Product designers use foam to mock up products all the time. But it's not the first thing you think of using for UI design. Yet, it was a perfect material for teachers to use to prototype a video player. Add to that a tested method for brainstorming ideas and you can quickly dash (or SCAMPER*) to your next great idea.
Here is the process I used with ten teachers—with widely varying degrees of tech savvy—to create a video player and customize it in the space of a half hour. Why foam? Because it was immediate and non-threatening. The teachers looked at it as a craft project. We started with where they are, not where we want them to be. Taking the tech out of it put them at ease and produced some remarkable results.
1. Each participant was given a bag with a variety of pieces of foam, from an art supply store, in various geometric shapes and colors.
2. To introduce the exercise I asked them not to invent but to reinvent. This is an important idea to emphasize to minimize the fear of creating we all share. Reinvention is the primary means we arrive at a new idea or product. Most ideas are evolutionary, not revolutionary. I began the with the story of the Honorary Chairman of SONY Akio Morita and his idea to combine two devices to create a new entertainment product. SONY engineers had shelved a project that they believe had failed: the smallest possible stereo tape recorder. Chairman Morita saw the potential of this tape player when combined with another new idea—light weight headphones—and the SONY Walkman was born. "This is the product that will satisfy those young people who want to listen to music all day. They'll take it everywhere with them, and they won't care about record functions." The Walkman led to the iPod—and It was easy to find one of those in the room.