feasibility, when she called it prototype for X, prototype for desirability, prototype for feasibility. And she did some experiments with her students looking at the order of, and that was just three prototypes, with the order of, which type of prototype order do you go in? Are you prototyping for desirability first and then viability and then feasibility or what is like a more optimal order to go in and show that evolution? So, her work is still ongoing, but there are some other researchers out there exploring this topic, which is really exciting. I’m not the only one doing it.
Douglas: That’s really cool. It reminds me of, we did a workshop. This is pre-pandemic [inaudible 00:31:20] in the room workshop and we experimented with this, we prototyped to workshop where we tacked it on the end of the next day after design sprint, because a lot of times people want to go deeper on the prototyping stuff, but it’s so much to cover about a design sprint. We don’t go deep into the prototyping. And we wanted to give them a few different models of how to make prototype. So we were doing paper prototype, we were doing business model prototype, and then we were doing a physical prototype where we just gave them a bunch of art supplies and they could make something three dimensional.
And we made each team go in a different order, so we gave them a prescribed order. So then they had to debrief what it was like to go in that order, and if they felt like another order would’ve been preferable, which is really fascinating to hear their impressions of like, “Oh well, this would’ve been better or no, I like the order we went in.” Anyway, when you talked about our research, I remembered that moment and I was like, “Oh yeah. I remember being in the room, making prototypes with people.”
Carlye: Yeah. That’s really, really cool to hear. I love you saying prototyping this workshop, or how to do it because I think that when we can start showcasing different types of ways you prototype, prototyping in educational experience. I like to talk about right now as a new professor, I’m teaching some new courses, and I think of my courses as prototypes, I put together the syllabus, I put together the structure, I am trying to learn some things about how the course works for the students, and then next year, I’ll make adjustments. I will change it up, the curriculum a little bit, or the projects that we’re working on based on what I learn.
And I think it’s just that comfort knowing that you can always make things better. You can always be curious and learn. I think really there’s some of those kind of key mindsets around prototyping that just like, “Yeah, be curious, be willing for change and being allowed to do another iteration of something, knowing that nothing is perfect and final. I like to think of my life and everything I do as a prototype, which is pretty meta, but I’m always trying to get better, always trying to learn.
Douglas: I think that’s healthy framing because as you put that label on some project you’re working on, it makes you more willing to change or being less resistant to change. Because we’ve already planted that seed in our brain like, “Oh, this is not figured out yet, we’re still working on this.”
Carlye: Yeah. I think it’s a really healthy way to frame things. But sometimes people aren’t comfortable with change, but I think starting to … If you start framing things that way about everything is … we can always learn and improve, and taking that to heart and not just saying it, showing it through actions is important too.
Douglas: Yes. So, I’m curious, what’s your favorite prototype you’ve ever seen?
Carlye: My favorite prototype I’ve ever seen? Oh, that’s a hard question.
Douglas: It’s like asking a parent to pick their favorite child.
Carlye: Yeah. I have to say this is maybe because it’s like merging some new technology also. And so it’s kind of like … I like it because it’s future thinking, I’m thinking towards the future of what prototypes could be, but there are some colleagues I had at the University of Colorado Boulder who were looking to redesign the interior space of a car. So sitting down the different dashboards and stuff, and they have used virtual reality, but allowed it to still be tactile and interactive.
And so they essentially mocked up a space out of cardboard and simple objects, but then overlaid this virtual reality of simulating the experience. So you’re sitting in the environment. Right? And so you can see it, you can touch and feel things without it being totally refined. So to me, it’s like blending this beautiful mix of authentic user experience with the benefits of physical prototypes and tactile interactions of things.
So I just think I was really blown away by that experience and really hopeful for what the future of prototyping could be, because being in VR is awesome. But I also miss that tactile, that interaction, that physicality to things. And so being able to blend both digital and physical together is really inspiring to me.
