Searching for reading material on my effort to define and explain my own design process, I found this interesting approach on the differences between sketch and prototype, first John Maeda on his quest in answering the question: What is design? — Comments on the essay written by interaction design pioneer Bill Buxton who is in charge of Microsoft Research Department, both texts are really interesting and there are two things I would like to share:
1 — Despite Bill is focused on interaction and experience design, the concepts can be translated to industrial and product design. Buxon makes a list of what sketches are: they are quick, timely, inexpensive, disposable and plentiful, have a clear vocabulary, have a constrained gesture and an appropriate degree of refinement, are ambiguous and more important “suggest & explore rather than confirm” — sketches don’t “tell” they “suggest” *
2 — While commenting Bill’s essay, John Maeda explains one of the biggest and probably weirdest differences between design and others disciplines:
“Designers iterate. They make mistakes in order to discover the next best step. They fail to succeed. But in most fields, and especially in business, failure is not an option.” **
Paraphrasing my good friend and peer José de la O, whom I have worked with and we always get into fun discussions while designing on Panorámica projects, he always says: “learn to fail fast and cheap”
This approach can be applied to both stages of the process, assuming that an sketch is an ambiguous representation and exploration of a concept, personally I like to mix techniques, sometimes I write the idea, sometimes I make a mood board and there was this time I arrived to a meeting with a MTV music video in order to explain the concept.
As for prototyping, with time I have taken it more seriously, making an attempt to prototype everything as the budget allows it, and in studio projects I often invest on prototypes in order to develop a new design.
Whether designing for a client or working on a school project, it’s very important to know the steps and tools on the design process, which of course is not linear, and to be honest the first idea it’s never the good one.
*Bill Buxton essay on What Sketches (and Prototypes) Are and Are Not, is a gem, and you can read it here. Please do it.
**John Maeda’s quest in answering the question: What is design?