How do you prototype?

I’ve been in my new role as an industrial designer for a furniture company since January and now have a product ready to start prototyping. As it’s furniture I want to get my proportions right, and I haven’t done much prototyping for a few years.

I just wanted to ask what materials and methods people are using for prototyping? (cardboard, foam board, foam blocks, balsa, dowel etc…) and what peoples setups are. Did you build your own foam cutter or buy one off the shelf? Do you have a specific prototyping area, and if so, what does it look like and what tools do you use?

At my company, they haven’t had a trained industrial designer before so they are not very familiar with some of the processes I’d use. I do have the advantage of having a huge amount of tools at my disposal from bandsaws to cnc nesting routers.

During school I did a furniture project under the guidance of a designer called Bethan Gray. She has had an amazing career in the UK and is known as one of our leading designers.

This may ruffle a few feathers but her advice was simply to use CAD for your prototypes. You can assess scale and aesthetic with a few clicks before you spend hours with foam, card and even wood.

I spent the entire weekend making a full scale table that didn’t turn out how I had hoped before she gave me that piece of advice. From that point on I used Rhino to prototype and only made another scale model out of wood before I was ready to sign the design off.

You might find it streamlines your process to mix digital methods with traditional ones. Hope that helps!

Ruffled. Just looked up her work to see. I can see how structural relationship aesthetics in her designs could be worked out in CAD first. Human scale would be harder to evaluate on a screen.

A mixture of CAD and fast rough prototypes is the best mix for me.