Above we discussed potential design approaches. However, we did not focus on how ideas and conceptualisations are developed further - how they are materialised. Developing a full interactive service is a demanding task. Instead, early stages focus on developing prototypes, or simple manifestations that demonstrate ideas or concepts (Lim et al., 2008). Prototypes are communication devices. They are used to demonstrate how an interactive service is supposed to function or behave (Houde and Hill, 1997). Prototypes express complicated ideas by implementing some limited perspective of them - in our case through some digital system.
There are versatile ways to develop a prototype, depending on what the aim is. Houde and Hill (1997) suggest prototypes can demonstrate the role and behaviours that interactive systems could have, the look and feel that prototypes could have or even implementation of interactive systems (or some mixes of these three dimensions). To give an example of the range of things that can be prototypes, at Apple Corporation, a pizza box was used to experiment the look and feel of a laptop computer and how people would use it in their daily use (Houde and Hill, 1997). Creativity and the ability to focus on the essentials are key aspects of a good prototype. They filter out and manifest particular perspectives of the concept (Lim et al., 2008). For example, prototypes could be:
As the goal of a prototype influences how it should be done, these abstract descriptions illustrate opportunities to prototype. Most of these could be developed using paper and pen, which allows rather fast development. Furthermore, the low-fidelity look of prototypes may further communicate their unfinished nature, which can help in communicating their nature as proposals and ideas and not finished thoughts. Therefore, skills to develop prototypes come more from the ability to focus on the essential concepts and somehow turn them into a format that helps others to work with them.
Often there is no single prototype in a design process, there are many. First, prototypes evolve during the research process, evolving from low-fidelity prototypes to higher-fidelity prototypes. With these, specific terminology can be used to articulate what role the material may have. Some highlight that they are cultural or design probes that are used in early stages of understanding the problem and elicit or provoke responses, while toolkits are a collection of components that give non-designers the abilities to design and participate in the activity (Sanders and Stappers, 2014). Furthermore, as design activity has diverging stages, it is common that there are several different prototypes manifesting different ideas.
As illustrated, there are many ways to materialise design ideas. Often, one might end up in more than one idea, which are explored and designed together. All this has been focused more to describe how to design and how to prototype. In human-computer interaction, these prototypes are finally used to present and evaluate the success of new ideas, such as new services or products. However, this is not often a role for social science research, which can create challenges in this type of research setting (for reflection, e.g. Lehtiniemi and Ruckenstein, 2019). I will now illustrate two potential directions for using prototypes to generate knowledge.