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Above: A model of a pencil holder based on the metaphor of a semi-truck and trailer. The wheels were created through heat bending which is complicated.

Above: Star Wars themed business card holder. The student used scoring to create clean folds (e.g. leg fender).

Above: Students were encouraged to used found parts in their models. This pencil holder was fabricated using extruded styrene tubing. The diameter was suitable for holding pens and pencils.

Low Fidelity Prototyping Skills:   Styrene Modeling

Task: For this one week exercise, students were asked to create three functional products, constructed entirely out  of sheet polystyrene: a smart phone holder, a business card holder, and a pen/pencil organizer. As part of the requirement, the students were required to demonstrate at least one heat bend on a major component and meet size requirements. Additionally, students were encouraged to include a found PS (styrene) component e.g. cup lid as part of their model.


Teaching Focus: The purpose of this exercise was to instill low-fidelity prototyping skills as an ideation skill for students or '3D sketch'. As part of the exercise, I intentionally asked my students to include ideation sketches on paper as a requirement. The rationale for this was to highlight the shortcomings of relying entirely on sketches to conceptualize three-dimensional forms. To highlight this, as part of the final critique/dialogue with students, I asked how their physical models differed from the accompanying sketches. The response was that in many cases, sketches were far too ambitious and lacked practicality in their depiction of complex geometry. For example, one student sketched a bowl-shaped business card holder without realizing that a compound curve is nearly impossible to construct without unsightly seams- even with a heat gun.


Overall, I found that this exercise was helpful to my students. They were able to realize how sketching on paper has its limitations as a representation. In order to design a physical artifact, physical 'sketches' must be part of the iteration process. Styrene as modeling material affords students a quick means to move from 2D to 3D in a short manner. Another added benefit of three-dimensional models is their suitability as critique or conversation pieces. Compared to a sketch, a physical, tangible artifact can open up new dialogue by looking at form, function and details in the physical realm.

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