Archive for the ‘Design ramblings’ Category


And a cup and saucer in a Pear Tree…

January 8, 2009

I’m really enjoying the current project for studio, Cups and Saucers and Plates. I’m also trying to branch out a bit with my project – I typically design things that are on the modern, simplistic, and geometric side of things – while I don’t have a particular problem with developing a style, I don’t want to get myself stuck in a corner quite yet.  My three words are: Playful, Exciting, and Funky. I’m trying to expand my horizons, and its kinda working thus far. The stuff I made in studio this morning didn’t quite have the desired affect – I was attempting to suggest human interaction through deformation of the form to fit the shape of the hand – however, it ended up looking slightly ‘squishy’ or a bit too crafty.  Funky should be a fun word to work with, I’m hoping to make a form that is just “slightly out there”, or just odd enough to be exciting and something you want to pick up and drink out of. I’m not exactly sure where its going to go, but I guess thats the reason for the design process that I’ll be spending the next couple weeks in.

Also, with regards to the New York idea that David suggested, I have to say I’m rather excited about the whole concept. I never end up following through with some of that sort of project since I”m doing them by myself, and don’t have the benefit of someone to ask questions when I get stuck on a detail. I think we can pull it off, get a lot of very useful experience, and have a lot of fun all at the same time with the right motivation, and a trip to NY may just be what we need for that.



What does it mean to be a designer?

September 17, 2008

Designers are the wizards of the digital age.

That statement is going to make me sound like a geek. But it makes sense in my head.

A designer’s job is to be a mediator for people, to be a go-between between them and the ‘magic’ of new technology. The majority of people can’t deal with raw technology, and the majority of the people who come up with technology can’t understand why people can’t handle the technology like they can (see: Aware Home).

And so you have the designer – our job is understanding stuff. Not quite to the point of an expert on either side of the field – we generally arn’t inventing new tecnologies, but we need to understand those that the Nerds in engineering and comp. sci. come up with. We don’t need to be completely up to date on all the details of psycology and the social sciences, but we need to be able to relate with people and make things for them.

Thus the ‘wizard’ analogy. We arn’t in the business of discovering the ways that magic exists in the world, but it is our job to use it to help the common people, and put it in forms that people can use.

That looks worse on paper than it does in my head. I’m thinking Lord of the Rings here, not Hairy Potters or anything of that sort. Nothing against it, just not a fan.


Back on the horse again

September 17, 2008

Back to work. Its taken me a couple days to get back into the studio groove, but I think I have a plan for where I’m going again. I’m going to run with the storage problem, while not directly attacking the storage problem. From what I’ve seen in my research, older people store lots of stuff they don’t really need. The reasons for this tend to vary – I’ve seen a couple. One, they’re afraid they might need it later – one source attributed this to growing up in harder economic times, or back in the day when products were made to last, and did, instead of the environment of today, when things are meant to be used and disposed of.

Then, there are a couple other reasons – for some, even if they don’t need something, they thing someone else in their family does – my grandmother had 4-5 sets of dishes in her basement, because they’re still technically good, and who knows when one of the grandchildren will be moving out and needing a set, or if another relative will need them, etc. There are boxes of things waiting to be shipped to family who moved out of state, especially the grandchildren, there are boxes being saved for children who ‘will want them once they get more room to store it.’ On the other hand, you have the sort that stores stuff because it was expensive one day, and would be worth a lot to the right person – one grandfather has boxes of vacuum tubes in his attic, and because of their age, they’d be quite valuable to someone who needs them to restore an antique, or putting together some piece of retro technology. In this case, its not the usefulness of teh item that is the problem, its getting it to the right person that is at stake. I mean, when my grandfather was moving and needed to clean out some, he invited people over and was giving stuff away if they could use it.

This proposes a couple options – the direction David proposed to take the project is to make up a business that would help solve the problem and create a product that they would need to interface with the customers and their stuff in their homes (while still keeping it a domestic product?). For one option, I’ve found websites that allow people to swap books and movies – you post your stuff and what you want, and it calculates options of people that want that same swap in the opposite direction – the facilitate the trade by printing shipping labels and stuff. That sort of program would work for some stuff, but in many cases, people don’t need all that much stuff – they just need to get rid of some stuff. I could see some sort of online system that allows people to ‘buy’ stuff, and then those people who sold it can trade in that currency for either more stuff, or trade it in for resturant gift certificates or something else they can use.

As for what this leads to in Product designs, I’d imagine they would need a retail location to create their online product list… and some way for people to easily get stuff to and from the store. They would need mailers to get rewards to people, and boxes or other packaging for the stuff they’re shipping out. People would need to somehow document the products in a consistant way, as well as some way to keep stuff somewhere they can find it. I can see a ‘rental’ sort of system working, similar to those big storage containers people rent and put on their driveway – people rent a unit that helps them store stuff, and get it to a ‘retail ready’ state, taking pictures, writing descriptions, etc.

The other option, and I’m not sure what sort of product options we have here, is for the people who need to get stuff to family if they want it – I don’t know what I could do with that, but I’m still thinking on that.


Where things be going.

September 8, 2008

I can’t say I know exactly what I’m doing – I think I have some good ideas though.

I’m trying to avoid the cliche-ish old people projects – trying to avoid fixing an easy problem with a horribly complex solution. Yes, a pill dispenser would be nice, and would save some headaches, but such an animal already exists, and redesigning it really isn’t necessary. Although I could design a new chair-lift to get people up and down stairs, it doesn’t require any real innovation. In other words, I’m looking for a more open-ended problem that can really inspire some innovation and let me do something really interesting.

