End of the day, and I'm back from the beach, having skipped the Spanish-only sessions. Next up is Allan Ball of Allan Ball Industrial Design, Boston USA. He introduced in Spanish, but presents in English. I had met him the previous evening during the rooftop dinner (complete with fireworks from a passing schooner). He specializes in the industrial design of small appliances, computers, and so on. Using Rhino, 'natch.
Mr Ball: "Right now ADIB has one employee, me. Sometimes I bring my dog to work. I am familiar with the headaches that come from managing a large group. We had to have a firm large enough to afford the CAD tools, like Pro/E at $30,000 for the software and another $30,000 for hardware. I had to mortgage my house. I now have a seat of Rhino and a seat of SolidWorks with the same capabilities on a laptop.
"All the people who used to work for me are not out of work. They are doing the same thing, working for themselves in the same field. The challenge for you is to imagine the design you want to do, and then make it happen," he tells the 400 teen-aged designers.
He showed some of his works, and then did four case studies. He's designed products for Black&Decker, including a coffee maker he designed ten years ago that's sold a million. There's a "flashleash," a dog leash with a built-in flashlight. He is most proud of the work he did for Symbol scanners. Going through Mexican immigration, he recognized the official's scanner as one he designed. For Brita, he designed their largest water filter-pitcher that is narrow enough to fit a fridge door, and able to pour water in a predictable manner -- this involved studying spout dynamics. Right now, Cuisinart is the client who keeps him the busiest.
Starting new projects he gets a design brief from the client with a bullet list of features. Sometimes it's as simple as, "our toaster looks old, we need a new look." Other times the list is as detailed as them spec'ing the unit's operation, price, and size to him.
He looks at competitive products to check out their advantages and shortcomings, as well as patents owned by the client and competitors.
The next step is take apart competitor products to see how they work -- or don't. In Rhino or Sketchup, he starts massing studies, looking at relationships between internal parts, such as the motor and gear train. He generates dozens of sample designs, and then narrows the choices down to a couple (see fig below).
He works back and forth with the client, who provides feedback on the designs. Sometimes he feels the client shouldn't be telling him what to do, but he puts aside his ego. Which works, because he thinks clients like him since he lets them give their voice.
He soon found that 2D sketches weren't good enough to figure out how the product's handle should look and fit the hand. So the first prototypes are machined with many holes for fitting flexible handles. He then tries all kinds of handle shapes and positions. By holding the prototype in his hand, he quickly tells which handles are too large or awkward in real life. He eventually finds a one-handed handle that holds the unit at an angle, allowing the other hand to feed food into the processor.
With the handle fixed, the next stage is to design the look of the unit; it needs to look good enough to sit on the kitchen counter. He now uses Alias SketchBook Pro with a 21" Cintiq digitizer (expensive!) to replace sketching on translucent paper -- which tended to overfill his garbage cans.
With the sketching completed, the product is designed in Rhino, which then generates foam models. The concern at this point is the size of the unit, because it needs a powerful 220W motor. He got final approval from the client after photographing the foam models, and then bringing them into Photoshop to tweak the look.
The product is completed and is now selling for $100 -- double the target price, but "no one is complaining."