Trying on Form Factors

September 30, 2018 · 3 minute read

Trying on Form Factors

This activity is a fun way to inject ambiguity into the design process and rapidly experiment.

But first, why do we have such a hard time with ambiguity? It feels so unresolved. Ask me any day and I would rather tell you that I know the solution to the design problem I’m working on. It’s hard to admit that I don’t. But committing to a solution too early drastically limits what a project could be. It stunts that cycle of rapid prototyping, learning, and iterating. Preconceived solutions are like marrying your very first middle school crush, and forgoing years (decades!) to find the partner that really makes your heart sing.

Since ambiguity feels so strange and yet ambiguity is often the desired state of affairs, we created this acticity around form factors for Design of Data (Spring 2018). Students were working on a Personal Geography project, collecting 30 pieces of data on themselves and designing an infographic in a non-traditional form factor. They walked into class with three different ideas drafted for their project, and we played this game to explore form factor possibilities that they had never thought of.

Prep the cards Replace “Personal Geography” with the name of the project students are working on Add or edit prompts, take this where you want it to go! Cut up into cards Prep materials Round up a wide variety of materials, from the standard to the unexpected: Roll of paper, whiteboards, screws, metal parts, wood blocks, balloons, staplers, markers, pastels, Magna tiles, Kapla blocks, string, pipe cleaners. Make sure you have lots of tape, scissors, staplers.

Step 1: Set the Mood Play this clip from Wonder Woman, where she has recently arrived in London and needs proper clothing. Where’s she going to put her weapons? How are you supposed to squat in frilly underpants? This clip gets some laughs, amps the energy, and puts students in the mindset of trying anything.

Step 2: Choose a form factor card from a hat Students draw on of the form factor cards on the next page. They have 15 minutes to prototype their project as that form factor

Step 3: Continue or change? Sound the gong and ask students to take a moment to decide if they want to continue or if they want to change directions and draw a new card. Give them another 15 minutes then ask again.

One of my favorite moments from class was a student who got the “Revealed by touch or sound” card and was sharing data on her romantic relationship expressed as textures on a closed-eye classmate. Overall, our students liked the game and their projects benefitted from the exploration as well.