Taking it to the Streets: Rapid Prototyping and Usability with a Group Interactive

You hear these phrases so often in design and development circles they have become clichés—”get real fast” and “fail early, fail fast, fail often.” As ubiquitous as these sayings have become, there is a reason for this: They’re true.

Here, we’ve found that the sooner we can get our hands on real data and get that data working in a prototype for our clients (and our client’s intended audience), the more quickly we can iterate and improve our final products.

This is definitely ringing true on a project we are working on right now with the Institute for Emerging Issues (IEI), a public policy think tank in North Carolina. We are working with IEI to create a state-of-the-art permanent interactive exhibit on the NC State University campus. The exhibit space, called the IEI Commons, will be full of interactive collaboration, data visualization, and storytelling tools that will help IEI engage students, politicians, business leaders, and citizens on important issues such as the economy, healthcare, and education.

The exhibit doesn’t open until January 2013, but rather than sitting back and assuming that our concepts are going to work wonderfully, we have been hard at work making prototypes and doing user testing to see what can be improved.

In our lab, one of the first things we did was construct a table made of foam core, projecting visuals on the surface to approximate a real interactive group table experience. The prototype helped us refine the size of the table and visual design before investing excess time into programming and hardware.


This flexible prototype informed a version of the interactive group table that we brought to a conference hosted by the Institute for Emerging Issues in North Carolina. There, we were able to observe attendees using the table first-hand along with a Web app that we also produced for the forum. We wanted to see how the intended audience would use these tools, and what else they would want them to do. The feedback we received from seeing people use the interactives was invaluable and will inform our decisions on the final experience.

Here’s an iPhone video glimpse of the scene at the forum.

—Michael Pittman, Producer


Second Story creates enchanting, informative, and entertaining media experiences with innovative technologies that empower connections to ideas.

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