Iterative Shmiterative

Why is it so hard to sustain the glorified Iterative Process?
Design-by-making, for the insiders.

Two years ago, I took a course from my own Design for Interaction master program at IDE, TU Delft. The course, called Interactive Design Technology, mainly aims to introduce unsuspecting design students like me to the juiciest of holy: sensors. Accelerometers, infrared distance sensors, force sensors, vibration sensors, motion sensors, touch sensors, you-name-it sensors. All of them neatly pre-wired for a Phidgets Interface Kit, a sort of external motherboard that you can then plug into your MacBook, USB-style. It also introduced me to Max MSP, a graphical programming environment that allows you to read your sensors and act upon them. In english: you can easily build cool interactive stuff. By now, either your mouth is salivating like a rabie-infested wilddog or you stopped reading at ‘pre-wired’. The good news is you don’t particularly need to have understood any of this.

Interactive Technology Design, or ITD for cryptology’s sake, goes further to teach a second and even more crucial piece of education: the elusive Iterative design process. The concept is so simple it’s retarded: “Don’t wait till you have a great idea to start building => Start making it and it will gradually turn into a great idea. That’s where iterations come in. You start with a small idea that shows some promise, build it, use it/test it/see it work and ideas for a second prototype will start flowing. Then a third, and a fourth, you’ll be on the superhighway of adaptations before you know it. A lot of  students have stumbled upon this truth at the end of their projects, when the final (and usually only) prototype has been built after months and months of research, analysis and detailing. Right then, two week before presentation, with a tangible concept in their hands, they are hit with so many ideas for improvement that they could write a whole book entitled ‘Recommendations for the future’. Such is the tragedy. And this is where the Iterative Design Process comes to the rescue. But unlike the filmic red pill, it isn’t just a matter of swallowing.