In students of product design episode 5 I look at prototypes and model making. One of the reasons industrial design projects are not successful is because the designer didn’t make enough prototypes to test ideas, prove concepts and highlight problems.
Industrial designers have to make prototypes. You can never assume that just because something has been done before, you can progress straight to manufacture without prototyping your design. In this video I demonstrate this by designing a pair of pliers. A simple change to the handle means in use it pinches the palm of your hand. A quick prototype highlights this and saves time, money and embarrassment. So you have to do this phase in the design process to identify problems. But this isn’t the only reason to prototype. Prototyping and model making is used to develop new mechanisms, test people’s opinions, get important feed back in focus groups and trial different user interactions to work out how acceptable or feasible a new method of doing something would be.
So for me, a good prototype is not the one that looks the most beautiful or is the most well made, it’s the one that answers questions and moves you forward. Sometimes these are the ones that are a complete disaster as much as the ones that work.
It can take more thought and effort to work out how to design the prototype to prove your idea, than the actual design itself. James Dyson said he had to make 5127 prototypes to get his first bag-less vacuum cleaner right, which is why today rapid prototyping is so useful, because of how accurately you can create prototypes from the data that will eventually go for manufacture. But rapid prototyping is not always cost effective or practical to use, most companies only have access to machines with relatively small bed sizes, so it’s currently not the right method to use when developing anything large. There is still an important need for more traditional techniques. So don’t underestimate how many questions you can answer quickly with card, sellotape,pieces of rubbish and Lego.
Students of product design complain that they can’t afford materials, but I learnt that everything we surround ourselves with can be repurposed as long as you always use appropriate safety gear and act responsibly. If you are in college or university, take advantage of everything available to you, because you will rarely have access to so much fantastic equipment under one roof again and progress to prototyping as soon as you can, because it will move your designs on faster.
I hope you enjoy ‘Students of Product Design Episode 5′.
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