I look at a group of ideas as the seeds from which a good plan grows. There are, however, a few things you should be doing right from the start:
Record your ideas
Whenever inspiration strikes, write it down. Ideas strike at odd times and are easily forgotten. A technique writers use is to carry a notebook around during the day and keep it beside the bed at night. I have a couple of notebooks filled with sketches of everything from entire case designs to lists of materials to construction methods.
Over the last few years I have accumulated enough ideas to keep me going for the next 20 years. You never know when you’ll think of the next great mod or see something that inspires you, and you’ll be glad you have your notebook handy when you do!
Keep it Simple
If, like me, you suffer from too many ideas, the best piece of advice I can give you is to keep things simple. It’s easy to have so many ideas filling your notebook and to want to use them all in your next project. Resist the temptation! Instead, distill them down – perhaps choose a main concept or theme, and a few specific features and materials you’ll include. You can go to town on the details during the build. Besides, you’ll want to save some good ideas for the next project!
Is Having a ‘Theme’ a Good Thing?
I suppose ‘it depends’ is not a very good answer, although it’s most often the one I give. It all depends on your idea of what a ‘theme’. To me, a ‘theme’ is a good thing when it means having a set palette of colours or materials, and sticking with them. For example, a case where the builder has decided to only use polished aluminium, red back-lit perspex, white perspex and counter-bored socket screws throughout, and no other colors. Themes can also include specific designs based on favourite games, movies, TV shows, custom cars or bikes and so on; if done with skill and good design, these can be some of the best mods you’ll ever see.
Dark Blade is designed from a gaming related theme, and the classic, Macro Black, is centred around blue, green and of course, black.
Strike a Balance
Try not to overdo it when working out your ideas – strike a balance between the overall look of the mod and the materials you use. A busy, complex-construction mod can benefit from a simple palette of materials; conversely, a multi-coloured mod or one with a wide variety of materials, might benefit from a simple, clean design. There are no hard and fast rules here, just err on the side of less is more (see ‘Keep It Simple’).
Having an incredible idea is no good if you don’t have the ability to build it. Be realistic about the skills you have and what tools and services you have available. An unrealistic idea is something that often turns around to bite a modder right in the middle of a build, after having spent a lot of time and money already.
It’s an embarrassing situation that can be avoided in the early stages of planning. If you really want a particular look beyond your skills, and you have the patience to put your idea on hold, try enrolling in workshop classes at a local college or equivalent. You may find yourself getting access to professional tools and machines, enabling you to work on your mod while you’re learning.
Don’t get jealous of the guy who has a milling machine and the skills to use it - go and get the skills yourself. If this isn’t possible for whatever reason, then alter your idea to fit your skills and available tools or look at outsourcing some of the work (eg. try water-jet or laser cutting companies).