Prototyping Services in Human Spaces

As the (perhaps once outlandish) thought of a complete merge of the analog, physical, digital, and virtual has been established as “the new normal”, we increasingly see the need to integrate interactive services in physical space and objects. And even though designers from all fields have different tools, methods, and approaches to their respective fields, there are certain things that unite us. Our lingua franca consists of mindsets such as divergent thinking, methods such as explorative qualitative research, and techniques such as sketching and visualizations. Most design disciplines also rely heavily on prototyping. But for the urban planner who integrates sensors and machine learning aspects in her city plans, and for the industrial designer whose physical artifacts are crammed with digital technology, and for the service designer who is designing intangible services in physical, yet digital and interactive spaces — what kind of prototyping will these future Designer-Mergers of the analog and the digital use?

Types of prototypes

Industrial Design

Typically, industrial design prototypes focus on:
- form
- size
- scale
- materials
- function

All these aspects (with the possible exception of “function”) are related to the “objecticality” of the prototype.

Photo by Flemming Fuchs on Unsplash

Interaction design

Note: This is why interaction designers sometimes stay away from the crude low- vs high-fidelity scale; simply because that is insufficiently descriptive of what dimensions the prototype actually focuses on.

Software prototypes typically focus on:
- interaction elements
- content and data
- structure
- flow
- functionality
- media environment or context
- look and feel

Apart from “look and feel”, all these aspects are related to temporality and behavior.

Photo by Sergey Zolkin on Unsplash

Architectural design

Architectural and physical space prototypes typically focus on:
- layout and space
- size
- scale
- materials
- form
- function

Much like in industrial design, all aspects except “function” are based on objects in the physical space.

Photo by Robert Andall on Unsplash

Service design

Service design aims to take a “holistic” view on the experince, which transcends physical and virtual. But in all honesty, most service designers I have had the pleasure to work with, are mostly grounded in the temporal aspects of behavior, flow and interactivity, and less inclined to think in terms of “objects”.

Photo by QuickOrder on Unsplash

Prototypes of the Designer-Merger

Perhaps these fields and disciplines are already becoming archaic — unfit to describe a new type of Designer-Merger? Or would that view lead to an eviscerated view of these traditional design disciplines?

From my experience of working within a variety of different design contexts, ranging from purely digital work to close collaboration with architects and urban planners, I have had great opportunities to try different prototyping approaches from different fields. I have great humility towards the skillsets that each design field brings to the table, but I also see a new nische that needs filling. Much like the ubiquitous gaps in service delivery due to a service organization’s silos, we have blind spots in terms of how to prototype the interplay between physical, analog, virtual, and digital. In its crudest form, I think the first conceptual gap to put under examination is the difference between the object-based prototype (industrial designers and architects), and the temporal-based prototype (interaction designers and service designers).

How would a new type of Wizard-of-Oz method for objects in space work? What benefits would come out of a service blueprint based on geographical maps? How can we prototype how a data-rich, AI-enhanced interactive mockup would affect not only the behavior, but even the shape and form, of a handheld or worn physical artifact?

I look forward to prototyping tools that allows me to prototype interactive behavior in buildings, or that model data-dense AI services that affect the layout and behavior of big spaces, etc. Such tools need prototyping. And we need to prototype them now.

What are your thoughts on the future prototypes of the Designer-Merger?

Director of Service Design and Human-Centered AI at inUse. PhD and Associate Professor at Halmstad University. Father of two. I ride my bike to work.