How can we translate expression into objects? — Fast prototyping in the “fuzzy” front-end


I will start by saying the fuzzy front-end of a design process is the very initial phase of exploration, brainstorming and idea generation where the result is not clear (in my words: “I learn by doing and consequently, I will grow something out of it: could be a building, could be a letter”).

By this task, I was quite intrigued by the movement of the pupil since it is really mysterious. It can dilate due to related emotions, substances, light/darkness, etc. Being part of a Masters in IT Product Design helped think quickly through rough prototypes. This project was done in 2 two days and the results could differ from obvious expectations.

DAY1: In the first day, the endless exploration of my pupil’s behaviour and research on digital platforms was needed in order to create a context of understanding of the expression. Given the chance to have some entities such as LED, servo motor, Arduino Leonardo, an elastic hairband and tons of bricks of LEGO, the exploration started. The aim of the day is to try to replicate an opening/closing effect of the pupil. To translate this action on a tangible surface was complex since for me it didn’t create any meaning. Looking at a video of a pupil made me think of what are the possible reasons for it to dilate, looking at the prototype I could only hear the sound of a servo motor trying to break my elastic hairband.

DAY2: On the second day I took a different approach. Rather than understanding/exploring the pupil on myself and the digital platform, I started to concentrate on what this prototype looks like. Maybe it is my “design mind”, but I needed to make the rough prototype look at least like an eye to help me engage with it. After some laser cutting and foam modelling, I tried to replicate my eye, putting the elastic band on (what was supposed to be) the Iris to evidence more the “ergonomics” of the movement. After this stage, I was ready to study a smooth, a fast and a “normal” movement. This step definitely helped in understanding why such movement is related to what factor, and it finally triggered my reflection like the video in Day1 did.

The purpose of the fast prototyping in the initial stage made me realise to what extension and which factors I need to include in translating an expression into a prototype, such as smoothness/roughness of the movement, the placement/position of the desired component and how can we help trigger reflection by simple form-giving. Most importantly, it made me realise how a simple elastic hairband move can trigger reflections and imagination. It took me in scenarios of what if this tangible was facing running in tunnels of dark/bright spaces or if maybe wake up after a good night sleep. This method of Fast prototyping in the “fuzzy” front end helped further exploration in engaging with the expression and elaborating them into tangibles. This turned out to affect positively the thinking of expression-movement-object in later on design development.