In this paper, we present a Sketching in Hardware perspective to Interaction Design (IxD) education and practice. We start our discussion by highlighting the differences between Prototypes and Sketches, and explaining why we believe the term Sketching in Hardware is suitable and appropriate to the IxD practice. We introduce a short history of the term and its origins before relating it to Experience Prototyping activities and other related design processes/methodologies.
Our main discourse consists of observations and a critical analysis of academic activities and professional work suggesting that Sketching in Hardware remains quite challenging despite the recent progress in the development of new tools and toolkits. The low barrier to entry and the explosion of tools and toolkits are very welcome, but this democratization can also be misleading. The learning curve is still steep in many ways. The current sketching tools seem to have leapfrogged our design skills and our ability to deal with that avalanche of technical capabilities. Designers regularly loose a critical perspective on their sketching and prototyping activities. We noted that students and designers alike spend a lot of time mastering intricate tools and debugging technical issues when they should be developing, evolving and fine-tuning interesting experiences or sketches informing their design process.
We close our discussion with a review of various toolkits and building blocks currently available to interaction designers for designing new technology and future concepts. We ultimately suggest five guiding principles to be taken into account in the design of new toolkits or upgrading of existing ones. These same principles and qualities not only can, but should also radiate in the experiential qualities, well beyond the built material artifacts. Sketching in Hardware is not just playing with electronics; it has serious implications and repercussions in the way we design stuff.