Using video prototypes to inform product design

Context and research goal

Designing interactive systems that meet conflicting user needs can be hard and costly. Sometimes, it’s not clear what design direction to follow and it can be difficult to anticipate people’s reactions.

In this project, we were looking at the design space of personal data management tools. We knew that different people manage their data in different ways, so we wanted to explore possible directions in the design space early in the design process before committing to costly prototyping efforts.

Our main research goal was to envision possible future products by probing people’s perceptions.

A visual representation of the design space
We wanted to explore the design space of personal data management tools.

Study methodology

We decided to create five different concepts, in the form of video prototypes, that embody different ideas and design dimensions. Then, we used the five video prototypes in a user study with 16 participants, where we asked for reactions to the ideas behind each concept. The study took several weeks, with separate phases for preparation, data collection, and data analysis.

A visual representation of the timeline of the project, with different phases for preparation (2 weeks), data collection (3 weeks), and data analysis (2 weeks)
The timeline of the study, with different phases for preparation, data collection, and data analysis.

This was not a typical prototype evaluation: our goal was not to discover usability issues. Instead, we wanted to understand what design directions were most viable and in which situations. So, we asked participants to watch the video prototypes, give us their reactions, and then consider them all together against each other.

Take a look at the study script

The video prototypes allowed us to push the design dimensions in specific directions, often exploring their extremes in new combinations. They also let us show to participants the possible future scenarios of use we had in mind, rather than just telling them.

We published and presented the results of the study at the 2019 Designing Interactive Systems conference.

My role as a Design Researcher

  • Ideated and designed the concepts.
  • Created the prototypes, using Sketch and InVision.
  • Planned and led the elicitation study with 16 participants (recruited, conducted all interviews, analyzed the data).
  • Wrote the final paper based on the project.

Team: I worked with William Odom and Joanna McGrenere, two senior researchers in HCI.


Design concepts

The five concepts we created are Patina, Data Recommender, Temporary Folder, Temporary App, and Future Filters. Below, a description for each of them.


Patina on a folder (left) and on music playlists (center, right).

The first concept, Patina, is a visualization on top of data in the geometric form of a spiral. It is inspired by a tree’s growth circles and symbolizes the temporal qualities of data. In the video for Patina, we show two different options for the spiral: on a desktop, it represents the age of folders; with a set of music playlists, instead, it represents the number of interactions over a period of time.

Patina’s video prototype.

Data Recommender

Data Recommender.

The second concept, Data Recommender, is a smart system that notifies users and provides recommendations on data that might need attention, using metadata like last access, creation date, or size. Users can decide to trash items, archive them in a central archive, move them in a specific folder, or be reminded of them at another time. Data Recommender will use machine learning to learn from their actions and provide new recommendations.

Data Recommender’s video prototype.

Temporary Folder & App

Temporary Folder.

The next two concepts come as a couple: Temporary Folder and Temporary App. In this case, we created two videos on two different platforms. The first, Temporary Folder, takes place on a desktop computer: it acts as a standard folder, but users can decide to set an expiration date for it. After the expiration date, the folder will be automatically deleted.

Temporary Folder’s video prototype.

Temporary App.

The second, Temporary App, takes place on a smartphone. In this case, users can install a mobile application temporarily (e.g., for two weeks). At the end of the preset period, the application will be automatically uninstalled.

Temporary App’s video prototype.

Future Filters

Future Filters lets users create filters based on actions, data types, data attributes, and triggers.

The final concept, Future Filters, is a mobile application that lets users decide what to do with data in the future by creating rules or filters. For example, “delete selfies and downloads that are older than two months when my free space is below 20%,” or “archive shared documents not looked at in 2 years,” and so on. Filters use a set of actions (e.g., delete, move, archive, remind me), criteria (size, use, number of copies, source of data, copied on the cloud, etc.), and triggers (a new update available, free disk space is below a certain amount, etc.)

Future Filters’ video prototype.


In the paper and presentation from DIS 2019, you’ll find more details about the design process behind the different concepts and the reactions from the participants in the study.