Tinkering vs. Prototyping workshop

Where tinkering meets prototyping

My HvA colleague Tamara Pinos and I tried out a different format to get the students to think about tinkering and prototyping. Usually we would run tinkering and prototyping workshops separately, but now we decided to put them in the same room and timeframe so that the processes could talk to one another. In prototyping you basically work from an idea that you’ve defined, and give it shape, make it work, so you can test it out to confirm it. Tinkering comes before that somehow, it is what you do before you have an idea, in order to come up with the ideas.

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The red button connected to the internet is always an answer to your problem

It’s really a matter of where you start: do you start from the material and let the material inform your ideas. Or do you start with a blank page and wreck your brain to pour out some thoughts onto your white canvas. Both are perfectly fine and viable but it’s good to know that there’s always at least two options to get from nothing to a tangible thing that you can then talk about and reflect on. It sure isn’t always easy to ideate for the big problem statements and wicked problems we work on at MediaLAB. There’s a great risk of generating ‘solutions’ that are as vague and abstract as the problem at that early stage. However, if you just start with whatever you’re given, and try to forge connections between your design problem and whatever it is you have in front of you, ideas start flowing as you work onto the material with your hands and brain in tandem. What we find in this workshop that the best prompt is to give people a big red button that is connected to the internet, and to ask students to make the thing work, understand it and then ask them: how can this connected button solve your problem?

Finding 100 ways that don’t work

Both have in common that they celebrate early failure as a way to learn quickly and deeply about your ideas and prototypes. We asked the students to create paper prototypes – always a big hit and a huge surprise – and to tinker for an hour with a prototyping tool they were unfamiliar with and report back what they learned and how this tool could be an answer to their design problem. The tools we use are for example (IFTT, BTTN, LittleBits, MakeyMakey and Vine kits (Internet of Things sensors). We wrap this workshop by discussing how the processes of tinkering and prototyping might relate to one another and what the similarities and differences are.

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amsterdam, concept development, Exercises, making