Design: Production

Design: production It turns out that Production is a very different mindset than prototyping.  It’s also not particularly interesting.  Mostly what it is, is doing a similar group of tasks over and over. This morning, it was gluing blocks of wood together to make “boots” for marionette-style puppets.  These will be painted black, and then glued onto the lower legs of the marionettes.  I needed sixteen boots.  So it was just a matter of taking the cut pieces that a kid produced the other day (Wednesday), and gluing them together with wood glue brought from home.  Fifteen minutes, and the task was done.

But getting to that task took four fifteen minute blocks of time — one to discuss the “boots” with the theater director and make a design for them; one to work with the kid to cut and drill the individual parts, who then took another fifteen minutes to cut the blocks; and one to try out (and confirm that it didn’t work) a type of glue that we had a lot of in the Design Lab, but that doesn’t particularly work on wood (as we discovered). And then, finally, the fifteen minutes that *I* spent, gluing the “boots” together.

Design: production Then it was time to go through the same process, going from the prototype of the lanterns that will represent the Emerald City in our production of the Wizard of Oz, to a set of six such lanterns. Designing the lantern was the easy part. Cutting out the six parts for each lantern risked repetitive stress injury, and the potential for deep cuts from a utility knife in my hands and fingers.  No cuts, thankfully — but the risk was real.

And now, there are the parts for six such lanterns, and one assembled.  A parent, who gazed upon it, breathed this sigh of astonishment and said, “But they’re beautiful.”

And they are.

They’re these elegant traceries of cardboard.  Our theater director and tech director know a way to paint them so they look like slightly tarnished, reflective copper; we’ll add on a few details suggestive of rivets or strapping, and hang them (probably from chain, maybe from cording) from poles, so the citizens of the Emerald City can carry them (and turn on the LED ‘candles’ inside of them. The cut-out windows will be filled with pale green tissue paper.  They’re going to be beautiful when finished.

And people are going to want them when we’re done. Even though they’re only cardboard and tissue paper, people are going to find them amazing and beautiful. Maybe I should try producing one in wood, something like thin luan or other simple plywood.  I bet I could sell one for a lot of money, especially if I designed a genuine lamp system for hanging a bulb inside, and provided said system.

Design: production But I don’t think people realize how much this design owes to a misunderstanding of a Easy blog post. There was a thing on Etsy’s blog about lamps for parties made out of cardboard.  I thought it only required two of these elongated diamond patterns, and nearly went off the rails during the prototyping when I discovered that I needed to make the lamp much bigger to get it to stand up flat.  Argh!

But then I realized, we wanted them carried on the stage by our puppeteering crew.  They actually needed to be narrower than originally planned, and it was better if they didn’t have flat bottoms; then they would reflect light downward, as well as outward and upward.

So these lanterns look different than Etsy’s design, though they were inspired by that design.

But I wouldn’t have done it at all without the impetus from the Stained Glass exercise I did during the Thirty Days of Making last year.  Consider my St. Theresa of Avila stained glass panel, shown here.

She’s awful, right?  You wouldn’t want to leave her up in the window for too long.  It’s kind of a sad experience for me even looking at her again.  I could do so much better now, although I’d have to go out and buy up some new tissue paper for the ‘glass’ to fill the windows.

Thirty days of making: "stained glass" panel But the lanterns, admired today as “beautiful”, wouldn’t have been possible without the knife skills acquired from making that. Making this representation of her. As terrible as she is, she’s a starting point for the growth of a particular skill set which does not happen in a vacuum. You can’t plop one of these lantern templates down in front of a kid and say, “cut this out for me.” You can’t expect that the resulting cardboard form will be beautiful; if beauty matters, you have to do it yourself.

Or, you have to start training your students to have the knife skills to do this work in sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth grades… back in third and fourth grades.  Otherwise, you get sloppy work.  You have to cut out a lot of shapes, and learn to have an appreciation of positive and negative space, before your knife skills will be up to producing the parts for five lanterns in a day.

Which is why I say that Production appears to be a different mindset from prototyping.  When you’re prototyping a pair of tables, for example, the prototyping requires a lot of thought; but when you jump to production, some corners get cut at times; the results are sometimes a little wobbly.

Production requires care and attention, yes. But it also requires speed, and a “get it done” mentality which is different from the meandering nature of the prototype or even the brainstorm.  But the production mindset is every bit as important as the prototype.  Prototyping just means, “I know how it fits together.”  Production means, “I’ve made it before, and I can make it again exactly the same way.”

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  1. Fun read! There is also another similarity/difference: prototyping is meditative (like using a mantra and maintaining focus) whereas production is contemplative (relaxed and open) as you settle into the auto pilot of repetition. How thought provoking!

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