The joys of the workshop !

This is a direct response to the “fancy renders” thread.

At the very beginning of this year I happened to have an urgent project on my desk.
A customer of ours needs a small tweak to an existing design, but needs it fast.
10.000 pieces delivered in March.

How do you approach a task like that?

1: Scribble
2: CAD
3. Render
4. Rapid Prototyping
5. Redo Loop: 2 - 4
6. Production molds.

Well. I didn’t.

After scribbling I went into the workshop, that we happen to have in the cellar, still.
After a late nighter with the bandsaw and sanding my understanding of the project and
the form had progressed a lot.
I really feel that those tools in my hand give me a feedback that helps shaping the form.

CAD doesn’t do that.

Either way. The next step was CAD and getting RP Models done, as the hardfoam models are
unable to take any stress or loads. But those CAD models were not for form finding. They were
for the testing of mechanical functions and the first customer presentation.

Those models helped selling the project, but at the same time blocked the customers vision,
as he assumed the gig was already “done”. Fancy renders often do the same. They lead the
none designer to the assumption, that the half bake is the already the bread.

In fact we are within the second redo loop right now.

But what I am trying to get across here:
“How can a design or developement agency even exist without a workshop?”
I couldn’t.


But you can model something, 3D print it and make tweaks from there. You can do several options with minor changes and print them all at once.
Sometimes making handmade models is the best way to go, sometimes it’s not. Every project is unique and so every solution needs to be unique. If you can do both then you’re better off as a designer.

mrt: 3D printing compared to model making is like renders compared to sketches.

A render or 3D print is a very precise, high resolution presentation. They also take some time (hours to days). Sketches and model making can be low resolution real-time exploration. They can take very little time (minutes to hours). The nice thing with sketches and models is that one can start with some low resolution to understand the general forms and do some easy tests & then scale them up to a high res presentation quality.

Which is why I said they both have their place depending on the situation. Sketching is important, quick models are important, 3D model development is important… If I had an existing project that needed to be tweaked, I would not always feel the need to go back to square 1. If I was doing an all new project then I would want to take all the steps.
I just feel on these forums sometimes it becomes sketching vs. CAD, foam vs. rapid prototype. They are all a means to an end.

Well I clearly stated, that my process includes hand made models and CAD and rapid prototyping.
I do fear the extinction of the workshop in design business. And I moan it.
Plus I don’t see much value in fancy renders that come out of detailed CAD work in an early phase of a project.
In reality I have done high end photorealistic render in projects despite rapid prototyping being a possibility.
Sometimes its useful when “money shots” of some product are needed for the catalogue before the molds
are ready and it might be easier than setting up a real photo shoot with models.

But within the form finding phase it doesn’t do anything for me. Sweating in the workshop does.


P.S.: Different designers might have different techniques…

+1 for the workshop… and it doesn’t have to be all that fancy. We mostly get by with a band saw and a few sanders… well and a CNC and 3D printer…

I don’t think it is about either or (as has been stated) but more of an AND. I feel that a lot of studios toyed with getting rid of workshops, but I feel that there value is again being rediscovered… even without a shop, you can learn a lot with some foam core and an exacto… I really like Tarngerine’s mock-ups here:

Thanks for the shout-out, Michael.

I can’t do any physical design without making something with my hands. While I know some people can just feel out the forms in Rhino, I need to get a piece of foam to model, even if it’s just with an Olfa and sandpaper above a trash can in studio.

I’ve visited several studios over the past few years, and every time they say they no longer have a shop and just have a 3D printer, a little bit of me dies. Rapid prototyping with CAD and a printer is completely different from foam, especially if it’s an ABS printer where making quick sands and cuts by hand is virtually impossible. When you start in CAD, you get caught up in unnecessary (at the initial stage, anyway) details.

Moi, right on. My approach in such a situation is to take a few photos of the product, gray them out to 25% and sketch over the top to get a direction. Then move to some kind, any kind of quick mockup.

For pure expression in exploring a form, clay. Worked all this week on some clay models at 1:1 scale. There is no comparison to working on screen. I know the nurb surface approaches to building an object in CAD, with clay there are none.

physical model is important, but instead on working model on hard material ( wood,etc) I mostly work on foam and cardboard since all i need is a cutter, tape and glue ( i know its not the best for certain kind of model shape :slight_smile: )
in my personal opinion when I build my model using my hand, I can feel and understand my form better rather when its 3d printed cause I know the step by step on how the form is made so I have a better understanding in the end

Now that there are hi fidelity CAD renders it really changes the nature of the model. Many times very polished physical models took priority over the kinds of rough exploration sketch models like the one’s Julius did in his project. I feel that now the workshop can be more about learning and exploring… models like these can tell you a lot:

Ugh…Do we really need another thread that starts with CAD and render bashing? Congrats on your ability to whittle. If it’s a foam model you want, I’ll take one of these:

This way if I need to make a few small changes I can tweak my file, rip another model and go home instead of spending another late night with the bandsaw trying in vain to replicate details I did by hand the first time around.

