The power of the presence of the product in the technical workplace
We've had the pleasure of several consulting engagements inside the design studios of the American car companies. We are there to support the quest for efficiency and productivity as well as to shape the optimum environment for vehicle design.
In these engagements, there is always an interest in the applications of the latest digital technologies for rendering, modeling, and evaluating form, line and surface in the process of bringing an imagined product to life. Each of these technologies, as is appropriate, finds its way into the studio and then either shapes or is shaped by the culture of the company and brand, the processes of design and development, and the people who come together around the program.
While these technologies have replaced the plastic curves, the airbrushes, the pinups and other artifacts of the mid-century modern studio, they have not fully replaced one of the core crafts of vehicle design – the clay model.
It is absolutely fascinating to witness the flow of design in the hush of the studio as "clays" are developed first at scale and then into full size models. It is enlightening to watch a designer place a line of tape on a clay model, stand back to evaluate it, remove it and place another tape on the model, repeatedly seeking the right line. Then the sculptor moves in to reshape the clay to respond to the eye of the designer.
In the meantime, almost silently, other clays are being milled right there on the floor. Sitting on steel bedplates, the milling machine, a robot of sorts, moves back and forth over the roughly shaped model to carve a form that had first been developed in the computer. The designer and sculptor will move in later, after this first shape has been evaluated, to refine curve and line into a final product commitment.
Models have disappeared from many architects' studios, as the atmospherics of computer rendering and animation necessarily stand in for the scale of the corporate campus and the urban high rise. Rapid prototyping from found materials and 3D printing have taken over the studios of consumer products companies. This reliance on the eye and on the hand seems to have its last prominent – and essential – place in the auto studio. Witnessing the effectiveness of the process and recognizing the value of the continued investment in these models is why we assert the power of the presence of the product in The New Technical Workplace©.