Why Full-Sized Prototypes Are Often Necessary

A stained-glass case study

Yes, this happened a very long time ago. It happened when our studio was 2, and now it’s 10: so 8 years ago this happened, which, when you think about everything that’s gone on with banks, and stocks, and businesses going bust everywhere, and money in general, and interest rates, and friends, family … – 8 years is a long, long, long time ago indeed.

8 years is a long time

It’s almost a different world: that’s how it feels to me. Innocence: sweet and very lovely innocence.

And I was reminded of this story I want to tell you because of a design which David’s starting to prepare right now. Now I can’t say much about this design because it’s for a private client. So privacy is important.

What I can say right now is this: parts of these windows contain a lot of circles.


Circles – can you see why we do the cut-line before we draw the cartoon?

In fact whole regions of these four big window are absolutely precise and geometrical.

So circles next to one another, circles on top of one another.

Painting and etching and lots of detail inside each circle of course.

Thus, in some parts, it’s a ruthless geometry which prevails (while in other parts the outline fades and eventually gives way to colour – what else?)

Which means we’ve got to think ahead and make sure that, when it’s leaded up, the lead around the circles really do depict true circles.

And if you’ve never done this for yourself, you may not see the difficulty.

Now as I’m sure you know, when you’re leading up, it’s easy for small differences to happen. You open the lead, and push and squeeze and sometimes even tap the glass to move it into place.

And these small differences which easily happen – they don’t always matter for non-symmetrical like clothing or flowers or even faces.

But if circles stop being circles – if they don’t all have exactly the same amount of visible lead around them – then: you’re in big trouble.

“Close enough” is not enough. It has to be precise.

And that’s why – many months before the painting starts – David is measuring out a section of the cut-line.

Because then we’ll cut some plain white glass.

Like this in fact …

Glass for stained glass circles

Glass – this square is ready for us to trim it so it is a circle

And then we’ll lead it up.

So we’ll make absolutely sure, over many rows and rows of circles, that nothing slips.

Certainly in the prototype things will go wrong.

Indeed, that’s the whole point. Yes, the whole point is to force the issue now. To create a situation where things go wrong. Where errors show their darling little faces. Sure, we can ignore some of them. But some errors which happen now will tell us where we must act, where we must revise the cut-line before we can add colour to the full-sized cartoons.

And then – then, my dear friends and colleagues – then we can get on and “do our thing” which is (what else?) painting.

And silver staining.

And etching.

And plating (so the colour is really rich).

Whatever it takes.

And we’ll do this happily, because we’ll know the bits will fit together. Yes, in late 2015, everything will fit together

But that’s not the story

No, that’s not the story. This is just the “warm-up act” which actually leads nicely to the story which I absolutely want to tell you now.

So please give me a few more minutes: I’ll never waste your time. I’ll only tell you things which really make a difference to your work. So please bear with me just a little longer.

OK, this happened way, way back in 2006 – when Bear Stearns looked fine to most people and Williams & Byrne was barely 2.

And you know what sometimes happens when you’re young and inexperienced is …

What sometimes happens is, (despite your youth) you really do know better than your elders.

But the problem is you just don’t have the presence to make things happen like they should.

No one would listen if you spoke your mind.

(‘Course, sometimes you don’t know better. And sometimes you think you know better but you don’t. Goodness, adolescence is an anxious time for everyone, not just businesses. And then you grow up – and life’s just as complicated as it ever was just when you think you should be settling down and enjoying the fruits of hard-won wisdom.)

So … this new window was for a large new public building which was very nearly finished.

An abstract stained glass window, a little under 4 feet wide and 16 feet high.

Nice work to get at any age but especially when you’re only 2.

Now, this building was in the public sector, so everything was double-glazed.

But, since privacy was required, most windows were double-glazed with opaque, textured glass.

Yes, double-glazed with opaque and textured glass

And this glass was … well, “municipal” is the kindest thing I can find it in my heart to say about it.

The sort of glass which would not be out of place in public toilets.

And what happened was: when our project started, we were instructed to glaze our stained glass against this opaque, textured (public toilet) glass.

Those were our instructions: to embrace the toilet-side-of-things and really work with it.

What would you do here?

Any thoughts?

How does this seem to you, because it seems to me how most times in business there are two big approaches you can choose between.

Trouble is, it’s one or the other but never both.

One way is: go in with a bang, seize attention, cause a stir, don’t be passive, make sure everyone knows how important your contribution is to the project. The idea is, it’s best is to start out by getting everything so it’s just right for you (even if this causes problems for other people). Be unreasonable in fact: it’ll get you heard (whereas if you start out silently – giving way, being helpful – that’ll set the precedent for everything which follows).

OK, so that’s one approach.

Another approach is: don’t rock the boat, especially at the start. The thinking is, it’s better to get the client’s signature first. Then – afterwards – take them to a position where they also agree to the other things you want to get the job done right.

Me, I don’t have a favourite: I just chose one or the other depending on the people and the situation.

And this time we chose not to rock the boat.

Reason was, the toilet glass was already fitted, and it was going to add money to the building project to change things right now.

Time also

Money – and also time. And no one likes delays.

So here’s what we did.

(And this is why I was reminded of this story when David was preparing his test cut-line this morning.)

What we did was: we made a prototype, a gorgeous, lovely prototype.

A whole section.

So about 4 feet by 3.

A lot of work.

And then we met the Chief Executive in her office and showed her what we’d done.

‘Course she wanted to see our work because she knew what a huge difference our glass would make to her building.

So she was thrilled to meet us.

And she was even more thrilled when we showed her the prototype.

Yes, we held it up to the light, and the assistant went “Wow!”, everyone said “That’s amazing!”, the Chief Executive smiled: “That is so lovely …”, she said.

Yes. We held it up to the light. In the Chief’s office. Against her windows. Against her windows which were double-glazed … but double-glazed with clear white glass: no texture, no opacity, no toilet glass for the Chief.

And then of course she said, “Hey! Let’s take it to the conference room” – which was where the window was – “and see it there!”

And we said: “Sure!”

And when we got there, we held our glass up, and ‘course it didn’t glow like it was meant to, but ‘course we’d already got a quote to rip out the old toilet glass and double-glaze it with “Chief Executive” glass, and ‘course it wasn’t really so expensive by comparison with the price of the work which we were doing, and anyway by now the conference room was finished so – this is so important – nothing could delay its completion date.

And right away the Chief agreed.

Prototypes are worth it

So prototypes, they work. That’s what we always knew, even when Williams & Byrne was only 2.

And nothing in the past 8 years has ever shown us any different.

Sure, they cost you time and money up-front.

But …

Stephen Byrne of Williams & Byrne the glass painters


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