Thinking with our hands

Legend has it that Michelangelo already recognized the aesthetics of David in a left-over block of marble. In all modesty, the “designer” claimed that his work had consisted merely in liberating the attractive young man from his block of marble in order to discover his beauty and to awaken it to life.

Whether or not this is true, the legend hits the heart of our working philosophy: Aesthetics is anchored in creative vision, it is true, but at the end of the day it is the result of tireless iterations during which the essence of what is beautiful is systematically carried up towards the surface. For 30 years now, we have been convinced that user-focussed design is only possible by using models that can be truly experienced – tangible design, not wild imagination. For the complexity of the factors can only be fully comprehended by getting immediate feedback by the object during the creative process.

Though it’s easy these days to generate photo-realistic images, nothing can replace a prototype than can be experienced haptically, in order to really comprehend the multiple layers of a product experience in all its complexity. Only in this way, interaction with the product can be experienced and evaluated in the proper context. In our design modelling, we are therefore thinking with our hands, as it were, thus discovering aesthetical shapes and solutions.

That’s why our workshop with its 3,300 sq. ft. of surface is the creative heart of our studio; it is here that design model makers, ergonomists and technologists work together. It is here that context, brand, form, materiality, and interaction meet the claim to perfection and execution. We like to call it our secret ingredient, because it is unrivalled in the design industry, which is very much appreciated by our clients. Also, because confidentiality is guaranteed: thanks our the wide range of equipment, the project remains completely in-house, from first idea to final prototype. The up-and-coming products are in safe hands with us.

Depending on the project phase, we employ different modelling methods. In order to reach first findings quickly and cost efficiently at the beginning of a project, we make simple models from styrofoam or rigid foam. These models are made by hand, in a multi-disciplinary team of designers and design model makers. This manual work has a number of advantages: it saves the time otherwise required to compile 3D data, and it makes it possible to immediately judge and check proportions, ergonomics and shapes. Together with the designers, changes can be integrated right here in the development process itself – true to the motto “fail fast”.

Once the design is fixed, we can make 1:1 product models for our clients, using our wide range of machines, tools, and materials. Our CNC milling machines and Rapid Prototyping processes allow us to realise even minute details and patterns worked into a wide range of materials. The Protoyping Lab helps us check not only shape and ergonomics, but also the interactions with the product. Here, we fill concepts with life and try out different technologies which we realise in the end as an interactive prototype.

After numerous iteration loops with many models, we finally arrive at the one model which is the exact replica of the later product in terms of form, function, and material.

Model making is part of our intensive Design Thinking process: it clarifies misunderstandings that might appear in discussions, it speeds up the creative process and leads to products which can not only be realised, but which are also consistently user-oriented.


Design Modelling

Marc Michalak, Dirk Bolduan, Elisabeth Bokesch, Uwe Evertz, Peter Schmid (from left).


Since 1987, Phoenix Design has been designing interaction: between the product and the user, between the brand and the consumer, between designers and their clients.
In this blog we regularly tell about the past 30 years, the present and the future at Phoenix Design.


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