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The Power of Prototyping: The Gridopolis Story

August 22, 2019

Access to 3D modelling software and 3D printers has revolutionized the design industry – and, by extension, the ability to prototype rapidly and manufacture more efficiently. For those paying attention, this is not news.

What I discovered with my new startup – Gridopolis Games – was that bringing all of these elements together in a tight ‘feedback loop’ can yield surprising results. Even with 25 years of design development experience, I was still blown away with the results we achieved.

Some highlights from the development process.

The process involves a few simple steps. Often, I was able to accomplish all of the following in a single day:

  1. Design a new part with a hand sketch
  2. Model and refine the part in Rhino, my 3D software of choice
  3. Export the model & print it out in 3D
  4. Test and review the design part for form, fit and function
  5. Address problems or refinements, and repeat

Previously, the steps outlined above would have taken at least a week (or more!) when outsourcing the 3D printing. As I became more focused and developed a project rhythm, there were times when I was able to repeat this process more than once in a single day. It never occurred to me before that it was even possible!

The term ‘rapid prototyping’ is often used, but now it felt as if the entire design & development process was streamlined.

While this description implies that the process was rushed or accelerated, it was quite the opposite. ‘Frictionless’ may be a better term to describe it, but still doesn't capture the feeling that the design was proceeding at its natural speed, which just so happened to be faster.

The real key to this increase in speed or efficiency is that we had more time for experiments and mistakes. This is not always possible when client projects have a fixed budget and deadline.

Questions and design opportunities that might normally have been ignored in other projects were quickly evaluated and addressed. This meant we had more time to explore potential solutions, which is exactly what you want during an intensive, long-term R&D project. Any shortcut is a potential lost opportunity and can compromise design quality.

You might have noticed that this article appears to be contradicting itself. First, I mentioned how we used digital tools in-house to speed up the design and development process. Then, I pointed out that we spent more time exploring additional opportunities. Both of these statements are true, and each was critical in the final outcome.

Part of my motivation is driven by a desire to innovate at a very high level. Another factor is that we are a tiny company and did not have hundreds of people to throw at the project.

At the same time, this might have been one of the biggest advantages of the tools and process outlined above. A world-class product was developed by a sole-proprietor with a handful of advisors.


The final manufactured set. There are 217 parts included in each box!

BTS Behind the Scenes