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Digital design


LA Design Director, Les Stokes explains how the company exploits digital design

For nearly 35 years, LA Design has grown up with and been part of the digital design revolution, giving us the knowledge and experience necessary to understand the strategic possibilities available from the technology.

In the early days, computer hardware was almost impossibly expensive and software difficult to use and prone to crashing at inopportune moments. The ‘professional’ packages ran on dedicated workstations and were business specific – publishing, print, CAD/CAM etc. The operators were

also highly specialised as the training required could be arduous and the cost of the equipment demanded 100% utilisation. This wasn’t an ideal scenario for industrial designers involved with multi-disciplinary projects.

There were also cultural issues for designers raised on and fuelled by the fumes from ‘Magic Markers’. Early screen interfaces were often clumsy and the ubiquitous ‘Mouse’ didn’t do much for hand/eye/brain coordination. But don’t panic! There was an UNDO command and this enabled experimentation with little risk, something that the exponents of air brush rendering would have died for.

We embraced digital design and soon realised that we could greatly increase productivity without increasing floor space

On one level we embraced digital design and soon realised that we could greatly increase productivity without increasing floor space. On another level, we were nervous that the new technology could create superficially finished designs with scant regard for scale, function or physical interactions. This dichotomy has remained during the development of digital design but we have distilled its strategic use and potential efficiency gains for ourselves and our clients.

We see digital design as a ‘data pool’, where the noughts and ones reside and where we can access and share the information necessary to feed a multitude of design related applications and services. Organisationally, these are split into 2D, 3D and 4D applications but all are used during our normal design processes; from research and proposition design, through conceptual design, prototyping, design for manufacture and marketing/promotional support material.

The upside is in our ability to maximise the ‘added value’ elements that can be extracted from data already created for other design related purposes.

Our digital infographic shows how we utilise 2D digital imagery to capture, map and communicate workflow scenarios during research that will inform service, product or interaction design solutions. This converts well into Wireframing, an important part of Graphical User Interface design, leading to dynamic digital modelling and simulations that can be tested prior to software implementation. We also use image manipulation extensively to place propositions or concepts into contextual environments – the products can be generated as 2D images or fully rendered 3D models and with digital photography. These are all important components of 2D digital prototyping and it’s important to establish the learning objectives before planning the execution.

3D modelling has probably had the greatest impact on our business and also the area where a complete understanding of digital file exchanges and differences in available software is absolutely essential to maximise the potential benefits. 3D modelling is analogous to driving a very powerful sports car – in the right hands it can be awesome but in the wrong hands a lethal liability. Referring again to the digital infographic, the original purpose for 3D CAD was aligned with manufacturing and a high proportion of our output still ends up in the hands of toolmakers and others who use our data directly for creating the final product.

Our responsibility is therefore now much greater than in the days of ‘analogue’ drawings. Fortunately, we also have access to extensive analytical tools that enable digital analysis of virtual solutions a long way in advance of manufacturing investment. In addition, the ability to create physical prototypes rapidly for testing has made risk management part of our design strategy. We also realised, many years ago that time invested in creating the data for manufacturing could be utilised for other purposes

and have developed the means to provide photorealistic images for promotional purposes, along with user manuals, training manuals and other technical documentation. The communication media may be different but the core data remains the same.

Our final ‘digital foray’ moved us on into the fourth dimension, where time becomes an important element. Walt Disney understood this and said; “Animation can explain whatever the mind of man can conceive. This facility makes it the most versatile and explicit means of communication yet devised for mass appreciation”. Clearly, an essential part of any design consultancy’s service offer, especially when the digital information can be manipulated to inspire a sales force, demonstrate benefits on the internet, launch a product at an exhibition or provide the means to conduct meaningful market research.

The future opportunities are only limited by creativity, skill and experience. We are up for the challenge.

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