Douglas: Wow. You just blew my mind. I just went to this place of 3D printed environments with virtual reality overlays. I mean, what? Because then you can touch all the things and the production costs are cheap because it’s just plastic and then the parts don’t have to be movable or do the things. You just have to be in there. Wow. Okay. That’s next level.
Carlye: Next level, next level. So that’s why it blew my mind too when I saw it and I was like, “I got to see more of this. I got to dig into this at some future state.”
Douglas: That’s cool. So, I’ll share one that goes to the opposite end, almost like the beginning of technology, not the beginning of the technology, but the beginning of this current, third wave era that we’re in and the Palm pilot crew carried around blocks of wood in their pockets to figure out the right size for the device.
Carlye: I love it.
Douglas: How incredible? That’s one of those ones where I think the fidelity was super low, but the resolution was really high. Their question was like, “Is it the right size? So how much more resolution can you get?” It is a representation, the exact size and the exact shape. It just doesn’t look anything like the Palm pilot or whatever it would be. That’s so cool.
Carlye: I love that. And I love that you gave such a different tech example because I think it shows how … Prototyping can be from a block of wood only though if you’re asking the right question. Right? You can’t just carry around a block of wood because you’re like, “Do you like my block of wood?” No. It’s like, “Is this the right size for this device that we’re doing?” All the way to like, let’s merge 3D printed constructed environments with virtual reality in order to test the experience of doing some tasks in a vehicle. I mean, really cool. Very different questions. Right?
Douglas: Yeah. I think that one of my favorite tools for prototyping is … Well, because we do so many workshops. We do a ton of prototyping in session lab, I’ll just go in and start putting together stuff. And I’m like, “I don’t know, this doesn’t feel right.” And I’ll move it around and then I’ll share it with a coworker and say, “What do you think about this arc for this upcoming learning workshop we have?” And they’re like, “Oh, you’re going to need to kind of … Are you sure that this transition is going to give them enough time to integrate?” And I’m like, “Oh yeah, right. Maybe we should give them some contemplation time or whatever.” I think that to me, almost anything can be a prototype. Right?
Carlye: Anything can.
Douglas: If we’re applying that mindset. Yeah.
Carlye: It’s pretty deep, but I like it.
Douglas: Yeah. No doubt. Well, I’m going to be thinking about these VR overlays for a while now. It’s amazing. Well, I want to give you an opportunity to leave our listeners with a final thought as they think about what prototypes might make possible for them or if they want to follow your work, et cetera. What should they know?
Carlye: Yeah. Well, I think you almost said what I would love for my key line to be, which is, you can prototype anything, and that it’s a mindset. Right? It’s an approach. If you’re struggling with figuring out what to prototype, I think maybe leveraging a resource like the Prototyping Canvas, which I created, which really tries to break down those questions to get at the questions you have about what you’re trying to design and then figure out how to make that prototype, I have that available for free for download on my website. So if you want to, Carlye Lauff.com under my resources, free, free to download, if you want to look at it.
I’ll also say that I also have another free download on our Design Innovation Handbook, and so, that is a really great overview of design process and methods specifically around prototyping too. How do you prototype with different methods or strategies? If you’re curious of looking into that, I would say, check that out too. You can download it for free and maybe just start making, I would say final words are, start making.
Douglas: I love it. Well, thank you so much. We’ll make sure to include those resources in the show notes, and we’ll be able to look out for the final output of your research around the evolution of prototypes. I hope that turns into a paper someday and I can’t wait to read it. It’s certainly been a pleasure chatting with you today as normal. It’s always a pleasure. So thanks for taking the time.
Carlye: Yeah. Thanks for having me, and I’ll be sure to share that research once it’s out, we will definitely be publishing in the next year or two. So, share with you. Thanks again for having me. Bye everyone.
Douglas: Thanks for joining me for another episode of Control the Room. Don’t forget to subscribe to receive updates when new episodes are released. And if you want more, head over to our blog, where I post weekly articles and resources about working better together, voltagecontrol.com.