Collage as a sketching alternative

I still remember vividly the day I was introduced to the concept of a collage in grade school. My first thought was: Humm I have done that! I loved the idea of gluing, pasting, attaching, clipping, different materials and forms to create a new whole. I also remember that I had the impression that it is was clearly something fake. I felt that it was clear I was not meant to be called a painter, an artist. Therefore I should not be judged as such, so if it was ugly....who cares.

A collage can make a new singular statement unique from its original items, even though the new message was derived from the original items.   I had to create a collage for my class, I did so. My collage was impacting. Among all the elements two of them were outstanding. I attached two “lizard legs” (that I amputated myself!). I was so proud.  When I showed it to my mom, she was shocked and worried to say the least! She did not let me take my collage to the school.

OK, time for the real topic.

The debate over using low or high fidelity prototyping has been around for some time now. I think there is no answer because it always depends on one’s time, budget and ultimate goal. However, among the various issues this debate can evoke, I offer a new twist:  a “collage” between the two.

In high fidelity, stakeholders will often incorrectly believe they are being presented with a final prototype.  Using low fidelity prototyping tools, stakeholders understand you are showing them a fake system.  However, that “fake” system sometimes inhibits acceptance or ideas since it is can be perceived as unprofessional.

Balsamiq Mockup, a rapid wireframing tool, highlights that it offers “the same speed and rough feel as sketching with a pencil.” This is done on purpose to get more a senese that what is being shown is not the final product. My suggestion is to “glue” already-existing elements and concepts into your prototype. This is indeed the core idea of tools like Balsamiq Mockup or Fireworks. You can create these elements and concepts from scratch or when needed, you could take them from an existing application, for example the application that you are re-designing if that is the case, or anything that can be shown on your screen (i.e., different forms and materials as in a collage).

In my professional experience, using the idea of collage for sketching, there have been clients that have reacted both well and bad. This collage approach has proven to be successful, as I’ve noticed when designing new prototypes for existing applications, gluing elements or concepts from their original applications created a familiarity with the stakeholder which fostered communication and collaboration.  It also saved a lot of time just taking the screenshots of elements and concepts from the other applications and just adding it into your prototype.

However, creating prototypes by this “collage” method does add a very non-uniform feel throughout the product.  Stakeholders can sometimes reject it because of this, no matter how good it is. To minimize that non-uniform look, I have replaced colors to a gray scale.   This also reinforces that this is not a final prototype.

It is clear that finding the balance between low-fidelity and hi-fidelity is a challenge. A “collage” using a wireframing tool, can save time and avoid false perception. It could also bring down your design. Again, there is not a final answer. Of course, you should avoid the lizard legs in any collage.


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