Did you know major tech companies like Android do a lot of thier early product development work drawing up ideas on paper and with erasable makers on white boards? Seems counter-intuitive that the most advanced technology companies are using techniques that are as old as time to think through big ideas. But its true!
Early prototyping using good-old-fashioned pencil and paper is often the best way to communicate new ideas and test their efficacy in the real world.
What’s a prototype?
A prototype is a preliminary model of something. Prototypes are extremely important in the tech world today. When an innovator has a big idea for something new (like an app or new wearable tech) they usual start off with a prototype as a way to share their concept with others & iterate on ideas.
Prototypes can take many forms from a sketch on a white board, to a hand-drawing on paper, to a 3D model and beyond. Product designers usually work through various stages of fidelity, getting closer and closer to the real product with each iteration. The best product designers use prototypes as a means of user testing – getting their ideas out in front of users as early as possible in the process to gain feedback and improve their ideas.
Rare is the product concept that is born in a bubble, developed to perfection with no contact from the outside world, then all of the sudden unleashed to the public with wild resounding success. A product designer who takes that approach is risking many hours of work and possibly millions of dollars on an idea that has zero proof of success in the real world. So why not create a “proof-of-concept” and get feedback early on.
How to Help Your Child Develop Prototypes
The good news is the act of prototyping comes very easily to children. In fact most of what they do are prototypes for how they will do things as adults. Every scribbled drawing, every mashed up play-do creation can be looked at as iterative steps towards more refined versions.
So how can you help cultivate your child’s ability to prototype? Here are 3 simple suggestions.
1. Allow your child to make mistakes
It is critical that your child has the opportunity to create in his or her own way and to learn from mistakes. This is the key objective of prototyping. If every time your child has a school project that involves model building, drawing or even writing, you swoop in and make the edits or corrections to make a more polished “grown-up” looking presentation, your child will not learn to iterate and improve on their own. They also won’t learn to hear feedback and make improvements.
Its ok if your child’s work looks like it was made by a child. It was!
2. Encourage off-screen creative activities
In our busy world there often doesn’t seem to be time to allow for space to just doodle, draw, create. But these activities are where innovation thrives. Out-of-the-box thinking comes when a child is given the space and encouragement to dive deeply into their imagination. Expressing that side of themselves through art is a wonderful way for them to learn to communicate their ideas.
3. Ask your child to create a drawing or model
If your child comes to you with a wild idea for a new type of flying, time-traveling car or a playground for robots, ask them to show you what that would look like. Crayons and paper will do just fine here, but if you want other materials here are some I suggest:
- Graph paper & pens
- Whiteboard & erasable markers
- Play do or modeling clay (for bigger kids)
- Education legos (the ones with no instructions)
- Goldie Blox
- Any open ended drawing or modeling tools
At Coding for Treasure we strive to make sure our classes and workshops have a balance between on-screen, structured activities and off-screen creative exploration. If you want to help encourage your child to be an innovator and be ready for the tech jobs of the future, I encourage you to do that, too. And if you already are, kudos, your children are already benefitting from it!