Friday, September 17, 2010

A Lesson In Prototyping from Okhla Industrial Estate

This was 1991. I was a product designer fresh out of college with two international student design awards and a heady feeling about my career. I went to work for the federal government in New Delhi, India. My workplace was a very special multimedia lab, where I was given all the budget in the world to do what ever I wanted.

One of our projects was to design a device that can play analog video over digital screens. I was the industrial designer and was entrusted with product design. We were only making a few pieces. So we decided to build the case in Aluminium rather than spend money on expensive plastic moulding.

So after weeks of sketching and discussion with my colleagues, I took elaborate blueprints to Okhla Industrial area, where I had identified a mold maker. He was a modest man, with probably a few years of schooling. Since I had taken 6 months of engineering drawing lessons in school, and was very confident about my drawing skills, I took 30 minutes to explain all the details of my blueprint to him.

After listening to me patiently for 30 minutes, he said that he did not understand what I was talking about. My four years of engineering education and 2 years of graduate design school education did nothing to help the situation.

Watching my frustration, he sat me down and told me that the best way to convey a design is to make a model. I told him that I don't have a workshop to build him a model. He asked me to go to a stationary shop nearby and get some thermocole and a few razor blades. I followed his advice and built him a model in a hour. I identified several errors in my blueprint while building the model.

When I showed him the model, he nodded his head and told me that I will have my castings the next day.

If this experience sounds a lot like your two hundred page design specification that your engineering team did not "get", you may want to try to convey your design using a prototype rather than argue with them about how "they don't get it".

Who knows? May be you will realize your design spec is not perfect after all.

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