Cinematic prototyping

At the SIGCHI conference this week, I saw a talk that discussed the idea of “cinematic prototyping”. The fundamental concept is that you can start a discussion about something you’d like to build by making a short film about it.

In your short film, you pretend that the thing already exists, and you show people using it. Such a film doesn’t generally aim to explain how the technology works, but rather gives a sense of what it could be good for, and why you might want it.

Of course, if you are serious about developing something, cinematic prototyping contains pitfalls. It is just as easy to create an impossible science fantasy film as it is to create one about a plausible technology.

If you show a time machine or a Star Trek transporter, you might end up with a very fine and entertaining short movie. But you won’t really have helped to advance an actual potential technology.

Still, if done responsibly, showing your idea as though it already exists confers a number of benefits. For one thing, it can help you to convince other people to bankroll the development of your idea.

But perhaps more important, it will give you insights about your own idea that you might not have gotten otherwise. There is something about seeing something actually being used by people that helps us to better understand it.

We humans may be creatures of ideas, but we are also creatures of practice. To truly understand a tool or a technique, we need to see it used in practice.

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