Thursday, May 19, 2016

Design Workshop: The Value of Prototypes

Even though I'm a pretty experienced furniture maker, I still love making prototypes.  The reasons for this are simple: while I'm never short on design inspiration, I don't always know how some of the details should shape up, or if something will look as good in reality as it does in my head.  In light of these realities, building prototypes can be one of the best ways I know to fill in the blanks during the design process.  I also find it to be a ton of fun- in a short amount of time, I can create something tangible while minimizing the tedium.  It is also a great way to use up old scraps (I usually use plywood, but feel free to use cardboard, styrofoam, or whatever else works for you).  In some cases, I've been able to use "nice enough" materials like reclaimed wood to end up with a usable piece in the end.  This is a win-win in my book, kind of a two-for-the-price-of-one.

Of course, not all of my projects require prototypes: its usually pretty to imagine the desired end result and the steps that it'll take to get there, so I'm all about the path of least resistance in these cases.  Sometimes, though, a prototype is invaluable.  For furniture in particular, I've found that building prototypes can help me to:

      -think of new possibilities that I never would've thought of otherwise
      -save money by making my mistakes on the cheap materials instead of the good stuff
      -refine a design by constructing a number of variations that I can compare
      -adjust the measurements, proportions, angles, and curves that came from my original sketches
      -develop designs (especially chairs) that are truly comfortable to sit on
      -demonstrate my vision and skill to my clients during the design/fabrication process

And since a picture is worth a thousand words, the following photos will demonstrate some of the ways that I use prototypes on a regular basis:

I find prototypes to be essential for
 new chair designs.  Comfort rules!
When building a set of pieces, it is really
helpful to see how they'll look together.
I keep joinery super simple on prototypes- screws and Dominos
usually do the trick. 
I made several different variations on this chair back.  This
one had a cutout, which I ultimately rejected.
Once I like the look and feel of a prototype,
I take measurements from it so I can build
the finished piece.  I don't worry about
knowing the angles early on in the process
but it matters later on.
Here's a close cousin of the prototype: the
actual size templates that I used to make
the finished chairs.  I started with a
prototype, then traced the side to
make these patterns. 

And lest I forget... sometimes a full-scale
drawing really helps.  You can see that
I was working on the transitions here.
Fun stuff!

1 comment:

  1. I'm not a big fan of full size prototypes but I do like scale models. While not exactly the same scale models can be used in the same way and I find that clients love them.