As a product designer, I’ve always loved to sketch. I use it not just as a medium to get my ideas across but to think. This can apply to the design of physical parts and how they fit together, how people will interact with each other in a system, or how someone will interact with a web page. Whenever you put a pen to paper (or a stylus to screen if you try to be paperless like me), things become much clearer and you can spot opportunities or flaws you couldn’t see before. It’s an awesome medium.
Sketching also allows you to fail early, which is what makes it a great tool for thIs idea stage. If you mess something up, or figure out that it could never work, all you have lost is a little time and paper. You can experiment with crazy features and shapes without any major consequences and REALLY get those creative juices flowing.
I try to sketch most days but when we started to design Noti we took a full day to play around with ideas and shapes; it was great fun. We knew from our previous research that people like very different types and style of jewellery. In fact, in one of our surveys, there was almost an even split among people whose favourite jewellery pieces were earrings, necklaces or bracelets. So bearing that in mind we wanted to make something fairly universally liked and versatile.
We also had a very clear idea of how we wanted Noti to function, and mainly how discreet and accessible it needed to be. It needed to look like a regular piece of jewellery and seamlessly blend in with what a normal person would wear. This is where so many devices like rape alarms fall down; you can immediately tell that they have some function outside of being worn, making them super obvious. They also often get left at home or at the bottom of your bag meaning they can be hard to get to when you need them. We also wanted Noti to be extremely accessible so that it is always there when you need it.
Jewellery fits in here so well because most women tend to wear some form of jewellery, so a pendant designed to look like jewellery doesn’t really stick out, and necklaces and bracelets are always on your body meaning they’re very quick and easy to get to.
So with this in mind we got to sketching. These first ones are super rough and ready basic shapes that help you get a feel for the physicality of an object. Figuring out how something might hang, where holes may go, or how you can use the geometry in an interesting way. These shapes take no longer than a few seconds to get onto the paper and are the most basic representation of what you have in your head. This stage can be quite freeing as there are really no bounds to what you can put down. You could even just let your pen go wild to see what comes out the other side.
After this, you pick out some of the more interesting shapes and start to develop them a bit. Here they get a little more life breathed into them with some more detail and a little more care and attention. They still shouldn’t take very long, less than a minute or so, but the careful placement of lines, or using different weights and shading can let you play with appearances and functions of these 2D products.
At this stage, our designs were staring to fall into some basic shape categories; squares, circles and hexagons. They had all remained pretty plain and basic because that’s what we were going for. Squares and hexagons were interesting to play with but we were much more drawn to the solid yet simple and elegant circular shapes. Circles also work a lot better from a manufacturing point of view as a lot of parts like batteries come in standard circular sizes, plus as Emma constantly reminded me ‘circles are in’.
Once we had a basic design in mind, some (still rough) sketches helped us work out sizes are where parts would lie. Again this is just how sketching helps you to think and figure things out. Normally at this stage if I were designing a product for a client I would do a more detailed ‘for show’ sketch to validate what things would actually look like, and maybe even story board it out. I won’t lie, we didn’t do that here because there wasn’t really anyone to convince on the design. Me and Emma both loved it and were super psyched to keep things moving!
In the next post I’ll talk more about how we used 3D modelling to take these sketch and turn them into a virtual 3D representation of our product for imagery and manufacturing. But I hope you can see why we don’t skip straight to that. Sketching is quick and dirty and it lets you develop ideas really quickly without spending lots of time on them!