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Teaching Focus: Strong, lightweight and versatile extruded polystyrene foam has been used for everything from competition grade surfboards to remote control vehicles. In my courses, I instill the merits of this prototyping material early on. Foam modeling allows my students to progress quickly from two-dimensional ideation sketches to tangible, physical mode in rapid order. When equipped with physical sketch models as representations, my students can express their design intent and ideas more succinctly, allowing for an enriched dialogue during critiques.



I gave this demo to my IAT 336 students as part of the ergonomic flashlight lab exercise (see handout link below.  Some of the skills shown include measuring and sanding techniques.


My strategy is to show students how to use simple geometry or primitives in order to create more complex forms. For this exercise, I measured and cut a simple cube, drew a circle on top and bottom using a circle guide and cut excess foam off before sanding. Last, using a smaller diameter circle template, I traced a concentric circle on the top surface and on the side. This acted as a guide to sand a bevel on the form.


Task: As part of the ergonomic flashlight lab assignment, my students were asked to create a foam model based on ergonomic tables for three distinct end-users.

The blue foam solution at left makes use of the reflexes of the worker. Rather than fumble with buttons, the flashlight is activated by swiveling or rolling the light head against the user's thigh or a surface.

The students made a simple, yet sophisticated model entirely out of  blue foam. The hinge was articulated by using a thin wood dowel.

Above: This poster illustrates the style of interaction for the foam flashlight project. In order to activate, the user rolls the fixture against their thigh to activate or turn off the lamp. This eliminates the need for a conventional switch and takes advantage of natural reflexes such as swinging.

Above: Chronology of my foam cutting demo. Here, I demo'd how to create beveled cylindrical form for use as a dial or switch.

Low Fidelity Prototyping: Blue Foam Modeling

Above: A scene from the foam cutting demo including various tools including retractable knife, sanding block, sanding plate and steel ruler.

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