Tom Maiorana, University of California, Davis

If design is to continue to make a credible claim that it can solve the world’s most pressing problems, our tools must evolve to address increasingly complex, dynamic and connected product systems. This paper explores the ways which low-resolution prototypes can be used to address complex challenges with minimal risk, investment and time.

The practice of rapid-prototyping has become central to product development, but changes in the ways that products and services are conceptualized, built, distributed, and used require a new way of thinking about this critical practice. Traditional prototypes focus the object or solution. But modern products are increasingly utilizing human interaction and social systems as a core part of the offering. Technology-driven prototyping tools can handle complexity, but fail to offer the flexibility and inclusive necessary for rapidly changing landscapes where a variety of contributors and approaches are necessary. Unfortunately, most low-resolution prototypes are ill-equipped to handle these complex environments. Designers will need tools that illuminate potential futures to their stakeholders, teams, and a growing list of collaborators. And they will need to do this in less time. This paper explores ways of reimagining prototypes so that they may be used to help understand complex systems in rapid, low-risk, ways. This paper will illustrate the ways which a variety of prototyping methods bridge the gap between analog, digital and social systems. Examples from software to festivals will yield insight and actionable frameworks for designers of complex product systems and services.


Isolate greatest unknowns.
BMX flips as a metaphor for prototyping complexity.


Hive - Faculty Committee
Faculty members from five different colleges using low-fidelity prototypes to help shape the strategy for “The Hive”.


Tom Maiorana is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Design at UC Davis where he focuses on product design, design thinking, and prototyping. Tom’s research focuses on how low-resolution prototypes can help designers explore the human experience of interacting with complex systems. Tom is also the founder of Red Cover Studios, which specializes in product development and innovation strategy and uses prototyping as a central practice in work ranging from interaction design to fashion to organizational change. Red Cover Studios helped to conceptualize and launch the Hive at the Claremont Colleges and Denison University’s forthcoming Design Lab. Tom regularly teaches at Stanford University’s

Tom has an MFA in Design from Stanford University and a Bachelor of the Arts from Vassar College.