When a designer begins ideation for a project, they often tend not to worry too much about whether their ideas can work or if they are actually even feasible. That’s perfectly fine – at this early stage anyway. There are a plethora of benefits in open and innovative in your thinking at the start of a project.
An idea should not be committed to lightly, or on a purely qualitative basis. After all, what does is matter if the idea fulfils all the requirements for stakeholders if the end product is a veritable fantasy?
This is where approximate calculations can be useful. If a concept looks promising, a few simple applications of common sense, maths and physics can mean the difference between a successful product and a wild goose chase that wastes time and money.
Take, for example, the concept of an electric car powered solely by solar energy. From just this, it sounds like a fantastic, sustainable solution. So, why don’t we have those? If you were to carry out a few initial calculations, very roughly with plenty of assumptions, you would soon discover that to power a car, a very, very large solar panel would be needed.
‘Very, very large’ is a phrase which here means: about the size of a tennis court. Obviously, this now seems like a less than fantastic idea. From just a few quick calculations, this concept can be written off entirely, at least with currently existing solar technology.
From my perspective, I think it’s important not to get too bogged down with how things might work or whether things are possible at the very early stages of ideation. Sometimes, the concepts that stem from wild trains of thought can be incredibly innovative and can often be developed into practical designs completely different from those on the market. This creative stage is vitally important to not close off certain routes prematurely.
It is only after this stage that I feel approximate calculations play a pivotal role. As nice as it would be to continue developing purely whimsical, creative concepts, practicality has to have its say in the process too if you are to end up with anything worthwhile in the end. Perhaps you might eventually realise that a design just won’t work, but it would save a huge amount of your time and energy to just do the maths.