Rapid Prototyping for Outside the Box Web Design


Whenever we set out to create something, we tend to have a pretty specific idea of what that thing is going to look like, how it’s going to work and how it will be used. If you’re designing a chair for example, you can rely on some basic assumptions as to the general form it should take and how someone is going to sit in it. While this approach works well for established conventions like furniture, it doesn’t always work out as neatly in the digital realm. Intuitive as it may seem, rarely does our own, personal perspective do a very thorough job of considering how others will instinctively interact with such a product.

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Anytime you design something for others to use, your decisions along the way are likely based off of certain assumptions you make about how your users will interact with it. These assumptions aren’t bad or wrong but they can be based on limited information and in some cases, personal bias. The natural tendency is to think about how a product will be used based primarily on the way you, yourself would use it. It’s not wrong, it’s just not necessarily right for everyone.

What’s missing here is the user. Who else can better speak to how they will interact than the very one doing the interacting? This idea isn’t new. We as designers have always sought feedback on how to improve and optimize what we create and often go to great lengths to do just that. It’s just that before, we weren’t seeking that feedback until after we’d finished building. Conceive, analyze, design, construct, test, maintain – this was the way things were done for a long, looooooong time.

Anyone can see that this approach is slow, frustrating, and expensive. Valuable time and money are spent in the laborious pursuit of incrementally improving upon completed products that are difficult to evolve. If the key to improving on the conventional wisdom is faster access to feedback, how then can one tap into those powerful insights earlier in the process? The answer is prototyping and it’s changing the way designers and developers alike approach building digital products.

The better way.

Prototyping allows new features and elements to be quickly validated or abandoned by creating simulated versions that can be put in front of users before they are completely developed. This iterative process ultimately shortens the feedback loop, allowing products to evolve faster and be more refined.

Prototyping allows you to test the assumptions you make about your users by putting low fidelity versions of your product in front of those very users to observe their behavior and elicit feedback. The prevailing wisdom is to do so early and often, building prototypes that merely resemble what you ultimately hope to release and discovering how users actually interact with it. What results is a continual loop of design, user testing and refining until something very near perfection is reached.

In rapid prototyping services this process is performed quickly with little concern for the level of detail involved. The faster an idea can be tested and either proven or disproven, the faster the ideal version will be revealed. Anything from simple HTML mock-ups to downright prehistoric paper models will suffice as long as it is testable. At 3epd.com, we use programs like InVision and UXPin to create fully interactive, high fidelity prototypes that give us early insight into how users are interacting with our sites and apps.

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What Is It?

Commonly known as 3D printing, additive manufacturing appertains to processes involved in synthesizing a 3D object. It refers to building a three dimensional object by layering material to frame products. Once the 3D modelling software produces a file, the AM (Additive Manufacturing) machine parses the data from file to lay down consecutive beds of material for creating the 3D object.

Focused initially on prototyping and a method to envision models in reproduction, additive manufacturing has matured to canvas the arena of almost industries to create end-use products. The products can be made in an array of materials, viz., plastic to ceramic to metals whilst new materials are opened at a rapid pace.

General Principles

  • Modeling is done through Computer Aided Design packages through a photogrammetry software and plain digital camera. The printed models have reduced errors and can be edited prior printing.
  • Printing is preceded by error examination. The SLT (STereoLithography) files are examined for self-intersections, holes, manifold errors or noise shells are thus ‘repaired’. The SLT files are then ‘sliced’ into a series of layers and produce a G-Code file which contains instructions to 3D printer. These methods take advantage over traditional methods by reducing the entire effort to few hours from several days / weeks.
  • Finishing is required where the printer produced resolution might not be sufficient for many applications.

Processes and Techniques

CAD (Computer-Aided Design) files are used as drafts to build the product from scratch. The 3D printer then lays down thin micron measured layers out of the file blueprint to create the final object.

ISO/ASTM52900-15 delineates six leagues of AM processes: Stereolithography (SLA), Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS), Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), Binder Jetting and Polyjet.


Stereolithography (SLA) engages ultraviolet lasers and resin (liquid ultraviolet curable photopolymer) to create layers of part at a time.


Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) involves extruding of little strings of material in melted format which form layers by hardening quickly.


Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) includes laser sinter material in powdered format which aims the laser at points automatically in space presented by a 3D model. The solid structure is thus created by consolidating the material together. It is benefitted use for low-volume production and rapid prototyping of component parts.


Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) has 3D objects in metal form. Rest is similar to Selective Laser Sintering (SLS). Also termed as Direct Metal Laser Melting (DMLM) is beneficial for detailed geometric designs.


Binder Jetting has liquid binding agent selectively deposited to bond the powdering material. Metals, sands and ceramics can be printed using this technique. It comes out to be the most cost effective method rolling out the use of heat for building.


Polyjet involves spraying photopolymer materials in very thin layers onto a tray to build the 3D object. Once the object is completed, water jetting and manual processes can be used to remove the support material supporting complicated designs.


Industrial Applications

Additive Manufacturing provides professionals and consumers liberty to create and customize products in current production technology.

  • Apparel: Fashion designers experiment with 3D shoes, bikinis and dresses. Nike for example is using the technique to produce the 2012 Vapor Laser Talon Football Shoe for American football player.
  • Vehicle: The One:1 announced by Koenigsegg, the supercar which utilizes 3D printed components. Spare part of planes are also printed by Air Force using the Additive Manufacturing process.

  • Construction:Until many years, hand drawn architecture were presented by architects usually investing a lot of time and produce a 2D view. The clients however required varied viewpoints to understand the final prototype. 3D printing techniques are now used to reduce the effort time by 50 to 80 percent and giving a better model.
  • Firearms: US-based Defense Distributed has designed a 3D printable AR-15 type rifle lower receiver having multiple receivers.
  • Medical: Patient specific implant are created using 3D printing which cover the biggest arena of future development. The technology can be utilized to create exact replica of human organs.

  • Computers and Robots: Open source robots are built using 3D techniques. Laptops and computers can be built using 3D technology.
  • Space:The Zero-G Printer, the first 3D printer designed to operate in zero gravity, was built under a joint partnership between NASA Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) and Made In Space, Inc.

Additive manufacturing is a means to create highly customized products, as well as produce large amounts of production parts. Products are brought to market in days rather than months and designers save money by using additive manufacturing instead of traditional manufacturing methods. In addition, the risk factor is much lower and those involved can receive near-immediate feedback because prototypes take less time to produce.