The second part of this series of posts describes the process of designing a new mouse to be modelled in SketchUp. Although I’m dividing the exercise of learning, designing and modelling into three posts, the reality was that the three were intricately intertwined. Learning SketchUp was an ongoing process right up to the end of the exercise, when trials had to be made to determine the best method of exporting the model to the Objet Connex500 machine which was used to produce the part. The limitations of the software also had a profound effect on the actual design concept, which changed and developed as I started to understand the capabilities of SketchUp better. For a significant part of the design phase there was also a continuous back-and-forth ‘conversation’ between my paper-based sketch designs and the computer-based CAD model designs, as concepts were tested to determine whether their modelling within SketchUp was actually possible.
Before I start, I should say something about the way in which the design phase was conducted. Because this research forms part of my PhD, the design work that I do will be looked at and interrogated in a way that’s very different to the way it’s used in my professional work. I very rarely allow clients to see my ‘raw’ sketches for example, and where I do they will have been edited and put into a ‘logical’ presentation. As a rule clients aren’t particularly bothered about all the experiments and dead-ends that form part of the design process; they want to know about proposal and the thinking behind it. In an academic research context though, the requirements of what’s generally known as practice based research are different. One of the hardest things I’ve had to come to terms with during this stage of the PhD is that, central to the viability of practice-based design research as a methodology, is the understanding that a PhD is granted on the basis of the quality of research, rather than the quality of design. That’s not to say that any design work undertaken can be of sub-standard quality, but rather that it has to be planned, undertaken, documented and analysed with the same degree of rigour employed by more conventional methodologies. This conscientiousness is probably the fundamental difference between practice-based design research and the practice of design itself, where intuition, tacit knowledge and undocumented approaches are common, not to mention the use of primarily visual, rather than written, forms of communication.