Design Principles – Prototyping

By: Christian Watson

Design Principles – Prototyping

By: Christian Watson



P rototyping is one of the most important and key design techniques used in all areas of design. It is often the first and last step in the creation of projects. Ranging from models, mock-ups or maquette’s, to drawings, sketches or scribbles, and are instrumental in refining your design.

Although it has its own risks, prototyping is an important step to take and can reap heavy rewards.

Let’s take a look at each area of prototyping and its uses.

Sketching on pad for design prototypes

Concept sketching can take various forms, here is an example quick sketches to get the ball rolling.


1. Concept Prototyping


C oncept Prototyping is considered the preliminary stage of your design process – it is quick, inexpensive, expressive and simple. The aim is to give you the designer, the ability to communicate your idea. To reveal the most basic form, function, story or design requirements – with yourself, as well as your team or audience. It is important to remain vigilant at this stage of the process, as mistakes can be made if the process is rushed. Most design graduates I meet have great drafting skills and can make anything look good! There is, however, a theory that suggests that being too good at drawing hinders the designer as they can either stick too closely to reality or go too far into fiction.

Oki Sato, the founder of Nendo, believes that the story is the most important part of the concept stage. A drawing too complicated detracts from the story that he is trying to communicate to his team or client. Personally, even though my drawing is pretty poor, I see a middle ground, a place for both. I find my designs change rapidly by badly drawing, as something new is found in the form I mistakenly drew.However if a client of mine saw it, they almost certainly won’t see in it what I do. An example of a concept stage could be a storyboard for a novel done in quick cartoons, or a simple line drawing of the initial idea behind a product.

Prototype design of chair

Here is a quick prototype we made for a private commission using a laser cutter and some MDF.


2. Throwaway Prototyping


T hrowaway Prototyping is the second stage of prototyping, where information that couldn’t be found from the initial ‘concept’ phase is collected. An example of this may be creating a model of a chair to make sure it suits its requirements of comfort/lumbar support, as well as its overall aesthetic appeal. Most designs we create at the studio are mocked up quickly in MDF or Ply at 1:1 as a double-checking procedure for dimensions, comfort and a more in-depth idea of how we would construct the item. Cars are generally modelled from industrial plasticine that is shaped by hand. This helps the team visualize how it would look as well as being able to take on in-depth information on wind resistance and performance.

These are 1:1 scale however, which can prove problematic with certain projects, proving costly and inefficient. Any item can be scaled down to make it easier to make. Furniture maquette’s are usually made at 1:6 or 1:8, making it quicker an inexpensive, as well as a presentable object to clients. Common issues with these scales are that not all information collected will translate when scaled to full size. So, it is important to be careful with what information is collected at this stage and scale. Although this process is called ‘Throwaway’, I usually keep my model to progress it into the next phase.


3. Evolutionary Prototyping


E volutionary Prototyping is when the project is in its final stages of design. It follows on from the information gathered in the second phase. With the information gathered, you can now revaluate the project on the aspects tested. Through iteration and more testing, the evolutionary phase is where the project is honed and finalised. It can be a common mistake to assume this process is quick and, once the information is gathered from your scale model, that it is simply input into the design and finished. However, this phase may only lead to more models being created to evaluate once more in light of the findings, to then, more accurately, gather information before it is finalised. These models are generally more accurate, take longer and are a better representation of the object, they range from 3D printed models to a one of production line unit.

3D printed prototype of chair

A 3D model of our No.04 chair was made right before we took it into production.




P rototyping is an extremely important part of the design process. It cannot be ignored, or taken too lightly, which I have done on a number of occasions and to no good end. Once refined, certain aspects can be tailored and made significantly quicker. In-depth prototyping also helps other projects develop quicker as well, as mistakes found, and information gathered, will benefit the design stage before prototyping and not be made a second time.

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