Design thinking is increasingly used to address more complex, systemic challenges. Yet, one of its core elements, prototyping, has been underutilized in these dynamic contexts. In order for designers to make a meaningful impact on complex, interconnected, and systemic problems, we need to expand the way we conceptualize the practice of prototyping.
This paper highlights the way prototyping is conceived through academic and industry literature and illustrates the ways the current understanding limits the efficacy of this practice for systemic challenges. A new definition that harnesses practices from design thinking, participatory design, and critical making is proposed. This new approach aligns with the Breaks in Scale theme by demonstrating how microscopic and macroscopic perspectives can coexist. This revised conceptualization unlocks the full potential of prototyping by shifting the focus from validation and evolution to a tool for learning that will help designers to address systemic challenges in ways that are faster, less risky, and more creative than our current approaches.
Keywords: Systems, Prototyping, Complexity, Design Thinking, Wicked Problems