Anatomy of prototypes
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Anatomy of Prototypes. By: Mark Gruszecki. What is a prototype?. A prototype is a specific kind of design object. Most think of a prototype as an iterative object that evolves to help elicit requirements. Can there be more than one prototype for a particular project?.

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Anatomy of Prototypes

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Anatomy of Prototypes

By: Mark Gruszecki

What is a prototype?

A prototype is a specific kind of design object.

Most think of a prototype as an iterative object that evolves to help elicit requirements.

Can there be more than one prototype for a particular project?

Dimensions of Prototypes

Prototypes should be developed to test and develop a specific piece of the system.

GUI, User Interaction, Data Functions, Integration of Components, etc.

Prototypes as Filters

  • When a prototype is used to test a specific aspect of the system, it essentially filters the other aspects out.

  • This allows designers to test and evolve the design on one aspect of a system without affecting the other aspects.

How should prototypes as filters be made?

  • “The most efficient prototype is the most incomplete one that still filters the qualities of interest to the designer.”

  • The incompleteness of a prototype serves as a strength because it let’s us test aspects of our final product without actually buildingthe final product.

Example of Prototype as Filtering

In order to test the Buttons on the phone out, a prototype with actual buttons must be developed.

Another prototype to test the GUI out should be developed separately.

Another prototype should be developed to test the functionality of the phone, and so on.

Each prototype tests different aspects of the final product, but that doesn’t mean each prototype is independent. There is always overlap.

For instance, in order to test how the GUI works, the speed of the functional components of the phone come into play. If the phone is operating slow, the GUI will also move slowly.

Prototypes as Manifestations of Design Ideas

  • “designs are constituted through iterated interaction with external design manifestations.”

  • “externalization of thought gives rise to new perceptual and cognitive operations that allow for reflection, critique, and iteration.”

Example of externalization of design ideas.

Notice how the artist develops multiple images to figure out which he likes best.

This same idea applies to software engineering and prototyping.

Prototypes as Manifestations of Design Ideas

  • These manifestations can take almost any form based on time, cost, and material.

  • In the field of computing, these manifestations are especially interesting because the design idea’s are manifested on a computer.

  • That is, the material they are manifested on is a material with no limits.

Anatomy of Prototypes

  • Fundamental Prototyping Principle: “The purpose of designing a prototype is to find the manifestation that, in it’s simplest form, will filter the qualities in which the designer is interested without distorting the understanding of the whole.”

Anatomy of Prototypes

Filtering Dimensions

Manifestation Dimensions

Materials by which the prototype is manifested

Level of fidelity of the prototype

Completeness of the prototype

  • Appearance Dimension

  • Data Dimension

  • Functionality Dimension

  • Interactivity Dimension

  • Structure Dimension

Real World Example

2d Image

3d Image


  • The Anatomy of Prototypes: Prototypes as Filters, Prototypes as Manifestations of Design Ideas. By Youn-Kyung, Erik Stolterman, and Josh Tenenberg. ACM Transactions, July 2008


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