Modeling is defined as creating physical, mathematical, or logical representations of a process, product or service where the implementation of the representations is termed as Simulation. Modeling and Simulation allow designers to test design considerations or specifications with the potential users before the formal process, product or service is launched. The terms modeling and simulation are extensively used in the technological context; however, models in the physical or real world are called prototypes and role-play, informance or role-reversals are different forms of non-virtual simulations. Similarly, virtual models are used to test digital products and services to understand user experience during a simulation. Additionally, the virtual models help shorten the design and test cycle. It also gives the researcher immediate feedback to alter the model and re-test it quickly.
A small part or whole virtual product solution or service offering can be modeled to test the design specifications. Modeling helps to bring ideas or concepts to life and explore the real-world acceptance, impact or value that idea or concept can have. Modeling also helps in thinking through, building an understanding of customer or user experiences and bridges the gap between the proposed design and the user needs. Models also help poke holes in design research that would be difficult to spot otherwise until the product is launched.
In the early stages of design, the researcher spends a lot of time in research to figure the potential solutions to a problem that the target customer segments are facing. The researcher may start believing that they have arrived at a perfect solution, which introduces a bias or limits the extent to which a researcher is willing to explore. It is, therefore, important to test out these solutions in the form of Modeling and Simulation to collect immediate feedback on design decisions and carry out a more comprehensive exploration of alternatives to incorporate changes before designing the final product or service for launch in the market for a wider audience. This is especially true for online models and simulations, where the model can be accessed by a large number of users at a time and the user experience, heat maps, analytics and other data from the simulation can be captured and analyzed to draw conclusions.
Advantages of Simulation/Modeling
01 Number of users
The number of users who can be involved in the testing of models and simulations can be large if the simulation is online..
02 Validation of research findings
Research conducted during the early stages of a project does not tell us everything about the optimal solution. A lot of positive feedback or glitches are discovered only once we test. By modeling and Simulations, we can uncover far richer insights and validate findings from initial research.
Modeling can be used to test different kind of ideas, concepts in different forms as well as those applicable at different stages of design and re-design process.
04 Issues and Error Identification
Modeling and Simulation allow identifying issues as well as errors or biases that may have been introduced into research during the early stages of solution formulation.
05 End-User engagement
Simulation helps to engage with potential customers and getting first-hand feedback on design decisions. This also gives deeper insights and a better idea of the value that can be captured from a proposed solution.
Disadvantages of Simulation/Modeling
01 Added Time and Costs
Modeling is not as inexpensive as it sounds. Even though prototyping helps to make informed decisions about the design direction for a product or service, it is still an additional cost as recruiting users, testing, making alterations and testing again can take up a lot of time as well as investments not initially anticipated.
02 End-user recruitment
The kind of testing involved and the quality of feedback collected depends a great deal on the end-users that are recruited to test a solution. If for some reason, the recruitment isn’t accurate or doesn’t involve a large set of users then important insights could get missed.
Think Design recommendation
Simulation/ Modeling is different from prototyping in that a prototype is meant to be a representation of an actual design or an idea and the purpose of prototyping is to get early reactions/ assessment of design before it is launched in the market-place… whereas simulation refers to a level of detail that is different from the actual intent. A good example here would be a flight simulator. While the equipment, software, and interaction are intended to give the experience of flying without actually flying, it doesn’t qualify to be called a prototype.
Modeling, on the other hand, is something that is a representation of a sequence of events in an abstraction that is representative. For example, if we were to model a workflow of the production facility, the model may look like a flowchart that represents workflow and is an abstracted representation of the flow of events as they happen or intended to happen.
Both methods have certain contrasting elements as well as overlaps and hence, it is important to look at the two in conjunction with the other. Many a time, the simulation itself contains within itself, a model and sometimes, a model is a simulation. Simulation and Modeling have existed in this world in some form of the other since the beginning of life as we know it. Some of the common examples of the model that we all can relate to:
- Diagrammatic representation of a Solar system
- Astrology chart
- Periodic table
- Business model
Some of the common examples of Simulation we can relate to:
- Pre-vis of a movie
- Flight simulator
- Mixed reality simulations
With the advent of Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality (VR, AR, and MR), simulation has come to be consumerized; as in, it has become widely available and affordable to the masses. As design researchers, you now have these tools at your disposal to conduct research in a variety of unconventional for that weren’t available say, a few years back. Let’s, for example, consider a scenario where a designer in India has the task of designing outdoor winter wear for use in Russia during winters. Using simulation, the designer can subject him/ herself to body storming without having to travel to the particular geographic location and until that season arrives. In this case, simulation helps the designer arrive at an understanding and design decisions economically, faster and at scale.
With the increase in charting tools, programming models and the advent of globalization, Modeling too has become a common practice among product developers. Using Modeling as the basis, teams across geographies can have a common understanding of a situation which helps them contextualize their products to the conditions of usage.