Product designers use foam to mock up products all the time. But it’s not the first thing you think of using for UI design. Yet, it was a perfect material for teachers to use to prototype a video player. Add to that a tested method for brainstorming ideas and you can quickly dash (or SCAMPER*) to your next great idea.
Here is the process I used with ten teachers—with widely varying degrees of tech savvy—to create a video player and customize it in the space of a half hour. Why foam? Because it was immediate and non-threatening. The teachers looked at it as a craft project. We started with where they are, not where we want them to be. Taking the tech out of it put them at ease and produced some remarkable results.
- Each participant was given a bag with a variety of pieces of foam, from an art supply store, in various geometric shapes and colors.
- To introduce the exercise I asked them not to invent but to reinvent. This is an important idea to emphasize to minimize the fear of creating we all share. Reinvention is the primary means we arrive at a new idea or product. Most ideas are evolutionary, not revolutionary. I began the with the story of the Honorary Chairman of SONY Akio Morita and his idea to combine two devices to create a new entertainment product. SONY engineers had shelved a project that they believe had failed: the smallest possible stereo tape recorder. Chairman Morita saw the potential of this tape player when combined with another new idea—light weight headphones—and the SONY Walkman was born. “This is the product that will satisfy those young people who want to listen to music all day. They’ll take it everywhere with them, and they won’t care about record functions.” The Walkman led to the iPod—and It was easy to find one of those in the room.
The presentation reviewed the components of a video player and summarized each of the nine methods for brainstorming. I gave them a brief example for each.
*SCAMPER (each of the first letters stands for a method):
– making this out of foam to explore the potential rather than get caught up with technology
Combine it with something else
– insert quiz
– add pop up comments
Adapt something to it
– set start and stop times
– create a Ken Burns documentary = combine images and videos
Modify or Magnify it
– rewind and ff, pause and single frame forward/backward
– enlarge the timeline to precisely adjust start/stop feature
– highlight elements in a video
Put it to some other use
– sound output includes auto tune to teach music
– hide or minimize a component
Reverse or Rearrange it
– consider it from someone else’s point of view
- I showed them a prototype to give them a possible solution. They had 30 minutes to create mock-ups of their players using the foam and then each person presented their reasoning behind their design ideas.We asked them to “Imagine, genuinely use your imagination, and consider how you can alter your player to help you reach a student or students.”
- We photographed the results and loaded them into the computer.
- Using ScreenFlow to capture their presentation to the group (which was also being projected), each participant walked us through their results using the mouse as a pointer and explaining what they wanted and why.
The results were striking. One teacher, who was very hesitant at the outset identifying herself as so far behind in her tech savvy, began her presentation with the following statement “I wanted to make the invisible visible”.
Extraordinary ideas came from each and every person when they considered it from their students needs and their desire to teach.
Please reduce, reuse, and recycle these ideas.