11 June 2010

Too much R&D?

Speaker: Dr Stuart Brown, University of Dundee : Prototyping for High Value, Time Poor Users

From hearing an artist talk, to the views of a mechanical engineer, Dr Stuart Brown leader of the Surgical Technology Group, an R&D group at the University of Dundee, closed the morning session with his take on the ‘value of prototyping.’

Prototypers can spend years investing (both time and financially) designing a product that in 20 years time can become cheap and everyone has one…indeed I can’t believe the number of people who have an i-phone. Is this something we should get frustrated about or is it just the way of the world?

When I was growing up I remember my mum used to spend two hours cooking up a fresh curry, only for it to be gobbled up by the family in five minutes. It’s a fact of life that research and making (and cooking!) takes ages and when you get to the end product all that gets forgotten. Chicks on Speed’s guitar stiletto is another example, when you see it on display at DCA, you could never imagine the process that went into making in, the fact Alex explained the ‘tale’, makes seeing the shoe in real life so much more impressive.

But can we keep going this way? Isn’t that why he have computers these days to make the design process quicker/easier and cheaper? Would digital prototypes suit a client’s needs or is a physical product still expected?
Stuart put forward some of his opinions with reference to the design process of tools in the ‘surgical’ industry.

Clearly there are benefits to the technical approach – its quick, does the job and adds some prestige. So why aren’t we doing everything by computer instead of clay? Doesn’t real life need things to be done the real way? As we heard yesterday in the aerospace world, the construction of lifesize prototypes are still necessary in that industry.

One of the points that Stuart raised was that he is required to make high value products but because his clients (top surgeons) are time poor, they aren’t always available to get involved in the collaborative process prototyping requires, and that’s where the problem lies. This led him to talk about ‘abstract prototyping’.

Prototypes are vehicles of concept, and to show someone your concept you need to give them some sort of visual aid, whether that’s a physical object or virtual construction. The ‘debate’ itself is not one that was ‘solved’ in the talk but it’s certainly something for us to think about. My own interpretation is that you need to adapt your prototyping to each situation, I’ve never been a fan of spending ages and ages in R&D but clearly it’s vital in some industries and as makers/designers/artists etc, we should be respectful of that – there are always things to be learned from the way other people do things.

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