The primary challenge underscored and dealt with was how to represent the product’s or system’s use environment and processes and to communicate ideas and envisaged use contexts effectively at the fuzzy-front early stages of the design process. The work focused specifically on complex products or systems with physical, software and/or cyber components, and the question was how to represent, e.g., the operations of the product or system and the interactions between the user and the product or system betimes in the period between when an opportunity for a new product or system is first considered, and when the idea is judged to be ready to enter formal development. Several approaches are currently being used to express and to communicate ideas at the conceptualization, embodiment, and detail design stages of the design process, but none of them address the challenge described above. We therefore adapted and extended the abstract prototyping concept to allow for total representation of ideas, as well as of use environments and processes early on. Extended abstract prototyping (Ext-AP) entails using combinations of low and high-fidelity prototyping techniques to create cognitive virtual representations, which represent and help designers to express ideas and use contexts—namely, what complex product or system would be like, and how its users would interact with it. Real-world product development case studies have been used to demonstrate how the Ext-AP technique can be put into practice. One of the main observations from the application case studies is that the Ext-AP technique enabled the subjects to express ideas and use contexts more effectively early on. In addition, the extended abstract prototypes (Ext-APs) offered a low cost, yet effective solution for expressing ideas, representing concepts and using contexts, and allowed the subjects to think divergently, make associations, easily and quickly construct, combine, and evaluate alternatives, and work together on multiple ideas simultaneously.
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