Thursday, February 5, 2015

Raygun III

Sorry for talking out the design process here. Usually I do it in a Scrivener document (makes a pretty handy framework for putting together index-card like threads of research and enquiry. The threading could be better, though).

Yes, I do go through this kind of process for everything I design. I'm not that smart. I have to work my way through instead of depending on that flash of inspiration.

But I believe in the importance of the design process. I've seen lots of lovely designs that are internally consistent and well executed but end up being inappropriate for the application. Or, at a step further removed, something like a set design which suits the play and the production and complements the costumes...but is too expensive for the company that's putting on the show.

It is very, very hard to recognize when you are putting boxes around your design process. When you allow yourself to be misled into taking an assumption or accident of process into an established framework for further design.

Thus, brainstorming, white-boarding, free-forming. Spending only enough time developing any specific idea to see where it will lead, then documenting it enough to pick up that thread later if needed before moving on to something different.

It also helps a lot to sleep on them. To let ideas sit for a little, then come back with fresh eyes. All in all, the most important (and sometimes the longest) part of the design process is the one from which the least visible outward progress is seen.

It also means one of the necessary skills is meta meta analysis; to realize when you've reached the point of diminishing returns (or your Gannt is showing the worst stack of dependencies reaches much too close to the deliverable date), and it is time to stop planning and start bending metal.

(Oh, yeah, and none of this thinking is original. In fact, there's a whole language of design out there that I wish I knew more of.)

My sleep-on it insights of today is that this design wants to be original. Not in concept or look, but in form; not shapes that are already out there, whether in full-blown form or in the form of toys or housewares that can easily be modified. This is for a family member, and she should be able to point at it as a unique creation. So once again I am led to fabrication or sculpting as the primary core.

This also means de-emphasizing reproducibility as a desired goal of the fabrication processes. Probably not going to be designed around molding, for instance.

Related to that, I want to show off. So fine surface finish. But also, some impetus towards getting effects that either do not seem possible or really are not possible with cardboard and poster paint.

Fold in one more aspect. I want to do what is fun. Fun includes both getting to use developed skills and trying out new techniques. But I also am paying for TechShop access, and there are several good reasons to want to show off what is possible with the kinds of tools that makes available. If nothing else, opening the eyes of potential future clients beyond the expectations of plywood-and-rattle-can construction.

(Not that there is anything wrong with plywood -- rather, MDF -- and rattle cans! They can and do get results a lot more professional than an outsider might expect.)

Also in the background, I have spent a fair amount of time developing the electronics knowledge and infrastructure to do interesting lighting and animation effects. And, as usual, there's techniques and ideas I've been meaning to try out some time; this project could be an excuse. As I said last post, this is also a good project in that I can let the needs of the electronics dictate more of the outward form than I might be able to in other kinds of props.

Balance all of this against what I can afford -- and what she can afford -- in terms of material and time. So a typical multi-variable problem. But I think it is now parameterized enough so I can move on to developing specific ideas to the point where they can be tested against the above requirements.

I've got three concepts now that are ready to move into trial development:

1) Zeppelin. After a little back-and-forth, currently conceived as a mono-body sculptural piece with fins and nozzle to be added. I have a number of possible methods to sculpt a body -- including something I'd love to try, which is thin foam CAD sliced -- but not sure of the approach to get a strong and stable shell of reasonable weight. It also is only suited for relatively primitive electronics.

The "hair dryer" form is basically similar as far as design and construction process. Incidentally, here's the list of words I jotted down as I was making the latest series of sketches: pink, chrome, starburst, cadillac fins, cheese holes, boomerang, bulbous, squash and stretch, streamline moderne, radar dish, engine bell, playful.

2) Barbarella. I haven't made much progress on the shape, but it fuses two classes of forms; turned shapes and flat shapes. Conceived as a cut-out in wood that supports a turned aluminium/laser-cut acrylic cylinder. The aesthetic to be swoopy, exuberant 60's curves. This is the option that uses the most power tools, with the final surface being defined largely by material and the shapes guided at least somewhat by internal electronics.

3) Angry Tiki God. Basically, cross a tiki with the Space 1999 laser pistol. Even better if the mouth can be motorized. And this is just too damn much fun not to do! And I've been reading up on clearomizers to see if it is possible for it to smoke a little as well...

Each of these is rather different in construction methods, design process, and final aesthetics. So they should provide plenty of information and ideas back as I attempt to develop them further.

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