Learn to Make. Make to Learn

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You can prototype anything!

This season we celebrate prototyping. You Can Prototype Anything  is the title of IDEO NY’s first zine in the I’m Not the Creative Type  series. Prototyping has been a big theme for the Initiative this semester – our November lecture by David Sengeh and our December film screening of Most Likely to Succeed both dealt with the relationship between prototyping and learning.

In the video example of prototyping for Elmo’s Monster Maker iPhone App, advanced features can be demonstrated with the clever use of cardboard and teammates.

Prototyping in 2016

Going forward, all of the learning through making programs will be hosted at the new prototyping studio under construction in Capen Annex. Stay tuned for an announcement about our grand opening!

After the holiday season, we will pick up on the theme Learn to Make. Make to Learn in a series of programs for students, staff and faculty.

Students: My interterm course IDP116 will meet 4 – 8 January.
Staff and Faculty: We will host a two-part workshop on January 19 and 20th from 9am to noon for you to get your hands dirty with prototyping too [contact me if you’re interested in participating].

And more: Our programming is also an arena for prototyping as we try to different ways that design thinking could take at Smith College. If you have ideas for collaborations you’d like us to explore, do reach out to us.

The science of prototyping

A prototype’s relationship to learning is exactly that it allows ideas and concepts to be interrogated more systematically. As shown in the Elmo app example above, a good prototype is meant to communicate how a concept or idea might look, feel, and work once it is implemented. IDEO’s Diego Rodriguez –who popularized the notion that “a prototype is a single question, embodied”– compares prototyping to the scientific method. He writes “…productive prototyping is about asking a single question at a time, and then constructing a model in the world which brings back evidence to answer your question. The goal of a prototype is not to be right, but to get an answer. That answer is what allows you to move forward with wisdom.”

The activity of prototyping opens up many paths of inquiry, both technical and social. In my research for The Prototyping Mind, I found that the activity of prototyping can be used to address technical questions but can also be a tool for observing how teams collectively imagine something that doesn’t already exist. I followed a team of six medical professionals as they prototype a prosthetic device they are inventing. The team could be observed learning how to understand a subject through the activity of prototyping. The activity of prototyping helped the team to determine what concrete features must be build into the prosthetic but also called attention to the different futures the team members aspired to. Prototyping can have profound social consequences when applied beyond traditional design scenarios. 

The Design Generation: Africa’s Youth and Large-Scale Innovation”

In his Speaking of Design… November lecture, TED Fellow David Sengeh talked about how a lesson he learnt at the MIT Media Lab “Demo or Die!” has been a guiding principle for Global Minimum the non-profit he leads in Sierra Leone, Kenya and South Africa. For David, the principle “Demo or Die” boils down to one message for his students at Global Minimum, “if you’ve got an idea, build it, show it.”

Global Minimum has designed a suite of afterschool programs -innovation competitions, tinkering laboratories, and coding camps – that create spaces for students to prototype solutions to common problems in their small communities. Students get exposure to a wide network of peer-mentors and they have responded by taking on leadership roles in their communities such as coming up with responses to the ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone. Examples of student projects that first got their leg through design thinking with Global Minimum can be found here.

 David Sengeh Talk Snapshot

Compliments of the Season to you and your loved ones!

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