Design is a cyclical journey from creative ideas to concrete realizations of those ideas though prototyping. Designers today have increasing access to low-cost technology toolkits within the electronic and computational domain. However, for technical novices, including electronic components in prototypes can hamper the ability to create novel ideas by introducing technical obstacles. Electronic modules can increase the probability of prototyping success, at the cost of reduced design flexibility. This research (1) presents the results of a pilot usability evaluation of (N = 68) participants making physical light emitting diode (LED) light creations with non-modular electronics components, and (2) uses this evaluation to motivate a creative prototyping study (N = 86) exploring the question: ‘How does prototyping tool modularity influence the creative result?’ Using a browser-based crowd platform (Amazon’s Mechanical Turk), participants created electric ‘creature circuits’ with LEDs in a virtual prototyping environment. We found that increasing the modularity of LED components (i) increased the novelty rating of prototypes as rated by a condition-blind panel, (ii) increased the quantity of prototypes created and the quantity of LEDs used by study participants, (iii) increased participants’ degree of perceived self-efficacy and cognitive flow, and (iv) reduced the number of errors due to LED polarity. The results highlight that novice prototyping with electronics is difficult due to the number of possible ways to fail. The findings show that modularity can reduce the chance of errors and improve the likelihood of creating novel prototypes.
Sadler, J., Aquino Shluzas, L., Blikstein, P. (2017). Building Blocks in Creative Computing: Modularity Increases the Probability of Creative Prototyping Success. IJDCI International Journal of Design Creativity and Innovation.