Very interesting interview of Jonathan Ive on the design of the iPhone 4 at Core77.com:
One of the interesting quotes:
Some of the digital rendering tools are impressive, but it’s important that people still really try and figure out a way of gaining direct experience with the materials
Part of the discussion is on how the extremely tight tolerances were achieved. Which were achieved with a final griding after assembly and the tolerances were one of the design goals that were set at the beginning:
I’ve never seen that kind of tolerance on something I could actually afford to buy.
As another example besides the iPhone, when you read camera or lens reviews, “build qualilty” get thrown around a lot. Built Quality: Sturdy is good, a weighty feel that this lens or camera will hold together and perform. This discussion of tolerances, materials, feel, finish, etc is how you get there.
Getting the fit and finish right has been the most challenging part of the work I’m currently doing. Having a plastic part audibly snap just right into a metal tray is harder than one would think. Getting a satisfying “click!” that lets the user know both by feel and by what they hear that the parts are now correctly assembled is balance between the MIN and MAX conditions which depend on the materials and tolerances that you can hold with machining those materials.
It is the polar opposite of working virtually in CAD to create an arbitrary form that you then render as a particular material, annotating a part and saying ‘that’s wood’ and so on. Because when an object’s materials, the materials’ processes and the form are all perfectly aligned, that object has a very real resonance on lots of levels.
Ive’s comments on not being able to divorce the material from the form and CAD producing isolated, arbitrary forms is spot on. Its easy to make it look like its going to work, but until you have a part in your hands, its so hard to know.
Rapid prototypes both the SLA, plastic type, and DMLS metal have been key to my work for the past year. I couldn’t iterate anywhere near fast enough without being able to see, test and show real physical things.