5,127 Prototypes? Really?

5,127 prototypes? (source: Wikipedia)

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.

Design and Evolution


Image courtesy Wikimedia.

This post is not about creationism or intelligent design. It’s about product design and how, at the macroscopic, societal level, design seems to be a component of a global evolutionary process. It’s drawn largely from the work of a recent graduate student of mine.

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A bad feedback loop

True story: thirty-something years ago, at institution X – a very large institution with tens of thousands of employees – there was a particular institution-wide department in charge of providing all computing services to all other departments, even though the computing needs and expertise of each department varied very, very widely.  Some departments could pretty much take care of their own computing needs – esoteric as some of them were – whereas other departments lacked the local skills to manage word processing software on desktop computers of the day.
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Design4Health 2013 Proceedings Now Available

The proceedings of the 2013 Design4Health conference are now available for free from the Lab4Living website. You can download individual papers, abstracts, or the whole proceedings as three volumes (PDF).

The citation is: Proceedings of the Second European Conference on Design 4 Health 2013, 3 – 5 July 2013, Sheffield UK
Editors: Dr Alaster Yoxall and Kirsty Christer
ISBN: 978-1-84387-373-0
Copyright © 2014 Sheffield Hallam University, Art & Design Research Centre, Sheffield, UK.