analytical prototype, 1

Develop a prospectus/analytical prototype of a design solution — or approaches — to a problem (or gap). The solution need not be a designed artifact, but may be a service, or set of procedures (that may involve some artifacts).

Some of us may choose to develop currency (paper money) ideas, as was done in Spring 2016. But the project is open to other realms as well; see the abstracts from Spring 2015.

Your guide is to be the procedures outlined in the chapters of Ulrich that we have read. The final deliverable is a prospectus document, printed or web/adaptive (if printed, multiple pages, may be 8.5 x 11 inches), in which you discuss a perceived gap, definition of the problem, exploration of alternatives, and selection/development of a plan.

Final oral/visual presentations on Monday 8 May.

background reading

For some background ideas, read “Generation Anthropocene : How humans have altered the planet for ever
by Robert Macfarlane. The Guardian. 1 April 2016
(note: available at link above, or read printout distributed last week)

Whatever path you choose (currency, or other), I hope that this essay can inform you selection of gap/problem, and your approach to it. It is a powerful essay, with a lot of critical (and critically important) concepts and terms.


A common defect in design is a failure to understand the gap the user is experiencing. By deliberately defining the design problem, this defect can be avoided. An additional defect is a failure to pose the define challenge broadly enough to allow the exploration and discovery of a wide range of potential solutions. Those two poles — defining the design problem, and posing it broadly enough to allow exploration and discovery — are useful for us.
Karl T. Ulrich, Design : Creation of Artifacts in Society (2005-11)

Identify a gap or hole or shortcoming. Start with a gap in your experience. Define a problem or set of problems.

What kind of problems are there? Ulrich lists them: design problems; selection problems (choose from available alternatives); system improvement problems (modifications); tuning problems (incremental adjustments to parameters of existing artifact); crises (immediate); wicked problems (hard ones, for which even a clear definition is difficult).

We will focus on a design problem.

Start with a problem, not the thing you think you want to make/design — even if known to you (i.e., “paper” currency). What you want to make may be only one of many possible solutions, and not necessarily the appropriate one in some circumstances. Or maybe there are multiple solutions, a set of solutions.

Not everyone starts with a gap, in design. Sometimes one starts with an artifact, or a chemical, etc., a new technology, and looks for gaps that it might fulfill. Perhaps we have a new skill we want to try out. This is called technology push. Our focus on the “gap” needn’t exclude the artifact/technology for which we want to find a use.

things, and more things

We tend to think of artifact, but perhaps the solution is not one more artifact. After all, the world is full of artifacts (that accumulate to become clutter, that get in our way, indeed are a visual reminder of our restlessness, that we seek to satisfy by acquisition, and that only increase that restlessness). Our solution may be intangible, a change in behavior. Yet there would need to be means by which behavior might be encouraged to change: another design challenge.

Problem hierarchies.

Levitt’s line that >people buy 1/4 drill bits but need 1/4 inch holes. What they really need is to fasten a book shelf to a wall.

Desirable qualities in the artifact. Needs (list, Ulrich writes it might contain 300 to 100 desired qualities)
Stakeholders (for whom? multiple? same or conflicting needs?)
There are actual needs, needs the user can articulate, needs the designer can understand, needs that the designed artifact actually fulfills. Then gap between actual and fulfilled needs, andback to the process of iterative refinement.


Remember Ulrich’s array of roof pitches, layouts, etc., in his “shed world” discussion?

the prospectus

Our prospectus is the manifestation of our analytical prototype.

It will be developed from documentation of our exploration of gaps, problem definition, exploration of alternatives, selection of plans, refinements.

Think of it as the presentation you make to clients, funders, other members of a team, investors. It needs to look good, suggest thoroughness and seriousness, openness to conversation/change. It needs to be clear.

design a reflective conversation with the situation
— Donald Schön