Here’s James Dyson, the king of vacuums, on the importance of building prototypes and the lack of prototype usage in his son’s industrial design schooling: “It was an industrial design course, where you weren’t allowed to make what you designed! I never understood that: if you have an idea you need to make a version of it to see if it works. That’s why I built 5127 prototypes of my vacuum cleaner – only then was I happy with it.” (source)
Now, I’m not going to argue with the importance of building prototypes. There are qualities of a product you can really only get a feel for with something “real.” Nothing on a computer screen will suffice. Virtual reality may offer an alternative, but not yet.
Still, there reaches a point where prototyping becomes rather stupid.
And I think that making 5,127 prototypes of a vacuum cleaner is very definitely past the line of reason.
No, seriously. A prototype is meant to verify a design, and they cost money. I can see a dozen, maybe two dozen prototypes for something as complex as the (original) Dyson vacuum. But five thousand? No, that’s just not right.
I don’t mean to say that Dyson or the Times reporter lied about this. I mean to say that Dyson, for all his fame and expertise with vacuums, just did it wrong. There are many analytic tools available to a design engineer. Most of them are far more economical, faster to develop, and far more accurate these days that building prototypes. That’s not to say that prototypes serve no purposes – they do. But their usefulness is in many ways replaced by newer tools. And so one simply doesn’t need that many prototypes.