Summary: Brainstorming doesn’t work. Rapid prototyping is all about the quick and dirty approach. Never involve more than 3 people in a prototype.
Back in grad school, there were four guys called the Experimental Gameplay team, who spent a semester prototyping digital games in 7-day cycles. I sat next to them for that semester while I worked on PeaceMaker, and learned a lot by observing how they worked. They wrote a great article called “How to Prototype a Game in Under 7 Days:
Tips and Tricks from 4 Grad Students Who Made Over 50 Games in 1 Semester” that summarized their experiences on this project. This can easily apply to a mobile app or microsite, just as it did game design. But it really requires a very different mindset.
I’ve noticed that interactive ad agencies and experience design teams are struggling to articulate more “rapid” approaches to prototyping, to gain an innovative edge. But they’re thinking about it the wrong way.
The goal of prototyping is NOT crafting pitch material, or anything like creating a concept — it’s to learn about what works and what doesn’t, to ultimately innovate from such experimentation. It’s much more agile and much less waterfall (although neither truly apply). With all that in mind, here’s a cheat sheet to the experimental game design approach, along with some of my own thoughts:
quick and dirty paper prototype – imagine the interactivity in yer mind!
Production: Rapid is a lifestyle
- Embrace the Possibility of Failure – “It’s like always choosing to go to McDonalds instead of an unexplored new restaurant”
- Enforce Short Development Cycles (circa 1 week)- extra time leads to diminishing returns
- Blank white paper is the antithesis of creation, so Constrain Creativity – Use restrictions and themes like “winter and snow” or “drag and drop” to help something focus and tighten the creative space
- Keep teams very small – Idealy you’ll have 1 person who can do code and art. If not, keep it 2-3 people max, with at least one person designated the project lead, who can have the final say. Each team should report to an “objective project advisor.”
- Develop in Parallel with each team, and allow for a short post-mort session after each cycle
Design: Concept and Pre-Prototype (Don’t brainstorm!)
- Formal Brainstorming Has a 0% Success Rate – The first meeting should be a kick off to gain clarity on the timeline – and nothing more! Don’t ideate in a locked room at a whiteboard!! Later meetings can happen when there are ideas ready for people to react to.
- Gather Concept Art and Music to Create an Emotional Target – Ideation can be simulated by collecting inspirational assets that illustrate the mood, aesthetic, or concept you’re planning on going for.
- Simulate in Your Head ( Pre-Prototype the Prototype ) – Little drawings that you can imagine working. Paper prototypes!!!
Development: KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid)
- Illustrate the most important interactions in basic ways first, to test the core concept
- Fake it whenever possible – prototypes don’t need to work, they just need to show an working idea
- Cut Your Losses and “Learn When to Shoot Your Baby in the Crib”
- Heavy Theming Will Not Salvage Bad Design (or “You Can’t Polish a Turd”)
- But Overall Aesthetic Matters! Apply a Healthy Spread of Art, Sound, and Music