Working Out Design Kinks By Prototyping Your Leather Project

In our last post, I talked a little bit about how creating a prototype for your next leatherworking project can save you time and lend more confidence to the final design. Having a vague notion of how you will build something before actually building it is an easy way to make time-consuming and expensive mistakes that could have been avoided by making a prototype.

This insightful article illuminates additional benefits from prototyping. Reading this article felt a bit like opening up the dictionary (it’s one of their encyclopedia entries) but sometimes it’s good to go back to the basics and get a fresh perspective on the fundamentals. Much of the information directly applies to our work and the pre-construction process for leatherworking. Some of the major points/additional benefits of prototyping covered in the article include:

Prototyping allows you to test and refine the functionality of your design.

Designs almost always look great on paper, but they don’t always work exactly as you had imagined until you actually build them. When working on getting your project from design to sample, creating a prototype before you begin working with your final materials will allow you to find the design flaws in your initial planning. There is no limit to what you can build in your imagination, but until you actually get your new handbag, backpack or wallet off the paper and into three dimensions, you’ll never know what the design issues and challenges are.

Most everyone hits a brick wall once or twice with their first prototype, but it’s much better to get stuck at this stage than when working with your final materials. In the same vein, there’s real benefit in getting stuck at this stage: design challenges open the door to creative thinking and new solutions to problems that you may not have even considered otherwise.

Prototyping allows you to test the real-world performance of your design.

It’s very easy to make a great-looking bag. It’s not so easy to create a bag that looks great AND performs well. While it’s important to keep aesthetics in mind, even more important is being able to create something that is practical, performs well and is comfortable to use. When you make your initial sketches and plan out your your design, it’s easy to get excited with what you see and try to proceed directly to the construction. Without a prototype, however, you may end up with a great looking bag that performs poorly and you will never want to carry around.

As an example, you may be set on using that new 6 oz piece of shrunken calf that you just picked up for your new high-end wallet, but later realize with your prototype that it’s going to be way too thick for that kind of application. Instead, you decide to go with hide of alpine calf or split the shrunken calf to be thinner and better suited to a wallet. Without first building a prototype, you may not have realized your initial mistake in planning and wasted leather.

As stated in the previous point, designs almost always look great on paper, but they don’t always work exactly as you had imagined until you actually build them. Building a prototype will help you to choose the best possible materials for your final build in replicating their real-world use before constructing them.

If you are selling your work, prototyping will help you to describe your product more effectively.

A lot of our readers own their own leather businesses, but often feel stuck in considering how to describe, present, and market their work to the public. Creating a prototype will give you the opportunity to step back and get clear on the unique features of a new design and how you might make them even better in addition to seeing where the design is lacking in originality and where you might want to spend more time trying to improve. Physical prototypes are a much better visualization of a new design than a simple sketch on paper or an idea in your head and can go a long way towards helping you to materialize your original vision.

Prototyping allows you to get unstuck and start thinking more creatively.

Sometimes you can get stuck in your own design aesthetic. It’s easy to practice and build what we’re good at, and not so easy to branch out and try new designs. Working on new designs helps us to see which of our leatherworking skills need more attention and where we need to spend more time practicing. For a more in-depth discussion on practicing outside your comfort zone, see our post on exploring new designs.

For coming up with new project ideas, it helps to look to outside references for inspiration, like this book. Just getting a feel for what other people are doing and the techniques that they’re using can help to inform and drive our own creative process. This can help you to not only use different construction methods but also to expand your style range. For more ideas on where to find books for inspiration, check out our post on finding out of print leatherworking books near you.

Once the kinks in the design are worked out, you can move forward confidently with your new leatherworking project, knowing that it looks great, performs well, and does exactly what you want it to do. What are some of the other benefits of prototyping that we didn’t cover? What’s really helped you to see the flaws in a new design? Let us know by leaving a comment below!

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