Sketches, CAD, renders, models, RP’s…All of these are good things. How, when and why you use them will vary.

+1 on the workshop. I love making mock-ups, test models and prototypes by hand.
It gives a much better and more personal feeling of the product and proportions.
CAD and renders are awesome too but I don`t like to limit myself to these only (altough I sometimes have to).

Over the last 4 years I have added most of the basic power tools (band-, table-, jigsaw, some grinders, drill press etc.) to my personal workshop and I believe these help a lot with the design process. When I`ve been doing stuff on paper/pc only for over a month I just have to make something by hand for a change.

Do you see the irony?

In 20 years I have never seen one without a shop. Have you?

Sketch models are very valuable, no doubt. I value functional prototypes in the hands of the customer more though. My expertise is OK, their wants and needs drive the product.

In 20 years I have never seen one without a shop. Have you?

More than one in the last couple of years.
I have no problem with the functional model for the customer not cumming
out of the workshop. But I have a problem with the functional model to pop
out without ever having been in the workshop.

Why do you think it is “hands on experience” ?


I was a summer-hire pattern maker for a foundry pattern shop for two summers; surrounded by old-school master wood workers; the ultimate shop experience.

My first corporate ID gig was as a junior designer with the Arvin Industries Consumer Electronic Division (long since gone away). My whole day was usually spent feeding a room full of professional model makers with documentation; everything was to print, no short-cuts. These guys ( I don’t any of them were under fifty years old) even made their own “brushed stainless” in-house.

I learned so much from those guys; machine-tool operation, fit, finish, tolerances (actual vs. perceived), time-scheduling, RTV mold making and casting, silk-screening… it was a great “first job”.

pending another late night with the bandsaw trying in vain to replicate details I did by hand the first time around.

So, with limited, hands-on, modeling experience, you’ll probably never know what the technical term is for the intersection of three different radii. It’s called a sonuvabitch. :wink:

:slight_smile: It was a smart ass comment, sure. But I bristle when I see another “fancy render” and “CAD can’t do this” posting. I can work a power tool as good as the next guy and I’ve built plenty of models and prototypes. There is certainly plenty to be learned along the way and yes you can “connect” to the object I suppose, but let’s not discount the benefits of a CAD package in the same scenario.

Here’s what I like about proving and exploring form in CAD (yes, it can be practical to do this):

Precision: This is the most important element for me. If I have to fit two AAA batteries and a circuit board into the item I have the ability to work that information right into the model. I won’t be left scrambling around trying to fix a mistake later.
Parametric Models: " It’s not how fast can you model something, it’s how fast can you change it twenty times?" This was a quote from my CAD instructor and it’s the truth. People seem to think that CAD modeling is a slow and uncreative process. This is simply false. I can model something quickly, change it over and over without rebuilding it, and save multiple versions for evaluation. I’m always in the process of perfecting my shape until I’m happy with it.

Rapid Prototyping: Did you see those Roland machines in the link I posted? Subtractive prototyping! How cool is that? Instead of 3D printing that uses an expensive substrate these machines let you use non proprietary materials like foam and wood. This means RP’s that are a fraction of the price that other systems offer. You would have to be one seriously talented sculptor to match everything a computer can do!

Streamlining: OK, so you are happy with the model you carved by hand. Now what? Are you going to send your only model to a machine shop overseas? Of course you won’t, so now you either need to 3D scan it and fix all the surface irregularities or you have to 3D model it from scratch (which you could have done in the first place). If you aren’t the person doing the CAD work then you have to put your faith in someone else to get your form right (yikes). However, if the 3D model I have been using the whole time is approved, I can email it to an engineering department or a vendor and get the process started immediately (that’s the best part really).

So sure, getting your hands dirty is great and all, but let’s not forget that things like RP machines and CAD packages exist purely because they can SAVE time and money in the long run. No one would be buying and using them if that wasn’t the case.

What a long rant. What are you on to ? Nobody is going to ban CAD from Design.
have you ever seen a studio without CAD hub in the last 15 years?


We’re down to 1 cad monkey. When he quits or retires, we will have zero.

Despite the benefits of CAD, it’s always nice to carve some foam mock-ups to see how they feel in your hand. I’ve used a NextEngine scanner which you can buy for $3,ooo to import the surfaces to SolidWorks, it works wonderfully!