Creating product concept images, pictures that are worth a thousand words…
The ability to communicate ideas through imagery is fundamental to the designer’s toolkit, and plays a role at every stage the product development process from earliest insight-led concept generation, through to supply chain handover. Understanding when to generate, and successfully deploy a particular quality or style of image is an important project management decision. As well as communicating ideas, images also contain subliminal messages about the status of a product. The project manager can use this to an advantage, sometimes using loose sketches to give colleagues ‘permission’ to join in with their own ideas, or using glossy renderings to help reach consensus, or to help research respondents put themselves in the position of potential customers. These detailed, photo realistic images of a proposed product in a contextual scene can be a cost and time effective ‘prototyping’ tool, providing an effective review long before capital commitment to hardware occurs.
At CDP we use many levels of illustration at different stages of a project:
• Hand sketches generated during initial research and creative activities are rapid, fluid, and descriptive. Whether more technical or emotive in nature this imagery is presented in a way that rapidly communicates the emerging directions, and outlines recommendations.
• 2D computer generated images provide the first detailed visual that can communicate ideas and concepts ready for formal review and research. Multiple images are usually created at this stage showing variations in the functional features and aesthetics, allowing the team to rapidly explore different variations within a core concept. It is the computer’s ability to effortlessly allow changes and multiple versions that has lead them to them take over from the old magic markers at this stage. Usually these images are of sufficient clarity that they can be used to support early concept testing with potential customers.
• Creating visuals to explain a user experience has a long established heritage. The “story board” was first developed by Walt Disney in the 1930’s. They are used in a design environment to communicate how customers will interact with a product through a series of illustrations. (fig1) Creating a storyboard is an effective way to ensure that your audience understands the product experience in a simple, universal format. Essentially the goal is to create a timeline which illustrates the functional and emotional steps. Of course every product, regardless of whether it plays in a consumer or healthcare market, should have ‘usability’ in mind, and ‘storyboarding’ also helps designers crystalize and simplify the emerging user process.
• Once the concept has been further refined, the designer will move to 3D CAD to develop the detailed embodiment. At CDP we use the industry standard Alias surface modeller to quickly define the outside of a new product concept and then render or ‘colour it in’ using specialist computer programs such as ‘Keyshot’, which in skilled hands can produce images indistinguishable from a real photograph.
• The final step to make the product appear real is to present it in an engaging and credible context. There are two key features which must be considered in order to create the perfect marketing image; Firstly, the “choice of subject” – having the appropriate model or background within the relevant environment.
Secondly, the “execution”; How well the photo has been taken, or how appropriate the background image choice is will affect the mood it creates and therefore the concept proposition. The correct atmospheric lighting and choice of focal point will also add a real emphasis to the subject matter and finding or creating these images can be quite a task, requiring research in the product or service. This effort is well worth it though as generated images can be used for a variety of activities including concept testing and focus groups, co-creation activities, business development, sales presentations, marketing collateral, product launches and promotion.
At CDP our Industrial Design team are constantly striving to produce bold images that tell an engaging story. While these are primarily used to communicate with stakeholders and to refine the design as it passes through the stage gates to market, an important part of the design process is also to inspire the business to support the project and these ‘hero shots’ can also help bring teams together and to focus on a common project goal.