WHAT I LEARNED WITH OUTSOURCED PROTOTYPES.
I haven’t been inside the design business for too long, but this is starting to be a great third year and with more than 35 pieces in the market I’ve had my share of headaches due to them. I will talk lightly about my experience, hoping it will help someone avoid the mistakes I made (but don’t be afraid to make them).
“Fail fast, fail often” the quote used by entrepreneurs can easily be adapted to prototyping. There’s this concept that prevails in some managers that prototyping will slow their production, and so they try to skip steps, making a final product from sketches or renders that have already been sold. But as Tim Parson says “A common mistake is to try and jump from early sketches to a final facsimile model that requires considerable effort or expense to make”. Prototypes slow us down just to speed us up “Early prototypes should be fast, rough, and cheap.” (BROWN, T.). You don’t need to make a prototype in brass or solid wood to start testing it. The Shark wall light was first tested in my living room with my girlfriend Rita, two A3 sheets and duct tape. That was also the prototype that I took to the supplier, it saved us a lot of time since he understood it perfectly. “The goal of prototyping is not to create a working model. It is to give form to an idea to learn about its strengths and weaknesses and to identify new directions…” (BROWN, T.). Well, quick and dirty sums it all up, from three dimensional simulations to real scale prints of the views… use whetever it helps you and your suplier understand the product better.
What I learned with time is that one person alone cannot be responsible for all three basic fields of a company, the creative one, the client service and operations. I used to work in a place where the three were expected from a single person. Well, I struggled to prototype more than 10 pieces while developing other 10 and trying to reach clients at the same time… the final result? Lots of mistakes and production problems. I wasn’t at my best creatively or even mentally prepared to charm someone, which is why I never thought of starting my studio alone. I’m thankful to Francisco, he’s the person I needed. A great business man, experienced in dealing with clients, who believed in me and this project. Leaving me merely to the creative field and prototyping step by step. Still, I’m sure I will manage to have some issues with production in time, but now I managed my time with less ephemeral commercial agendas. “Charles and Ray Eames, one of the greatest prototyping teams of all times, used prototyping to explore and refine ideas, sometimes over many years.” BROWN, Tim
First of all never forget to create good relationships with your suppliers. Outsourcing is impossible without this. You will always be a guest in their “home” so you should treat them right. Look for these suppliers even if you don’t need them, their skills are always good to have on your database, and help you find solutions in your early stage creations. Respect their knowledge, and build new insight from it. And most importantly never burn bridges, suppliers talk to one another, you don’t want to be known as the designer that doesn’t pay or is rude. Like I said before, you don’t need to spend lots of money to start testing your product, but if you have a good relationship with your supplier this process might even be easier if they let you use their tools for some fast testing.
Another great solution that I’ve been using lately is the 3D tools. Rapid prototyping is becoming a good solution with affordable prices when involving 1/10 scale models for example. I used this to start conversations with suppliers about the Kaleidoscope table , printing only ¼ of the table model and applying a mirror game to exemplify it. This was also used to make The Key of Teo. The prices are quite accessible and they don’t take a lot of time being made. So far I’ve done works with a national supplier Hello3dprintingworld and an international one I.materialize, but there are thousands of solutions out there that are increasing by the day.
“The modelling phase represents the first real test for a design” (GRCIC K.) You should imagine yourself as a client in a store, holding your product, testing it and comparing it with other similar products on the shelf before you buy it. So my advice is to not be afraid to make something rough, no one will laugh at it, it doesn’t need to be perfect to start giving you some idea of your final product. And of course, analyze the competition, the world wasn’t made in two days, there is a lot of information out there, use it in your advantage but never limit yourself to what is already out there… be unique, be yourself.