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Patterns for common design and construction situations?

The architect Christopher Alexander noticed that, when designing buildings, you end up encountering a number of common situations. For example, wanting an inviting entry way, or having a comfy, well-lit place to read. The solutions for these tend to be quite similar, adjusted for project specifics. Having a codified way to refer to these common situations and design solutions makes it easier for everyone to discuss and reuse these ideas, and Alexander came up with A Pattern Language (

Software developers copied the general idea after realizing that there are common problems and solutions in coding as well. Now programmers can talk about design patterns such as Singletons and Decorators as shorthand for basic coding techniques. When used right it saves time wasted in re-inventing unessential wheels.

I've been trying my hand at making paper toys, and have run into assorted issues that others must have encountered before. For example, when making a basic box shape, where best to put the glue tabs? If you're not careful you end up with a structure that's hard to complete. Or how best to create tapered or curved shapes? What are simple but effective ways to make arms? Shoes? After some trial and error I find ways to get acceptable results without having to use a million folds and tabs or dozens of separate parts.

It got me wondering if there was anything like design patterns for paper toys. Some book or Web site that cataloged basic techniques or patterns for common results. What I've looked at talks about basic cutting and gluing, but not so much about how to plan a shape, where best to make folds and cuts, when can you get away with leaving a side or bottom open, or how to layout glue tabs for easy construction.

Does this exist? Worth pursuing?

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I've been using Pepakura for about a year now, that plus Google Sketchup. The results are what got me thinking about how to recognize when the layout and tabbing of pepakura are going to be awkward without having to first try and build the model.

There's no real substitute for experience, but there have to be some basic concepts about how best to unfold a 3D shape, or where best to place tabs, or how to avoid a clumsy folding sequence. Something along the lines of, "If you're making a box shape that's closed on 5 out of 6 sides, then the unfolded shape should look like and the tabs should be ."
It may be difficult to find rules for design of paper toys.
Depending on the design/intent of a paper toy, different solutions may work for similar shapes.
I found that this can even be the case for the simplest cube shapes. Perhaps this is because the goal is not to create a paper cube, but to create the illusion of something else (a character, animal, car, etc).

reading the above, I see I haven't really answered your question at all, sorry

It is a tough thing to answer, because the goal for me is to find ways of describing somewhat abstract ideas. If a description is too detailed it ends up being mostly a set of steps for creating a very particular shape. If too general, then it lacks enough grounding to apply.

Here's an example of what's floating around in my mind: I was playing around with some paper, trying to come up with some interesting shapes, and I ended up with one where I needed to close up one remaining open side. This tends to be problem for me, because with no other open areas I can't readily reach in and apply some backing pressure to glue things and hold things in place.

So I'm looking at this shape, and I think, I don't have use an exact fit, I can just place something larger over the opening, a canopy of sorts (or a hat). This avoids the need to have a bunch of glue tabs that are next to impossible to get right. You mostly need to secure it at one point and let it drape over the edges.

So now I have a fairly open solution or option for a possibly common problem: use a canopy. But it doesn't rely on any specific size or shape so much as being a general idea. And it's not a rule, but a possible design path. And since I have a name for it, it makes it easier for to make notes about.
Hey Guys,

I just posted an entry on my blog. I think it's related to this forum topic. You might find it useful, it's about various locking methods that I think might be helpful when designing paper toys.

Let me know what you think.
Cheers for now!


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