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Designing Across Senses by John Alderman, Christine W. Park

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Chapter 12. Specifying Modalities: States, Flows, Systems, and Prototypes

Introduction: A Prototype Is a Custom Measuring Tool

In the Charles and Ray Eames film, Fiberglass Chairs, Something of How They Get the Way They Are, the first scene shows a sheet of connected dowels attached to an adjustable wooden block jig (see Figure 12-1). A person sits down on the prototype, and the blocks are adjusted to fit the shape of their back. Informed by the pair’s work creating molded wooden casts for the military, their furniture reflected the extended body of work they developed both in creating prototypes and with the human form.

The jig for the Eames fiberglass chairs had adjustable blocks throughout the form to measure and shape the seat, curve, and back of the chair.
Figure 12-1. The jig for the Eames fiberglass chairs had adjustable blocks throughout the form to measure and shape the seat, curve, and back of the chair.

In a workshop, a jig is a custom-made tool used to help measure, guide, and speed up the usage of existing tools. In product design, especially when using molding techniques, the jigs and final prototypes are sometimes destroyed. Other times, a jig is used as a tool in the manufacturing process itself.

In the Eameses’ design process, the jig for their fiberglass chairs served multiple purposes. In earlier stages of development, it served a kind of custom ruler. They had many different people sit in it, and they adjusted the shape of the chair to fit their posture and shape. Then they documented that. The ...

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