Threedimensional model

From WikID

What are threedimensional models?

A three-dimensional model is a physical manifestation of a product idea. It is a hand-built physical model that represents a mass-manufactured product. In the design process, three-dimensional models are used to express, visualise and materialise product ideas and concepts. Three-dimensional models are also called prototypes: the word prototype comes from the Latin words proto, meaning original, and typus, meaning form or model. Thus, a prototype is an original form, a first-of-its-kind model.

Prototypes offer more than drawings. Prototypes are tangible, three-dimensional forms; they can be picked up, turned over and looked at from different points of view as opposed to drawings. With prototypes, tests and measurements can be carried out to verify whether a particular solution or solution principle works. And prototypes are effective tools to communicate product ideas and concepts. Building prototypes is a form of visualising the final product form. It is a technique just like sketching, making final drawings, photography or filming. In that sense, prototypes are tools that serve the design process. More specifically, prototypes serve the form-giving process in designing. In the practice of design, prototypes are used as important steps in the product development process. Prototypes serve the industry to test product aspects, change constructions and details, and to reach consensus within the company on the final form.

In mass production, prototypes are also used to test functionality and ergonomics. Changes that need to be made after the production preparation are often expensive and time-consuming. The final prototype thus serves for the preparation and planning of production. The first phase in the production process is called the null series: these first products (still a sort of prototypes) are used to test the production process.

Prototypes are used in the generation of ideas and concepts for three reasons:

  1. Generating and developing ideas and concepts
  2. Communicating ideas and concepts in design teams
  3. Testing and verifying ideas, concepts and solutions principles.

Prototypes for generating and developing ideas and concept


Figure 1: Sketch model.

Sketchmodels are types of prototypes that are used frequently in the phase of generating ideas and concepts. Simple materials are used, such as paper, cardboard, foam, wood, adhesives, wire and solder. Sketchmodels are used to visualise early ideas and to develop those early ideas into better ideas and concepts. Often you see an iterative process between sketch­ing, making sketchmodels, drawing, and making a second generation of sketchmodels. Sketchmodels are tools to visualise ideas.

Proof of concept model

Figure 2: Proof of concept model of FUMO.

Proof of concept prototypes are used to verify whether certain technical principles works. Materials such as technical lego, meccannoo or Fisher Techniek (prototype material) can be used. Proof of concept prototypes are simplifications; often details are left out, and only rudimentary forms and working principles are built. Proof of concept prototypes are also called FUMO’s: Functional Models. Based on the moment in the idea generation the level of detail is determined and choice of materials. In the beginning of idea generation, prototypes are often built from paper, cardboard and foam. At the end of idea gen­eration, prototypes of the concepts are made from foam, wood and metal.


Figure 3: Dummy (mockup or VIMO).

A dummy (mockup) is a 1:1 scalemodel of the product idea. A dummy is a prototype that only has the external characteristics of the product idea, and not the technical working principles. A dummy is a prototype that is often built at the end of the idea generation, to visualise and present final concepts. A dummy is also called a VIMO: a Visual Model.

Detail model

A detail model is used in the concept generation phase to show particular details, of the concept. A detail model is much like a dummy; both are 1:1 scale with predominantly external characteristics of high quality. A detail model can also have some limited functionality.

Final model

Figure 4: Final prototype.

A final model often concludes the concept generation phase. The final model is a prototype that has a high qual­ity look, built from wood, metal or plastic, with real buttons and high quality paint or finishing. The final model might also include some of the technical working principles.

Prototypes to communicate ideas and concept in design teams

Prototypes are effective tools for communication purposes. When working in a team, prototypes help in building a shared un­derstanding of the design problem and the solutions (ideas and concepts). Sketchmodels with increasing levels of detail help the development of product ideas and concepts within the team.

For communication of ideas to parties outside of the design process (for example stakeholders involved), prototypes are also a powerful tool. Often a dummy or a final model is used to present a product idea or product concept. Knowing the audience to whom you’re presenting is important though, in order to present an appropriate prototype built from the right materials and with the right techniques.

Prototypes to test and verify ideas, concept and solution principles

Figure 5: Model to test use.

Prototypes also serve the purpose of testing and verifying ideas, concept or solution principles (see also Evaluation of product features). There are generally three types of tests for which prototypes are used:

  1. Testing technical – functional characteristics of a product idea. Often a sketchmodel is used with some working functionality, or functioning technical principle, based on the goals of the test.
  2. Testing form characteristics. Often a detail model is used for judging user preference.
  3. Testing usability characteristics. Often a final, working model is used for testing the intended usability of a product concept.

When can you use threedimensional models?

Prototypes can be used throughout the conceptual design process. In the beginning of idea generation various types of sketch­models are used. During idea generation a dummy or detail models are used, and the concept generation phase is often ended with a final model.

How to use threedimensional models?


Starting points

The starting point of building models can be a (mental) sketch of a product idea (sketchmodel) or detailed drawings and a build­ing plan (final model).

Expected outcome

The outcome of building model are three dimensional, tangible models of an idea, concept or solution principle.

Possible procedure

  1. Threedimensional model building starts with some notion of an idea, concept or solution principle.
  2. Based on the purpose of the model, some level of detail has to be determined prior to collecting materials, devising a plan and building the model. Simple sketchmodels at the beginning of idea generation only need a simple sketch, while final models (final prototypes) need a detailed plan of how to build the model.
  3. Collect the appropriate materials, such as paper, cardboard, wood, foam, adhesives, plactics, metals, wire, and paint.
  4. Devise a plan for building the model. For a simple sketchmodel, early idea sketches are often enough. For detailed or final pro­totypes detailed drawing including dimensions are necessary.
  5. Build the prototype.

Tips and Tricks

  • Look for examples of what different sketch models can look like. Sketch models as simple as paper and glue are often very helpful in the beginning of the idea generation. Try this yourself!
  • Many examples can be found of final models, or detailed models.
  • Use the expertise of the people working in model workshops.
  • Select your tools for model making well

References and Further Reading

  • Roozenburg, N.F.M. and Eekels, J. (1995) Product Design: Fundamentals and Methods, Utrecht: Lemma.
  • Roozenburg, N. and Eekels, J. (1998, 2nd ed.) Product Ontwerpen: Structuur en Methoden, Utrecht: Lemma.

Figure 6: Select your tools for model making well
Figure 7: Building a foam model


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