I’m preparing a short course about the prototyping process for a local startup hub/shared workspace.  Spurred by that, I’m going to spend a few posts organizing my thoughts about the creation of prototypes and the making process in general. Hopefully it’s useful for me and interesting for you.

My approach to creating has been heavily influenced by a process called ‘madman, architect, carpenter, judge.’ It’s actually a writing technique created by Professor Flowers and explained very well on this podcast (where I originally learned about it.) The influence has been rather circular – I think my process already followed that basic framework, but putting words to reality has a surprisingly strong effect.

 Someone might argue that a writing technique isn’t much use for creating a hardware prototype. I entirely disagree – The similarities between writing and making a new piece of hardware are striking: A note to yourself or a friend is like a proof-of-concept test. A blog post is a prototype – presentable and functional, but certainly not polished. And a published work is like a flight or market-ready product.

I think that it’s a great framework for any creative process, from writing to software to hardware. First you basically create an idea explosion, then you shape those ideas, refine and smooth the ideas, and finally prune them.

Of course, what those broad steps entail and how long you should spend on each of them varies depending on the specific pursuit. For example, the madman stage entails pouring words when writing, commented pseudocode when coding, and proof-of-concept doohickies when building. But the mindset of separating and being aware of the stages so that they don’t conflict or hold you captive in a single one is domain-independent

Next, I’m going to zoom in on how to unleash your madman on prototyping and proof-of-concepting hardware.