Business Realities

Chatting to the boss this morning, I asked him why there is a lack of sketch models? One of the issues I have with a lot of design (especially as presented on the internet) is the heavy reliance on pretty sketches and photo-realistic renderings. this means that a lot of problems or issues with the product are not dealt with because you haven’t had a tangible real representation in your hands; it is an incomplete design process. How things appear on the screen or on paper is very different from how they are in real life – scale, weight, texture but also how they feel in the hand, where the bits go and how they fit together.

Sketching is the 2-D visual exploration of ideas. You sketch on paper to quickly work through ideas, narrowing down concepts or trying out different things, before settling on a direction to refine further. Sketch modelling is sketching in 3-D, using whatever you have at hand – cardboard, sticky tape, paper, string, paper clips, lego – whatever, to explore that 2-D idea in 3-D. You can refine this further by using foam models or wooden models, in a similar way to how a clean and tidy pen render is a refined version of a sketch. A famous example is Jeff Hawkins pretending to use a piece of wood in order to develop what eventually became the Palm Pilot:

This is an invaluable process that shows you things that a drawing just can’t, and helps you refine your ideas, and leads to better products.

Back to talking to the boss, he said that a unfortuate business reality is that the development cycle can be so fast that clients are happy to start tooling based on slick renders. No wonder so many products aren’t as good as they could be. He also commented that some clients aren’t that savvy, and are more impressed by a photo-realistic render rather than a well thought out concept. With some clients there is a desire to ‘be the next Apple’ and to be a ‘design-led’ company, but this means hiring a design studio to make pretty renders, rather than well considered solutions.

No wonder so many TV remotes are terrible to hold and are too complicated to use.

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