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Rapid Prototyping

Rapid prototyping (RP) is a research and development process used quickly builds rough, then more refined, versions of a solution following the “spiral design” process described on the Human Systems Integration page. To build a display, for example, development team members first create a simple series of simulated screens on paper. Describing a scenario and having users walk through “using” the system as it is set up tells the team what does and does not work well.  Using what was learned, the team can then set up a quick interactive software version with a structure and simple functions programmed to control us. Another user walk through tells the team more, which they can learn to develop a third more sophisticated version. Each time, the team spends a modest effort but learns a lot about making the display match what users need. The process works for any solution intended for users, from displays, to controls, workstations, and more.  

Participatory Design

Users have worked along with development teams since Czyzewski et al (1990) conceived of participatory design as a better way to develop  computer systems. Their approach:

  • Seeks to give workers better tools for doing their jobs (rather than automate worker skills)
  • Assumes workers are in the best position to determine how to improve their work
  • Views worker perceptions of and feelings about technology as being at least important as what can be done with technology
  • Views applications in the context of the workplace, as processes and not products

Participatory design takes a broader view than a single product, changing the process from “..custom software development to empowering users in assessing their own practice and technology use (Obendorf et al 1996).” The process can be used for physical objects such as workstations, software, and even work processes. In each case, those who will use the end result have a strong voice in the end result and how it will affect their performance.  Usability assessment methods are often used to verify how well results meet user needs.. 


  • Czyzewski, P., Johnson, J. and Roberts, E., “Introduction – Purpose of PDC ’90,” in Proceedings of PDC 1990, CPSR, 1990, pp. i-ii.
  • Obendorf, H., Janneck, M. & Finck, M. (2009). Inter-Contextual Distributed Participatory Design. Scandinavian Journal of Information Systems. 21(1): Article 2. Available at: sjis/vol21/iss1/2