Manufacturing companies should take a look at beefing up their rapid prototyping capabilities as a way to thrive in the fast-paced supply chain for mobile phones, cameras and other electronic products, in the opinion of one prominent industrial designer.
Bill Moggridge, who designed the first laptop computer in 1981 and co-founded well-known product-development firm IDEO a decade later, said the ability to take ideas and quickly transform them into working prototypes can be crucial in helping firms innovate.
Moggridge spoke at the Business of Design Week conference, held Nov. 27 to Dec. 2 in Hong Kong, and in an interview at the event.
Moggridge addressed the conference more broadly on the topic of how ideas become products, but he said that the ability to develop prototypes could give firms in the supply chain advantages if it helps to speed product development for their customers.
For example, he said his Palo Alto, Calif.-based company's experience working with Kodak to develop an early digital camera illustrates the value of prototypes in selling an idea.
Designers at IDEO and Kodak were working on digital camera designs, but were having a hard time communicating what were then some new concepts of digital photography to some executives in Kodak.
But when the design team developed a mock-up of the camera, complete with plastic housing, that was able to take digital pictures, display them on a screen for review and allow them to be sent, a fuzzy concept became understood instantly.
``The interesting thing was, until they got to that point, the people inside Kodak were pretty disconnected from the design team,'' Moggridge said.
``Nobody got it, but once [the design team] had this prototype, they said, `Just try it, review the picture, and see what it's like to send it,' '' he said. ``Immediately [the executives] got it, they understood what the potential of digital cameras could be, just instantaneously because of this experience.''
Moggridge released his book, Designing Interactions, in October, exploring the concepts in more detail and looking at how IDEO's focus on prototypes and understanding how people use electronic devices has been a crucial element of the success of the 400-person firm.
While designers often are focused on the bigger picture of how devices are used and the interactions people have with them, having the manufacturing community do more to help prototype them would be valuable, said Moggridge.
``If you think about moving from an innovative concept to a finely finished, mass-produced object in plastic, there is room for more steps than is currently conventional,'' he said. ``If the people in between could figure out how to enable those steps, that would be wonderful.''