Prototyping 102 -or how playing with cardboard can win you a prize.

Day 2 of our Unlimited Lab employment took place at Fablab London. This is a makerspace in the centre of Bank area, offering technology  (3D printing, laser cutting, various types of workshops and materials) to independent makers and creatives in London.

This was the perfect environment to “get our hands dirty” and try our ideas from the previous day.

Our strategy was to focus on one feature at a time and solve one problem at a time. As the Kelley brothers say in their book “Creative Confidence“, bird by bird.

The first feature we decided to focus on was the cable connector. We realised that we needed a system to connect individual cables, so we could form a longer line. Taking into account that cables usually have some sort of “ending” (USB or other plugs), we had to make a “case” that would hold everything together.


First sketch and cardboard prototype

We tried to create something that would fit all of the plugs with the cables inside, so they wouldn’t be visible, but it made the whole connector too bulky – we don’t like bulky. So, instead, we decided to use the USB plugs as “safety stoppers”. We made a small box-like shaped case, to hold the actual cables and used the USB end as a prevention for the cable to slide out. Not very pretty, but definitely effective. It made the whole construction more durable.

After playing with cardboard, we decided to give laser cutting a go and make the same connector out of plywood. Here is a little catch. To use a laser cutter, you need to give it a sketch. None of us knew how to design and draw in a software, but with the help of our mentor Elmira from Unlimited Lab (thanks Elmira!!!!), we had a basic drawing so the laser cutter had something to work with.


Unfolded prototype nr. 2 made with a laser cutter out of plywood.

The design Elmira drew had parts that (in theory) were meant to bend and connect at the end, which would create the box we made earlier out of cardboard. In reality, the bendy bit didn’t bend, it broke (you can see the breaking point on the picture above). This was because the cuts in the wood would have to be longer, to spread the bending surface. We didn’t know that at the beginning, but we learnt. And that’s prototyping for ya! You learn as you go. You assume something at the beginning (like we did with the bendy bits) and it turns out to be something else.

In the end, we redesigned the box into 6 separate parts and taped them together – time constrain didn’t allow us to work on the bendy design, as we had to present at the end of the day and we also had to move on to other features.


Final prototype of our cable connector

The process of creating the rest of the features was a lot faster. I think it was because we already kind of had an idea of what we were meant to do, plus at that point all of our anxiety was gone and we were just having a blast.


Arturo having the time of his life.

Feature nr. 2 was the part that would store the cables, as well as connect to the wall. Arturo had an idea that we took as an inspiration. He mentioned that in his head he envisioned something that would look like one of those hooks used for docking boats and a the cable would tie around the structure, like a rope around the docking hook.

That vision was a great starting point. We all knew what we were trying to accomplish and that helped us work together towards one common goal. In the end the final design didn’t look anything like the first vision, as we observed what worked and what didn’t and moved on to a design that was more suitable for the purpose.


Version 1(the docking hook inspired) on the right, and version 2, which reeled the cable around a central point, on the left.

The last issue we had to tackle was how to connect the whole product to the wall. We killed the use of adhesive long time ago, because we knew it wouldn’t hold the weight. However, towards the end, we came up with an idea that the cable holding part could have hooks or clamps, that could be easily attached to doors or windows and the size could be adjusted with the clamp feature. During our presentation, this solution was met with support, so later on we would probably be developing this idea further in the future.

The presentation was the scariest part of the day. But after understanding, that it was more about the process rather than the result, I was feeling a little calmer. It’s about getting rid of that anticipation of judgement and opening up to constructive feedback. Our prototype definitely wasn’t the most beautiful one, or the most put together. But it answered the questions we had at the beginning and we also came up with new questions to move on and develop the idea further (that is, if we were to develop it further).

After all of this mess, trial and error, we won the Unlimited Lab prize of design consultancy and 200g of 3D printing material (YAY!!!).

Learning outcomes from day 2:

  • Communicate and visualise everything with your team! – I realised that even tough we were all talking about the same feature, there was 3 of us (3 very different minds and brains) and all of us had a different picture in our heads. Until you put in on paper or make it, you have 3 different ideas. To connect you all have to see it.
  • If something doesn’t work, move on! – The boat docking hook idea was great and it worked, to an extend. But it was a little impractical and it was creating a lot of other issues. So, we moved on. We took the original idea and modified it in a different way, that worked better.
  • Just try it! – Every time we talked about an idea, we spent 10 minutes chatting about air – but then we said – let’s just make it and see. And that was when the magic happened and we saw whether our ideas worked. But you really have to go for it and just do it.
  • If you know a designer, make friends with them. – We wouldn’t have been able to try the laser cutting method without Elmira’s skill and we will definitely be using our prize in the future.

Overall, the enrichment week was a great experience that really pushed me out of my comfort zone (in many ways) and showed me that I don’t have to be scared of trying things out and that it’s ok if you make something and it all goes a bit wrong.



One thought on “Prototyping 102 -or how playing with cardboard can win you a prize.

  1. Pingback: Prototyping 101 – or create your MVP in half an hour. | Site Title

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