Designing away from the desk
Working within industrial design means dealing with an eclectic mix of passionate clients, intriguing briefs and tight deadlines. As a result it falls on us as designers to get the most from our process and therefore produce something that both ourselves and our clients are proud of. The best way to do this is through prototyping. This vital part of the process is where those thoughtful ideas are transformed into beautiful products. However, often some of the best early stage ideas will ultimately fall by the wayside at some point when they are examined in further detail. The best way to prevent this is to test ideas as quickly as possible in order to evaluate the forms conceived for each concept, consider the appropriate dimensions and explore the possibilities for manufacture. The pen and paper is a timeless method of ideation but it will only allow an idea to transpire to a certain point. At some point every concept should make the leap from 2D to 3D and Morrama is fortunate to have a range of model making and rapid prototyping tools at our disposal so that we can make this happen.
One does not have to look far to realise that this view is shared among many design professionals. For example, Sir Jonathan Ive (who is now Apple’s Chief Design Officer) stated while speaking at London’s Design Museum:
“The ideas aren’t the most difficult bit. It’s the actually making them real. Giving an idea body is very hard.”
When an idea is laid out on paper it can still be rather exclusive, of course as designers we sketch in order to communicate our ideas to the best of our ability however, there is still a lot that can be lost in translation. As soon as those ideas are made physical it opens up the conversation. There is a tangible feeling and emotion to the product, even though it may only be the first iteration of many. There is honesty about the physical manifestation of ideas, where they are free to criticism and judgement.
Ive continues by highlighting how many young students are only being shown how to create their ideas on a computer instead of in a workshop:
“That's just tragic, that you can spend four years of your life studying the design of three dimensional objects and not make one … We use the most sophisticated tools that we can to help us model and to help us prototype. I'm not saying you've got to prototype everything using a coping saw.”
Prototyping is a hugely important step in the path to designing a new product and, as designers who design physical things it is our responsibility to thoroughly explore our ideas in physical space. Of course with the current technology available to designers, it becomes a balance of the time put into prototyping against the quality of the prototype. In some cases it may be necessary to work with CAD software so that it can quickly be 3D printed into a physical object. Perhaps it is best to take a block of blue foam and carve out your shapes and forms to get a sense of scale, form and impression. It may be feasible to work with plywood in order to quickly shape pieces that will later be machined from sheet material. Maybe the best approach is to cut up copious amounts of card and tape pieces together to quickly build a real world version of what you’ve sketched. The best option might be to use MDF that can easily be manipulated and assembled together into forms, that may well be constructed from several parts of injection moulded plastic during manufacture.
In all cases, it is the approach to these processes that will enable you as a designer to work quickly and effectively in realising your ideas. For instance, when working on packaging it is probably most effective to mock up card prototypes that can be later drawn out accurately in Adobe Illustrator. When creating a complex mechanism or assembly technique perhaps a 3D print will quickly enlighten you. It is being able to rely upon the skills and methods you obtain as a designer and knowing when to deploy them in the project at hand that is crucial. The more you design away from the desk, the more your knowledge will expand. Spending more time in the workshop will increase your ability to model and prototype with the tools you have available. At this stage of the design process speed is more important than quality. Producing a range of ideas is also more fundamental than producing one detailed version that will ultimately change and develop as the design process continues. You want to be able to open as many doors as possible and question feasibility, while being able to close them again just as quickly and move on to the next. Prototyping is an engaging and rewarding process that can at times be frustrating, however, it is essential to producing work that is both delightful and justifiable.
Pushing on with prototyping may even reveal forms, assembly methods or an innovative use of material that was not thought of beforehand. It is only by physically producing models that our brain fully starts to immerse itself in the steps necessary to producing your concept. This can only happen by taking that first decisive step away from your desk.