Modelling and prototyping to help with the design process

Making a model allows designers to visualise and test how a product looks and performs in 3D and is a great way of checking a product’s viability.

Modelling can be time-consuming and expensive, but a physical model allows a person to see and handle a product unlike viewing it on a screen through computer aided design (CAD). Computer aided manufacture (CAM) models made on a 3D printer using a CAD drawing are very accurate but also expensive, time-consuming and limited to 3D-printable materials. Product designers can use easy-to-form and easily accessible materials, eg balsa, jelutong and cardboard, to create cheap models quickly and cheaply.

A 3D model of a bedroom with a bed, customised drawers, a dressing table and a wardrobe.
A 3D model of a bedroom
A college student draping a mannequin in a fashion design class.
Student creating a toile

Quick textile designs can be modelled out of newspaper and more detailed models can be made from cotton or calico. Fabric models are called toiles and can be made on a mannequin to test the dimensions and drape of a garment.

Breadboards are used in the early development of electronic products. They are boards containing a series of holes that electrical components can be pushed into to allow current flow without making a permanent join. Components can then be easily swapped to improve or fix a circuit.

A side view of a prototype of a solderless breadboard with components placed on top.
Example of a breadboard
Advantages of physical modellingDisadvantages of physical modelling
Allows a designer to physically handle a design and view from all sidesCan be time-consuming and complicated
Changes can be made quickly and easily3D printed models can be expensive and have limited materials available
Materials such as cardboard can be found cheaply and easilyModels can’t generally be used for testing as they don’t use the same materials that the product will be made of
Models can be scaled up or down in size
Models can be used to show to a client and get feedback on before production