Basically this instructable will explain a method that I tend to use and like to participate in at the very start of a variety of projects related to human computer interaction. The main idea originates from the creation of low fidelity prototypes by using cheap materials to simulate some kind of interactivity, which is covered very well in Bill Buxton's book 'sketching user experiences'.
Step 1: Materials
Based on several sessions that I have been involved in, some very interesting materials are:
- Paper/Cardboard of different thicknesses and textures
- Universal glue
- Hot glue
- Clay (the Playdough type)
- Postits of different sizes, shapes and colours
- Preshaped boxes (of cardboard, wood and/or plastic)
- Plastic sheets
Excellent places to buy these things are art stores. Other very interesting places can be second hand stores or places where leftovers from production processes are sold (eg. "stichting scrap" in Rotterdam : link)
Step 2: Theme
Because materialstorming is all about working with tactile materials, just by creating objects and physical representations of an idea it becomes easier to talk about the concept. Therefore, materialstorming is something that allowed me to talk about very conceptual ideas with everyday people. During my research, using materialstorming facilitates the creation of a common design language amongst a group of people regardless of their experience or background.
Step 3: Create!
To get the most out of materialstormning, it's a good thing to just pick up a material and to not let it go before you created something out of it. Take your time to examine the shape, texture, feeling and look for combinations with other materials. To get familiar with the technique, it might help to first write some keywords on a sheet of paper that are relevant to the topic first or creating several moodboards related to the choosen theme.
Another tip to create interesting objects is to pick the material you like the least or the one that you would never pick. Doing this, you force your thoughts to think about something in a different way.
As a last tip, always remember you can rip things apart or think up alternative uses of a material. Often people "just" stick stuff together, which often leads to quite generic ideas and prototypes. An example is shown the picture below, where a piece of wood has been ripped apart first, this lead to the idea of fire.
Step 4: Example 1 : Physical Website
By exploring, touching and thinking about various materials we were able to not only think about the features of the website but also about the experience and look and feel of it. Obviously this was the materialstorming technique being used by a team of 'professionals' where it can give very richt information about a concept in a short amount of time.
Step 5: Example 2 : Objects in the City
Our team of researchers worked together with everyday people from the city of Antwerp to talk about this technology. Our main question was "how would you like to communicate in the city?" Whe choose to run trough a very 'analogue' process before explaining them the eventual technology we had in mind.
During one of our sessions we used the materialstorming technique to get a better understanding of this theme, in the end the results of the materialstorm have been the most inspiring for the team. Mostly becasue 'real-world' artifacts were created that each have their own stories and ideas behind them.
Step 6: Conclusion
Some of the things that make materialstorming a powerful method to use in a design process are:
- Materialstorming is a perfect way to include people that are not familiar with design and design processes in methods like participatory design. As people know that they are just making mockups, we noticed that they tend to be more
- The method is closley linked to bodystormning and acting out. Once a tactile object has been made, it's perfect to be used in bodystormning or acting out techniques.
- Besides creating a common design language, it becomes easier to talk about the experience of a design by using various material characteristics.
- Based on the first prototypes, other evolutions can be made that could - depending on the context - be made interactive using arduino and/or other open source hardware tools.
To conclude, I'd like to add a quote by Yoko Ono which truly captures the spirit of materialstorming and DIY in general;
"I admire most creative people and most creative efforts because I like the idea that they're doing something. Even if it's crap, I like the idea that they're doing something." -- Yoko Ono