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Prototyping in Performing Arts

Updated: Oct 31, 2021

I remember my childhood days (1980s) when I used to make dolls, doll houses with whatever was available at home. And there were 'Kitchen Sets' available which we purchased, or made little plates and bowls with clay, got together with friends, with one pretending to be the Mom, one Dad and the others kids and their friends. And 'Mom' cooked using leaves, and grasses and served us 'food' after we 'came back hungry from school' ! Actually, I think, this was a pretty common play in India at least.

Now let's fast forward 20 years and imagine this scenario - A Senior Designer lands up in a Multinational Firm which produces state-of-the-art consumer products and his or her Manager asks for ideas design of a Kitchen Set with some specific features, in a meeting room with 20 other designers and clients. The Designer's face appears frozen and mind blank! He must be experiencing doom. He feels this throttling pressure of knowing the best answer in a jiffy!


Have we not already had an experience of playing with mini models of kitchen sets? I think here lies the problem - As we grow up, information overload or 'streamlining' course materials, adherence to too many processes and limited freedom in the working environment, creates stubborn mental blocks and we unknowingly lose our capacity of 'innocent thinking' or thinking freely or out-of-box without worrying about a right or wrong like we did in childhood. An answer like 'Maybe, I will think and get back' , which is probably what children would have said in their own way, would be better than looking astounded in the meeting.

Say this 'Design a Kitchen Set' - was posed to a College Graduate who is not yet overwhelmed with these blockers, he or she might have thought of the mini kitchen sets of childhood and probably come up with a physical mini set up with whatever was available, or even sketch it out to start with. This is really what is 'Prototyping' in the Design parlance. We have been prototyping probably daily without realising but we have partitioned our brain into blocks and lost the fluidity of thinking when it comes to problem solving in a more formal scenario.

Coming to a more formal design insight - Human centric Design thinking heavily relies on Empathy with Designers putting themselves in the shoes of the users, going to the extent of actually living their lives for brief periods. And once Designers have really lived the users' experiences do they actually understand what and why the users need, start weaving different stories based on the different scenarios they have experienced and these could potentially be good starting points for thinking together as a team, each telling stories of their experiences, accurately articulating the problem and coming up with an idea for a viable, feasible solution. And then move on to prototypes to see how closely their design ideas fit into the world they designing for.

The best way, to start prototypes is to start with a sketch or a model using materials which are cost effective and simulate the experience as close as possible. Spending too much time, at least initially, would be an overkill because we do not know what works, and this might call for several rounds of iterations.

Having spoken about my understanding of the importance of getting into the users' shoes to get to the problem and creating prototypes for the users, I am sharing some cool prototypes I stumbled across.

It's obvious from the image it's a prototype made with stiff paper for a back pack probably having some special features and we see the shape is not that of those seen normally. This makes for a decent prototype to gauge the ease of wearing the bag, the dimensions. I really am not aware of the entire context here but this is all I fathom at the moment.

In the pic below, designer Chengyuan Wei prototyped the Origami phone handset, which is made of a foldable sheet of cardboard encasing the electronics.

Image source:

Prototypes need not be really small - especially with furnitures. Famous architect Frank Gehry designed this furniture (image to the left) in 1980’s out of cardboard.

Image source:

A walking robot cardboard prototype was made to check sizes before making a functional prototype out of acrylic plate made by Retrointerfacing

The image below is a prototype to create an experience of an airline seating to evaluate storage compartment accessibility and flight-attendant access to divider wall lock-outs for take-off and landing. Image source

And now - I would like to talk of a prototype which really spoke to me, in ways more than one. Prototypes or 'models' are not limited to businesses alone. They could spill over to Performing arts too. Being a Bharatanatyam (South Indian Classical Dance form) Dancer, I know how hard it is for artists to get their costumes ready. These costumes are not cheap and it is not easy to get to the one that works best for a dancer. In the images below the model of a costume with newspapers and tapes really strikes a chord! One could try out different versions with different coloured papers etc to see what colour and style works for them. And without the hassle of putting together unused fabric in the house and getting to sewing! And on a different note, it alludes to reusing and upcycling too in many ways!

Conceptualised, Designed and Made by Dr. Himanshu Srivastava.

Photographed by Mr. Innee Singh. modelled by Bharatanatyam Dancer Ms. Dakshina Vaidyanathan Baghel

I am ending this article with the same note I started with. Sometimes being unaware is a blessing. In the sense, when Himanshu designed this, I am not sure how aware he was about 'Design thinking' and the design jargons, and it was a liberation in that sense. He unleashed his free mindset, common sense and creativity to design this costume, with the able support of equally talented Innee Singh and Dakshina.

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