Journey of an Architect is a blog started by Tim Ung to document his journey to design 30 projects by the age of 30 (May 2020). His posts focus on his design process, thoughts, struggles, and successes throughout his journey.

Why Prototyping is Important

Why Prototyping is Important

No matter how hard we try to design something perfectly, there are always so many factors that will affect the final outcome of our projects. Therefore, it’s important that we take a moment to sketch, talk, and make prototypes of our designs to ensure that it meets its functional and aesthetic requirements. Through this process, we often realize that we forgot an important element and made minor errors that need to be corrected. Here’s what I learned from prototyping my first leather iPad sleeve.

Prototyping can be done in many ways

When we’re ready to make study models and prototypes of our projects, we can either work digitally or physically by creating models to analyze. In architecture, many designers prefer to work digitally where we develop building information models or conceptual masses that can be refined and studied through a screen or augmented reality. In other fields like product design, developing a physical prototype of the product is typically the preferred method because it allows the designer(s) to analyze the material and design as it was envisioned.

Expecting Errors

For me, the hardest part of developing a prototype of any project is the errors that we didn’t foresee when designing the project. This week, as I was developing the design and first prototype of the leather iPad sleeve, I thought I included all of the necessary tolerances for the iPad to fit within the case. It turns out that I designed the perfect tolerances, but forgot to take into account the minimal amount of area lost from the stitching.

In other words, my first leather iPad sleeve prototype that took over 4 hours to make by hand ended up being too small to fit my iPad with its Otterbox case. Without this case, the iPad would be able to fit in the sleeve, but that wasn’t my design intent. After working so hard on this prototype, I expected that some errors would be made, but as always, this was the one that I thought was covered.

Overcoming Sadness from the Initial Prototypes

Although no one wants to accept that their design for the initial prototype didn’t work as expected, it’s something that every designer eventually learns to overcome. In my case, I develop my prototypes with the expectation that there will be many necessary modifications to make it a success. This way, I can anticipate that there will be errors that were unaccounted for in the design and I could continue moving forward without feeling as if my pursuits are a lost cause.

This is an important point that every designer needs to learn because it’s often thought of as a failure that instills a sense of worthlessness and doubt. Being able to look at our initial prototypes with an analytical eye and criticize our designs to make the next one better will eventually offer a fulfilling feeling and outcome to the designer. Never be afraid of creating prototypes and always expect that there will be something that needs to be refined.

Making a List of my iPad Sleeve’s Modifications

Once I completed my first leather iPad sleeve, I immediately found several design aspects that I would change. In fact, I decided to start a list of all the things that I needed to refine in the next iteration of the product so that I wouldn’t forget. I switched my designer hat to my critical analysis hat and gathered my thoughts in my tiny sketchbook.

First, the pencil slot needed to be enlarged by at least ½ inch so that the Apple Pencil would actually fit. Second, the width of the entire design needed to be enlarged by at least 1 inch so that the iPad would slide into the sleeve with its Otterbox Defender case on. Third, I had an additional stitch hole at the bottom corners of the iPad sleeve, which were unnecessary and created an awkward stitching pattern. Fourth, the button receiver was placed too close to the pocket, so it’s actually partially hidden behind the pockets. Lastly, I wanted to explore a different cover option for the sleeve because the piece that folds over was constantly pulling back because it wasn’t molded into its final form.

Although some of the items on this list seem very critical and as if it would make any designer sad about their work, I was excited and happy to have made this list because it allowed me to figure out how to improve this product for the next iteration. I also love practicing leather making techniques, so I didn’t view making the second prototype as a waste of time.

Conclusion

Oftentimes, it’s difficult for designers to look at their own work and criticize themselves for any minor errors and things that could’ve been done a little better than before. Some designers have had to redesign their projects or redo their work time and time again, which leads to the fear of self-reflection and criticism. Fortunately, I welcome feedback and I’m always looking for ways to improve my design abilities. Working on prototypes allows me to get immediate feedback and brainstorm ideas for how the next project can be designed better than the last one.

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