3D Mock-ups?

Okay, so I know this may seem like a very odd question to ask, so sorry about that.

I’m a freshman in college and I’m going to be transferring colleges to get my degree in Industrial Design (hopefully) and I’ve done my fair share of product design in the past, but mainly only drawings and sketches of design. I’ve never gotten to actually modeling something or creating a 3D mock-up.

My question is: "How do you make a physical mock-up of what you have planned? What material do you use and how do you go about doing so? Also, any Windows software you guys believe is the best for creating digital versions of the designs?

I’m sorry if this is a really stupid question but I’ve just been wondering. Thank you!

There is no 1 answer, all depends on what scale and what end-product you’re trying to mock up; and what budget and time as well.

For the products I focus on I focus on small handheld products. Generally cell phones or MP3 players. I would say I’d be on a somewhat tight budget since I’m in college, money is tight for me there.

First, you learn by experimenting with different materials, using different processes to manipulate those materials. Once you’ve experience each individual material’s and process’s limitations, you’ll understand which combination will work best to create the 3D mockup that you’re aiming for. It takes time and practice, but that is what is necessary.

We had “Model Shop” in our ID program, where we learned the vacuum former, 3-axis mill, metal lathe, wood lathe, band saw, various sanding machines (your new friends), roto-molder, and many other processes. After completing that, I opted for an elective, “Advanced Model Shop” where the materials and processes got much more complicated. These classes were a lot of fun, and allowed me to create realistic quality 3D mockups in all of my remaining ID studio courses.

Oh, and always wear your safety glasses.

This may sound flippant, but cardboard and a sharp knife and adhesive will make some amazing mockups.

Recently Nintendo designers use one internally to proof a concept.

Konstantin Grcic uses the same technique to build larger mockups.

Use whatever you have at your disposal is the right answer.

If you have a shop at school, learn what each tool does and when you’d need to use it. Most school ID programs should have some type of prototyping capabilities unless it’s a very young program or small school that doesn’t have the funding.

When I was in school we had everything from laser cutters that could slice you sheet material, a full wood/metal shop that you could fab larger designs like furniture, a plastic shop for carving foam/thermoforming plastic, and eventually they got the 3D printer working shortly after graduation. Even had a few concrete workshops in there for good measure (I made a great set of pencil holders…never fell over).

Part of design school is learning how materials behave, what your design intent is, and what the best method and material of building that item will be. And the reason you need to learn that skill is because once you graduate you’re going to need to be able to say “hey, we could make this out of X material using Y process” if you aren’t good at that, you’ll be one of the dunce kids in the back saying “let’s make it out of CNC aluminum and Carbon fiber even though it needs to cost $10”

So far I have used cardboard, foamcore, pink foam wood and wire and paper to make mockups. One of my instructors always told us to go get materials for exploratory prototypes out of the trash; cardboard, cups, bottles, etc. Some materials are better at informing your design as you start creating them, serving as a kind of formative feasibility investigation.

I recently grabbed “Prototyping and Modelmaking for Product Design” and found it to be a good collection of ideas for prototyping. I never knew that foamcore could look so nice!

Keep the fidelity in mind. Is this for you, your design collegues or the big boss/client? Just like sketching, you need to deliver the message in a way that the audience understands.

I’m still getting started too, but having spent a fair bit of time working on an older car and have become overly familiar with foam, automotive body filler, and especially… sandpaper.

For those of you with more experience how have approached building a material library/sense?

Jesse, I’ve also purchased the book, it’s picture heavy and one of my better purchases of the year.
Loved seeing the use of Lego blocks for building a mold box.

For me, it’s not “real” until its in hard 3d and preferably full scale. Its far to easy to grab a perspective that “looks good” and ignores the nasty angles. Even a spin around “3d” image is a illusion, you need to be able to “feel it” sense its mass its presence. I guess it’s a sculptural thing, where the prime form has a lot of say as to the products feel. I get so much out of a full scale mockup, from its feel to potential problem areas of construction. It helps that I can whip out a full scale of anything up to the size of a refrigerator in a few hours, with nothing more than hand tools and whats lying around. If you have access to ultra high end VR that the aerospace and auto companies use that changes things but even that noting is quite like full scale mockup in hard materials.

Nothing wrong with found objects to speed up the mockup, need a ring, bottom of a can of soda, need a cool curve, look around find a plastic jug and your hot gun and bang it out. Two things, to remember when in doubt paint the whole thing white, noting tells the truth of the form like a monochromatic white paint job. The other thing, do it fast, so you are NOT reticent about chopping it up to make changes.

There could be different levels of model prototyping as well just like drawing; quick 1 minute sketch to hour+ hand rendering in full color. If time/budget allows, I could go through 6+ models in various scale and materials before making the 1st full scale prototype for a chair. From 1/8 scale foam core, to full scale cardboard, to full scale wood mockups. Once I get the proportions figured out then I make the 1st trial in wood with proper joints, etc. For packaging I’d make (depending on the size) various 1/2 scale paper models, then 1/2 cardboard, then once satisfied with the design make full scale cardboard before sending the files to the factory for factory-finished prototypes.

The 1st model should be quick, fast, and inexpensive; don’t spend too much time as you will find refinements needed. Once you feel comfortable enough on your design then make the next models with more effort and better materials. I always use 3d CAD to help with all stages of the process as well; though personal preferences will change for everyone on their workflow.