An Educational Confluence
Jeffrey Hannigan Program Director, Product Design and Innovation | Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
As a new century began, a set of digital tools emerged that have the potential to create a new kind of relationship between design and manufacture. With exotic nomenclatures like “stereo lithography,” “rapid prototyping,” and “virtual modeling” these technologies stand poised to create a “next generation” of products. Used in concert, these digital tools have the capability to make the design process more efficient and to allow for increased input from both the users and manufacturers of products. Following the precedents of technological history these new tools will sponsor changes in design, production, marketing, management, and patterns of trade that should be anticipated and directed by the design community, and while these new tools offer obvious advantages to design professionals, they have ability to virtually revolutionize several facets of design education.
The most significant educational opportunity offered by these new, integrated digital tools is to provide a window into a much broader spectrum of the product-development process. The ability to visualize and assess the impact of design decisions on physical form, material strengths, and modes of production are invaluable resources to a student’s methodology. This is particularly significant for the initiation and completion phases of design development where students have typically speculated rather than participated in the process. In the initial phases of a project, digital imaging tools can be used to better understand user needs and to efficiently produce rapid prototypes for actual user testing. Increased participation in the endgame of project development is possible through the ability of digital tools to reveal potential problems looming in manufacture. In this way, these digital imaging tools can help span a gulf of understanding and communication that sometimes exists between designers, engineers and manufacturers.