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Friday, August 1, 2014

Working with Mockups

Hi there folks!

I wanted to take a few minutes to highlight a technique I use to help ensure that what I end up with is what I really want.  I think that building mock ups, especially when you are not familiar with a process or with even exactly what you want, is incredibly valuable.

You've already seen me using mock ups for most of what I have posted about.  I have done this all the way through this build.  My primary reason for doing this is that I am a bit of a visual learner and my design style is highly tuned to visual information.  I can draw, but I cannot draw my "plan".  My creative process, for whatever reason, is interrupted if I try to fully design on paper.  

I need the visual and tactical information that comes from building mock ups.  I have changed several of my design choices as a result of the mock ups.  I thought it might be of interest to you all to see some of those changes throughout the build so far.  If nothing else, it will show you the challenge that designing is for me.

Above, you see the second version of the grand staircase I built out of foam board.  The first was less graceful...which is why it was not first in the post!  Here that is.

There are the obvious differences between the first version made of cardboard and Styrofoam, and the second version in Foam Core board. But look beyond those differences... to the less obvious ones!

See the differences in shapes?  The straight rise is narrower in the Styrofoam version, the "neck" of the stair landing is shaped differently, and the three steps are each different as well.  

So I hear you asking..why are you testing me?!! This is a blog, and I don't want to work!   But there really is a reason! 

What I want to point out is that the building of a full mock up helped me to better visualize the "space".  It helped me visualize the final product in the room.  And it saved me a real disappointment!  Take a look at the scale in the two pictures above.  Which one is "in scale"? Not the pretty one!

My "mistakes" were made on two different levels.  

In the first model, I was trying out shapes and sizes, and I realized that I didn't like the narrow, short footprint that I had originally designed. This allowed me to go back to the drawing board and make subtle changes that totally changed the gracefulness of the model.  Did you prefer the photo on the bottom just below?   I sure do. 

You might dismiss this with a casual look, thinking it is only the difference between the cardboard and Styrofoam model versus the precision of the Foam Core build...but look closer again!  The curves on the bottom three stairs turn outward on the Foam Core model, only the bottom tread retains the original shape, while the Styrofoam model has all three stairs turned inward.  Notice the length of the second and third treads is altered on both steps as is the length of the entire base.  

The other "mistake" I made was that I altered the riser length on the Foam Core version without thinking about the effect.  I just thought it looked better!  Then I realized what I had done.  The entire build was out of scale.  My poor little model Jorge couldn't get his leg up onto the riser!

I'd also like to point out a second change I made...I originally designed a bump out on the back of the staircase base as well.  Here is a picture of the way that looked.  Building the mock up caused me to see that the overall shape looked odd when viewed from this vantage point. That design was changed as a result, to look like this...

See how much more graceful the whole thing is?  These are changes I would probably not have made if I had built the original version out of wood.  

The final version, in close up, looks like this from the front:

And like this from the back:

And what is better?  The final version (also still incomplete like EVERYTHING else so far) is right in scale...Jorge can climb them easily!

So why, do you ask, do you drag me through all of this?  Why to demonstrate the value of building a mock up!  It has saved my bacon several times in the months of the build so far.  This is only one of the several changes I have made because I put together a mock up, whether simple or complex, to "check my work".  

For me, part of the success of a miniature build is the combination of shape and space.  By playing with mock ups first, I am able to revise my plan slightly, alter a line here, a size there, even a color or texture, because what I built first was not my "final" version.  Going in to the build knowing I am not building the final version takes the pressure and angst out of making those mistakes. 

I hope you found the process of my progression in design either helpful or amusing!  I don't mind being laughed at, just titter behind your hands, so I don't see it and I will be fine!  

Until next time!

Doug S


  1. Hello Doug!

    This is a great post! I'm totally on board with making a mock up before diving into a project. Congratulations on successfully scaling the staircase. It is looking great.
    You mentioned in an earlier post, the book by Dorie Krusz. That was the first miniatures book I purchased in 1977 when it was published. It is a terrific resource and her method of building was inspired.
    I am enjoying your blog and will continue to watch the progress of your house!
    Warm regards,

    1. Hey Ray! Thank You for your comments! I am so glad you are enjoying the blog so far...I just keep shoving stuff out there,and I do wonder. I've been spending all my time blogging lately, so I wonder if I'll MAKE any more progress!

      I really believe in mock ups...they can prevent (sometimes expensive!) mistakes. And for me...the gains in design results are well worth the extra effort!

  2. Doug, this is soooo helpful. I really see the advantage of doing it this way. I am kind of new at this and I find myself hesitating starting a project or moving forward on certain things because of that "angst of making a mistake". I think this will help me keep my progress going a little less stressful. Thank you so much for this valuable advice!

  3. Hi there! I am so glad you benefited from this! I usually do some sort of mockup of everything I do...some very simple others more elaborate, like above. They are so very helpful in visualizing a potential outcome!

    I hope you have as much fun as I have had with your projects. I am missing being able to spend time on mine...we are in the process of selling, and I have just not had time to devote to this...everything currently packed up in boxes...until another day!

    Thanks for the comment! I hope you have many fun hours building mockups! :0)


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