Centre for Fine Print Research University of the West of England Centre for Fine Print Research

Designing by numbers? Keeping the human in human-centred design

Author/Co Author:
Walters, P. Chamberlain, P. Press, M. and Tomes, A.
Name of conference: Pixel Raiders 2 (Conference Proceedings)
Place: Sheffield Hallam University
Date: 2004
ISBN: 1843 870 606
URL Links:

The feel of the physical about us is being lost due to the intervention of computerised equipment and work is becoming an abstraction from the real world... knowledge has been abstracted away from the labour process and has been rarefied into mathematical functions... In my view, profound problems face us in the coming years due to this process.’ Cooley (1980)

Virtual reality technologies play an increasingly significant role within new product development processes. Advocates of these rapidly emerging technologies claim that computer-based product simulations provide significant benefits, including shorter development times and a reduction in the number of prototype iterations required to get a product concept off the virtual drawing board and onto the production line.
This paper argues that physical prototyping should be retained as an essential element of the human-centred design strategy. Designing for physical action requires both the designer and the end-user to develop an intimate understanding of the task in hand, experienced through all of the human senses. This highlights the multi-dimensional nature of design, where opportunities for innovation are revealed through discoveryoriented physical prototyping.

Case studies are presented from the field of medical and healthcare product design. These demonstrate the effective use of multiple prototyping methods in parallel; designers used a combination of hands-on physical prototyping, alongside virtual and rapid prototyping techniques, to develop and communicate the multisensory qualities of products. The paper highlights the complex, evolutionary nature of the design activity, and the role of physical prototyping within human-centred design practice.

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