Sketch or Prototype?

The post below is from John Maeda's "what is design" blog spot. John spends a lot of time thinking and writing about design, usually with deep insight, but I'm not sure he's thoroughly thought through a couple of the issues in this post. If he has, he hasn't explained himself very well, at least not to me. Hey John, what about coming back for a visit on this one?


Firstly the post;

On Failing to Succeed by John Maeda:

The difference between a sketch and prototype is a matter of where you want to put risk. To make a sketch presents a lower risk, but embodies higher risks because the sketched idea may be untested and unviable. To make a prototype presents a higher risk (due to production costs), but embodies lower risks because the prototyped idea can be tested for viability.

Designers iterate. They make mistakes in order to discover the next best step. They fail to succeed. But in most fields, and especially in business, failure is not an option. The latest generation of designers give much greater consideration to placement of risk than their counterparts from a few decades prior. Digital media has given us the ability to blur the line between sketches and prototypes in some cases. It's easier to fail faster, and to iterate more quickly towards a desired outcome.


Firstly John proceeds to distinguish between a sketch and a prototype because each has a different scope of risk. But he differentiates them by saying each embodes a higher risk and a lower risk. That's not a differentiator; that a "samulator".


Secondly he seems to imply that designers have the choice of one approach or the other ie; sketch or prototype. In fact most professional product design these days (and it can apply in a similar fashion to the design of software or other systems as well) employs a progression of various concept stages starting with quick concept sketches, to formal artwork, preliminary 3d digital modelling and rendering, highly accurate and detailed digital models, scaled and full size clay models, and working prototypes like the concept car that go to a motor show but are not production ready or street legal.


Thirdly I'm not sure about his assertion that;

The latest generation of designers give much greater consideration to placement of risk than their counterparts from a few decades prior.

We are constantly reading and hearing of the "startup culture" that sprang up in Silicon Valley  and spread to other centres across the US and is now well established across the globe. We are  constantly reminded by the evangelists of this culture that it is important to fail and to fail often. This culture embodies the notion that if you are not failing you are not taking enough risks. And we have entepreneurs and kickstarter foundations to fund these startups.

Many of these startups are very successful at failing, and some of their founders are very successful at failing often.

So are businesses failing more often or less often than a few decades ago? Or is it just that they get a lot of press in the likes of Wired Magazine, Entepreneur, and TechCrunch?

Does the failure of a widely hyped Social Media site get a lot more press than the failure of a ball bearing company in the industrial heartland?


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