Prototyping in 4D

After remembering veterans on November 11th, it was fun to join a group of fellow user experience professionals for a night out later in the week on a less solemn occasion. World Usability Day provided the opportunity to get together and have some fun. TriUXPA (the Triangle chapter of the User Experience Professionals Association) arranged to have a catered dinner at SAS followed by a speaker for a full evening of professional banter and an exciting talk about the core of prototyping. It succeeded on all counts and ups the ante for the program manager for next year.

The evening started with name-tags and small talk – general networking and saying hello to friends. Then it was time for dinner. The dining room in Building F on the SAS campus is nice. We had a buffet that included the most delicious meat lasagna and a vegetable medley and salad and fettuccine with two types of sauces. It was superb. There were over 60 of us in attendance; with small tables, everyone got to talk with a small group which helped conversation.

Dinner on World Usability Day 2014

The waitstaff were so courteous and thoughtful, and the food was so delicious, I didn’t want to leave when it was time for the presentation. I had to share a picture of the desert – this cake was the culinary equivalent of a great user experience. It presented itself as delicious and artistic; the balanced richness of taste and lightness of texture did not disappoint. Kudos to the staff at SAS. We teased Don Sugar (who had made the arrangements for the dinner) for having stayed up all night to cook all this food by himself. It was great.

Cake from World Usability Day at SAS

Then we assembled in the auditorium. Jake Geib-Rosch started off the presentation with a few announcements and then Frank Pollock, with TIMA, introduced our speaker. Jason Cranford Teague gave a presentation entitled “Prototyping User Experience: Engagement is Never Static“. Jason did a great job of encouraging us to think outside of the 2-D prototype and realize that the best way of engaging a client about a design is to hand it to them and let them start using it.

World Usability Day 2014 session ala TriUXPA

He started by giving us each an exercise – design the toothbrush of the future (in thirty seconds) by drawing something on a piece of paper. Then he asked us to open our little container of Play-Doh and make the toothbrush of the future – making a prototype that a user could pick up and use. Again in less than a minute we each had something. Now he asked us to compare the two prototypes. Because the first one was on paper, it was more of an abstraction about the idea of a solution, but the latter was closer to an actual product and thus probably gets us closer to meeting a client’s expectations. Several of us designed something different using a 3-D prototype that we could handle, and the comparison was insightful.

Jason Cranford Teague speaking

Jason asked how many of us work with developers? Of course, all of us raised our hands in affirmation. For a more interesting response, he could have asked how many of us work directly with clients, customers, users? That might have gotten a varied response and taken the discussion in a different direction. (See my talk on Communication is Key at WritersUA 2014 about the value of talking directly to users.)

The presentation included some great tips about “the fidelity cliff” – the point where more time spent on the prototype offers no more benefit to advancing the solution – and the “minimum viable product” and tools to help with more realistic Web application (or Web site) prototyping. This reminded me of the visit I made to the South Carolina Acquarium’s “4D Theater” which made the experience more real by adding spritzed water, chairs that rumble and soap bubbles to simulate air bubbles underwater – a much more immersive experience. For our customers, we should try for prototypes that are as close to HTML5 CSS3 Web dynamics as possible. But he didn’t leave us there. Jason recommended some tools and even gave us some specifics about what he uses and why.

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