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Open Prototyping Alpha

In our 20th year, founder Drew Hemment explores an alpha version of of open prototyping

Author: Drew Hemment

(This article was originally published in 2015)

In our 20th year we are taking a fresh look at how we do things. One part of this is to develop a clear understanding of the process we go through in our projects.

We work with many people to create concepts and prototypes that spark imagination and ask questions about the implications of new technology. Ideas can then be demonstrated at the scale of a city through our festival as lab. I am going to call this open prototyping.

Open prototyping is to develop and test a concept or process through input of external contributors. Our projects are open to many contributors and also are often made with a public audience in mind. They benefit from the co-creation of many external contributors and the interface to a real public.

Prototypes make future ideas tangible, and enable us to test and trial an early sample or model. This can be for a new product or service, or it can be a more speculative idea about the future. Art projects can do something similar, untied from a product or instrumental goal.

Opening the process up can create points of contact to various contributors and users at different stages in the development process, it can entail multiple points of openness and synthesis.

I have done an early stage process model for open prototyping, an alpha version. This is captured in the slide show below, and each stage is also described below that.

The Open Prototyping Model

The process model involves six stages:


Each stage corresponds to different things:


There are actions associated with each stage, as described below.

Active scoping and advocacy
Our programmes are shaped by year round engagement with a creative community. We are always on the look out for emerging themes and issues. We take positions, and contribute to debates. This is more than participatory design, it is a collaborative culture.

Build community
We place a focus on active and engaged communities. We take early stage ideas out to our community, and build a network of contributors around an issue. In our labs shaping themes and teams goes hand in hand.

Rapidly mobilise crowds
Our festival as lab gives a capacity to rapidly mobilise crowds. This creates an interface to a wide audience, and a delivery platform for ideas and experiences. It becomes possible to generate dialogue at the scale of the city between many different stakeholders, users and audiences.

Curate conversations
We carefully shape programme themes around emerging issues, develop a proposition and call to action. Ideas events offer an open platform and a crucible for new thinking. New insight and knowledge is generated on the evolving landscape around technology and society.

Create connections
We work to create surprising connections and bridge between disciplines, sectors, perspectives, locations and scales. We seek out contributors who bring unique and relevant expertise or access to a problem space. Our events connect people at different levels, and create a space where conflicting positions can be expressed.

Make future ideas tangible
Prototypes enable new ideas about the future to be made tangible. We take a social or technological system, identify the assumptions, and give them tangible, external form, so that they may be experienced and questioned. Creative methods from interaction design, media art and design fiction can create new and alternate realities.

Learn by making
Understanding and skillsets can be shared and extended by making and doing together. Making things, reflecting on those, and debating the outcomes with others creates learning and knowledge exchange. Scenarios, concepts, objects and mockups enable us to test and trial an early sample or model. These are developed using a set of design methods that we use to solve commonly occurring problems in our work.

Demonstrate at city scale
Large scale experiences and demonstrations enable participants to experience and experiment with possible futures. We commission artists to illustrate new ideas through creative prototypes, interaction design and participative experiences. Moments of disruption are created when objects and systems that are out of their own time are experienced by people in the city.

Capture community intelligence
It is possible to interact with the audience, and to generate insights that cannot be obtained in other ways. We deploy devices, interfaces and experiences in real world scenarios to see how they might be used, and how people might respond. The public and creative communities can be engaged in shaping questions, collecting data and adding new interpretation.

New knowledge, practices, services
The impact is the change in the world. Outcomes can be services for cities, communities or science. Or the knowledge and practices that are generated and feed back into the scoping of issues and ideas. This contributes to collaborative culture, the impact is shared.

The background and landscape

Some of this is particular to us, and how we do things. It springs from the way we span art and innovation. Much also is common among fellow travellers in our community, and points towards an emerging trend. These include the likes of Eyebeam, Ars Electronica and Waag Society, all of whom have championed open culture and digital creativity, and use art and design methods for research and innovation.

The term open prototyping has been used before. It was coined by Bullinger et al (2011) to do for prototyping what Henry Chesbrough (2003) has done for innovation. Chesbrough made the case for opening the innovation process to contributors outside your company. Bullinger does the same for industrial design prototyping, focusing on software applications for cars, to look at how companies “can and should use external input as well as internal input” when developing prototypes. This then is not ‘open’ as in open source, or open data.

In the case of FutureEverything, open prototyping also means open code, designs and knowledge. This extension is central to us, its not a rigid rule, but it is the norm.

The same year Bullinger published ‘The Next Step – Open Prototyping’, Eyebeam in New York staged an event called Open Prototyping (2011). In their exhibition space they opened up the research and productions of the resident artists and designers for public engagement through workshops, demos and daily interactions.

Along similar lines, Ars Electronica’s FutureLab uses artistic provocation in an innovation process, and Waag Society has for 20 years pioneered digital creativity for social innovation. They, like us, have their own distinct approach yet still we can see the outlines of a shared landscape.


Bullinger, A, Hoffmann, H, Leimeister, J M (2011) ‘The Next Step – Open Prototyping’. Proceedings of the European Conference of Information Systems 2011, Helsinki.

Chesbrough, H W (2003) Open Innovation: The New Imperative for Creating and Profiting from Technology. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.