sketches are made to visualize certain shapes, textures, materials
Simple mock-ups out of foam are quickly created
to explore features that are difficult to evaluate in two dimensions,
such as volume proportions.
The interior arrangements of the design studio’s varied considera-bly;
designers use this to create their own working atmosphere, style
Appealing images are cut out and put into a
special folder or binder for later browsing or reference.
Existing products, here organized by product class, are important
sources of inspiration and knowledge.
Collages or mood boards are composed to convey
the product’s atmosphere.
Various types of depictions, using different perspec-tives, in color
or black & white are placed on the same sheet of paper.
Computer tools offer only very limited possibilities for creating
expressiveness, making their results look ‘dead’.
Many activities, such as drawing, require the use of both hands.
Computer tools, however, just make use of one finger to operate
An other distinct feature of design is that a considerable amount
of work is done standing up.
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To create new product forms a designer has to translate
an abstract functional description of the product, which reflects
no decisions regarding a material form, into a structure that represents
a materialized solution. In this form-creation phase designers still
very much rely on traditional tools and media, such as felt pens,
paper, markers, foam, cutters etc. Although these lack processing
capabilities, they score high in terms of flexibility, agility and
expressiveness, thus not hampering the fluidness of the thought
process of the designer. Computer tools, on the other hand, although
potentially offering tremendous possibilities for generating and
manipulating design representations, tend to slow down the designer
in his creative process through their emphasis on rigid rules and
(sometimes unnecessary) precision.
This observation led to the belief that a better understanding
of the form-creation phase, with it’s characteristic techniques,
tools and physical environment, was needed to identify the requirements
computer tools should fulfill to successfully support the designer
in this phase. Using the method of Contextual Inquiry, a synthesis
of ethnographic, field research, and participatory design techniques,
two series of interviews with designers at their work place were
conducted. The statements, observations and remarks acquired in
these interviews were interpreted and processed into several areas
of interest, which, in turn, then structured and focused the second
series of interviews, which involved only professional industrial
designers and concentrated more specifically on the actual, visual
creation of product concepts.
Clustering and interpreting the data from these interviews
resulted in a set of seven design considerations regarding cognitive,
perceptual-motor and methodological aspects for designing a computer
environment to support conceptualizing.
1) Support Rapid and Rough Capturing of Ideas
All activities characteristic of the form-creation
phase, are based on the quick, rough and flexible externalization
and manipulation of simple shapes and images. Sketches are created
rapidly, without going into much detailing or evaluation. Rough
models, made of materials which just happened to be at hand, are
made to test out certain spatial arrangements or to explore certain
forms by tactile feel.
2) Afford a Personalized Environment
The subjects all work in an information-rich and highly
individual-oriented environment, which is expressed in the way they
organize their workplaces. Models, material samples, parts of products
and other interesting objects are being put on the desktop, arranged
in an apparently unorganized manner. Clippings from newspapers or
magazines are collected and stored or, together with old sketches,
jottings and doodles, hung on the walls. The ways in which the subjects
described their favorite pens, papers, materials or tools, suggests
a kind of ‘designer-tool intimacy’ that has been developed
through extensive and intensive use.
3) Use Rich Information Resources
Design is a visual task. This is not only expressed
in the many visual depictions designers make throughout the design
process, but also in the visual character of the information gathered
in the form-creation phase, as represented in the form of photographs,
product catalogues, glossy magazines, videos, slides etc. All subjects
reported the collection of these kind of visual references to be
a major activity. They browse through design magazines, go through
their collection of photographs, slides or old sketches, watch MTV
or visit museums, shops and exhibitions. Appealing images are cut
out and put into a special folder or pinned on the walls, thus becoming
a striking element in the work environment of the designer. Various
collected images and notes are combined into a collage or ‘atmospheric’
picture, to visualize the context of the future product, serving
as a source for new ideas as well as a means for evaluating them.
4) Enable High Level of Communicability
Although essentially the actual design task is done
by the individual designer, there is a considerable need to communicate
ideas, thoughts and views to others throughout the form-creation
phase. A number of meetings are held with the client to clarify
the initially vague project requirements or to discuss possible
concepts. During these meetings the designer presents his sketches,
slides, models or other representations of his work to the client.
When working in a team, sketches of generated ideas are shown to
other team members for comments, group meetings are held to brainstorm
on new ideas, with everyone sketching on one common paper or in
their private sketchbooks.
5) Support Individualistic Styles
Throughout their years of education and practice each
subject has developed his personal ‘design style’, which
is expressed in their sketching and presentation habits, their affinity
for certain tools and techniques, their preferences for certain
shapes and materials etc. This style makes their work stand out
form others and designers are therefore very keen on preserving
it. Some of our subjects expressed the fear that by using a computer
they would lose this ‘personal touch’, because they
would be limited by what the computer offers them. This fear has
turned out to be true today as many designers readily accept the
limitations of their computer software and adapt to them…rather
than the other way around.
6) Afford a Smooth Shifting of Activities
While conceptualizing the designer will regularly
shift his attention to different activities on more than one level,
sometimes without the designer being actually aware of it. Since
our subjects handled multiple projects, usually three to four, it
often happens that, while sketching ideas for a certain project,
ideas for another product come spontaneously into mind, which are
quickly captured on the current sheet of paper. When an idea can
not be sufficiently explored through sketching, the switch to making
a cardboard model can sometimes be made. This changing of activities
also involves movement: reaching out to grab a piece of paper, moving
one tool to replace it with another, changing from a sitting to
a standing position or going to a different place in the room.
7) Support Motor Skills
An interesting observation from both studies was that
almost all design activities are done using two hands, the non-dominant
hand being used for positioning and orientation while the tool used
for generating or modifying the design, is held in the dominant
hand. An other striking fact was that a number of activities, such
as collage making or modeling, were performed standing-up, using
tables, easels or walls. Probably this position gives designers
with a better overview and physical freedom, to easily compare or
dynamically arrange design materials. It allows designers to work
on a larger, often horizontal, surface and provides the ability
to easily move from one part of a project to another or from project
to project within the studio.
Pieces of card-board are combi-ned into very
simple mock-ups to get a feeling for spatial arrangements.
Designers have chosen a set of preferred tools and have developed
their skills in exploiting the particular strengths of these tools.
In their immediate vicinity many designers surround them-selves
with inspiring visuals, product samples or other collected objects.
Designers keep a rich set of visual resources,
invitingly and conveniently arranged for quick reference.
Presentations to clients or other designers,
using slide projectors or beamers, are milestones in the design
Cardboard displays involving human figures are created to communicate
the scale of a design.
A personal visuali-zation style makes a designer’s presentations
distinct from others.
A large desktop affords sufficient space to smoothly shift between
sketching, modeling, organizing and evaluating.
The computer environment leaves no space for any other activities.
Tools are arranged conveniently, showing their variety and applicability
at a single glance.