A Prototyping Disposition

I bump into different views of what “prototyping” is, should be or could be quite regularly. It is interesting to try and help people, especially educators, change the way they perceive a word and begin to use it, even understand it, in new ways. After all language is such a decisive factor in our willingness to understand and so to change.

Although not a designer by trade I know that prototyping is about making versions of something, creating various attempts and that these attempts have a trajectory. A direction they are heading towards. An outcome their production is seeking. I get that this is an iterative approach, resting on the knowledge that we will gradually get better through advice and comment from others.

Ultimately though a prototype’s success lies in the mindset or disposition that they are created with. Or to say it more clearly, when we make stuff if we are iterative in our approach we are more likely to succeed. But there is a lot going on if we begin to consider prototyping as not just about making something, but a disposition too.

It is not just about junk modelling or computer aided design or 3D printing or physical building – a disposition towards prototyping means we:

  • Are committed to the expertise and ideas we might gain from others and don’t just simply rely on our own perspective.
  • Believe in the value of feedback and how critique can move our ideas forward.
  • Engineer as many opportunities for feedback as we can, as early as we can.
  • Are willing to share what we create when it is extremely, painfully incomplete.

Learning, and often learning within a school, can be such a creative process, I know that teaching is one of the most creative of professions I know. The prototyping disposition is a stance we need to consider for our learners and for ourselves.

All too often our design of the creative tasks we ask our students to embark upon do not signpost these perspectives. Constraint is rare and we open the doors for our students to emotionally commit to a project, a creation, whether prose or painting it is much the same.

Simply stating the traits of an iterative or prototyping approach is far from enough – we need to consider how we can design them into scaffolded or modelled tasks. For example increasing the constraint of resourcing and time when we get started.

“You have 5 minutes to write the first 2 sentences and yes you can only use a post-it note. Ready go!”

What comes next is easy to understand – feedback and feedforward. Next steps and critique. So much has been written about the high impact on student outcomes of high quality feedback that I do not have to restate it. What perhaps does need pointing out is how woven it is into the fabric of an iterative creative process. So let us look again at how we might model this approach in all of our work and consider ways to engineer multiple versions followed up with as many feedback opportunities.

Prototyping is not just about physical modelling, it is an iterative mindset towards anything that we, or our students, create.


  1. Cheers, Tom! I’m looking for ways to bake a “prototyping mindset” into a much wider swathe of school life this year. Your bullet points above will provide a good jumping off point to explore this with the kiddos.

    All the best for #28daysofwriting. Looking forward to the ongoing discussions and idea sharing!

  2. An apt post for the new dawn of the challenge. Hat tip to you dear Tom for making this all happen #communitymatters. I have started to create a Twitter list “The #28daysofwriting gang” if people wish to subscribe to it. I like the idea of Aaron’s @mrkrndvs #28daysofcommenting I am also going to challenge myself to comment on at least 2 posts every day and share.

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