Design Practice Makes Perfect: Prototyping and 3D Printing

News & Insights

3D printing using brass for CalEdison

Every step in our design process is important – research, design, prototype, and implement – and equally fulfilling to us designers, as each can have a unique and powerful impact on the results we deliver to our clients.

The prototyping step is a particularly critical, and often pivotal, step in the process. During this phase of a project, we test our designs using various methods including computer renderings, modeling (using programs like SketchUp), large-scale printing, light and material sampling, 3D printing, and more. Vendors and fabricators are often a big part of the prototyping process, contributing light and material samples, for example, or making single versions of a sign or graphic to help us touch and feel the final product before it’s actually final. Prototyping helps to ensure we’ve considered – and actually tested in real world conditions – all possibilities before we work with a client to move forward with implementation and installation. This process helps us find details that need to be rethought, redesigned, and then tested again; and it often helps to address budget considerations for the client’s benefit as well.

For example, when a healthcare organization sought a new system of digital kiosks to support their campus-wide wayfinding program, we helped to build two kiosks first and test them with actual patients and visitors to the healthcare campus before rolling out the whole system. We wanted to be sure the end result would be useful to people, and worthwhile for our client.

In many other cases, we’ve printed full-size versions of signs and hung them within our own space in order to make sure colors, fonts, spacing and scaling have all been thoughtfully considered for sake of clarity and legibility in the built environment. We’ve mocked up full-scale pieces of collateral to test patterns, cuts and folds. And we’ve had a lot of fun playing with LED components and the way different lights interact with different colors and materials.

3D modeling and 3D printing for CalEdison

As we developed the architectural sign program for Rising Realty’s recent renovation of the historic CalEdison building in downtown Los Angeles, we wanted to make sure our designs would honor this iconic building, well known for its ornate details like marble ceiling patterns, cast metal and intricate plasterwork dating back to the 1930s. We’d designed signage that would modernize these historic details, and in the prototyping process, used a 3D printer to test the way our own cast metal design would look and feel as a standalone brass object, and as a component of a larger sign and of a comprehensive signage system. This helped us understand and refine the way our design details would come together, and also helped the signage fabricator visualize the end goal. Perhaps most importantly, prototyping and 3D printing helped the client understand the impact that thoughtful design details can have on their spaces, and on the people who pass through them.

Final sign installed at CalEdison.

Design/Build Signage Fabricator: WeidnerCA