How do you think products are being built?

February 4, 2014

Quite recently, I got interested in human-computer interaction and decided to take a course at McGill just before I graduate. We talk about products, user experience and design. Crazy important things for an entrepreneur that no other computer science course dives into. We look into how products are being built and the prototyping process. I’ve come across this video in which the User Experience Lead of Google X Labs asks a simple question to the audience: “How long do you think it would take you to make a working version of Google Glass?” Years? You guessed it wrong. It takes only one day.

Tom Chi says in the above video that it only took them one day to create a prototype of the Google Glass’s heads-on display. How would you design a software system manipulated by gestures? Someone says 3 years. No, no it should be faster. A smart guy who learned from the previous answer said “one day”. No, all wrong. It took them 45 minutes.

How? Well, thanks to a process called rapid prototyping. It is a process that lets you build things with simple real life objects with a functionality on a demonstrable level. Otherwise how would you be able to build a Google glass with a coat hanger, plexiglas, sheet protector and pico protector? “You have to find the quickest path to experience”, says Tom Chi.

Before companies start the expensive process of developing complex products, they usually go through a prototyping phase. In this prototype, they try to test and understand the problems a finished design might have. So, they perfect their prototype before they start building the actual product. As it is widely known, solving a design problem on a product will cost you $1 during the product design, $10 during development and $100 after the release. Thus, companies are actually reducing the cost of developing a product by prototyping.

In a world everything is very complex, prototypes simplify the inventor’s life. We need to fail fast, because time is gold; the faster you fail and learn, the faster you improve. As Tom Chi said, “Doing is the best kind of thinking.”

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