I have a couple thoughts. One, addressing the stair issue, how can we eliminate the whole chair lift thing in the first place, by reworking the stair design to make them transversable by people with limited mobility, without making them unusable to normal people? The idea would be, to allow for disability without creating unhealthy habits such as Elevators and such – they are required in buildings because of building codes, to help people who can’t get up standard stairs – but it ends up with perfectly normal people who use them because they are too lazy to walk up a flight of stairs. On the other hand, only the disabled people use the chair lift – but because of its design, it is basically a social stigma to use it – how do you avoid that, while not enabling laziness?

My other thought, was that old people have lots of crap. As in, too much stuff in their basements that they really should throw away. Both sets of my grandparents have a bit of a packrat issue, collecting completely different stuff – one collects stuff best catagorized as “garage sale crap”, with the justification that “oh, Tim will want that one day” – and on the other side of the family, we have an overly large collection of old technology stuff, everything from boxes upon boxes of vacuum tubes in the attic, old electronic components, boxes of equipment, whatever. All extremely useful stuff in its time, but not something my grandfather will ever use again – at least not something he is likely to use in anywhere near the magnitude of what he stores. Again, a fair amount is being stored for when ‘someone else’ needs it. And in many cases, there is some useful stuff that ‘someone’ needs, and that shouldn’t be thrown away, but that person finding that thing is highly unlikely.

When you add this tendancy to store everything with decreased mobility, dexterity, and all sorts of other problems that come with age, you have a problem of epic preportions, where the only person who knows where stuff is can’t handle it, and those who could use it don’t know it exists. This seems like a nice complex problem that could use an elegant solution – some sort of storage system that would help with all that. But, how would it be implemented so its different (and better) than every other storage system, and is that problem better stated as ‘what should be thrown away’?

mmm… research.



Waiting for a project.

September 4, 2008

Today, it seems, is one of those days. I don’t have anything to do. No homework for any class (except Design Research Methods, for which I have yet to be motivated to go work on), and lots of time to do nothing. As such, I can’t help but get that annoyed feel that I don’t have anything to do, since I know that if you give me a week, I’ll be back to staying up all night for nights in a row. If we could spread that out a tad, that’d be great.

On the other hand, I’m getting to do all sorts of stuff I would usually consider ‘goofing off’, or such. Yesterday and today, I’ve been working on a little project – I’m working on a design for a clock. I was actually had my original idea before class started, so this is pre-seniors-working on clocks, but it should be pretty cool. My current goal is a completely custom clock – I’m working on making oversized gears and mechanics that I can cut out on the laser cutter and bandsaw. I’m hoping to emphasize them in the design – they really are the most interesting part of a clock, so why hide them all behind a face? I’m thinking of meshing it with the style of my Lamp from last year – I think the simplistic style + emphasis on angles will work pretty well. That, of course, may change as the project goes on.

First step on that, although I’ve done some initial sketching, I feel I need an idea of what sort of space to allocate to mechanics at this scale – so my current plan is to cut a set of gears and get a working prototype, so I can then design some around it. Its probably a bit more towards the engineering side of things, but since I don’t have an engineer working on this with me, its pretty much my job. Good thing clocks are relatively simple, right?

I’m also doing some prelim work on a sketching ideation tool for my website – just a simple random item generator to solve the problem of “what should I sketch?”. Thats kinda boring, but it helps with stuff.


Studio-wise, we went on a field trip yesterday – and can now say I have a good idea of what it looks like when computer scientists try to get into product design by throwing every cool trick they know in one pile of technology. You get ‘high tech’ ways of tracking grandma’s activity in her house through cameras mounted in her ceiling, which, when you boil it down, consists of breaking up the video feed into pictures and doing some programming at the level of what is taught in CS1315 to everyone at Tech. I mean really, I’ve done more complex programming in my spare time. And to top it off, everything was rife with assumptions as to “oh yeah, that would just work”, or “we haven’t gotten to that part yet…”, or “If you don’t tell old people its a computer, just say its a tool, and they’d be fine!”. I mean, really. The only thing that approached to a complete concept was the computer console that was meant to help someone use a complex technology device, but I’m still not convinced it would be a commercially viable design. Not only did they assume every manufacturer would comply with a single standard to let them interface with the device, but each manufacturer would have to make a complete instruction set for each of their devices, for something that really boiled down to nothing more than a bigger display screen for a glucometer. If a manufacturer was to put that much effort into something, wouldn’t it just be one hell of a lot easier to make the thing better designed in the first place?

All the other things pretty much boiled down to a video camera and a researcher sitting in a backroom simulating a $1000 device that would save you $10 in messed up cookies. All while looking creepy. Throw in that you’d pretty much have to have the kitchen designed around the thing to keep it from looking akward…

To summarize, the whole thing gets a resounding ‘meh’. congratulations, you’re a big waste of money. That said, I do see what they’re trying to do – I just don’t think looking to high (scary) technology is the way to address the problem. Old people don’t like video screens, cameras in the roof, etc, anything that looks like a computer. At least, not this generation. That’ll work in 40 years when my generation is retiring. I’m all for having a robot help me cook. And/or help me blow things up. Who said you have to get boring when you retire?



Project Post-Mortem

August 31, 2008

To wrap up the last project, and get ready for the next one, a proper post-mortem to figure out what happened.

To put it bluntly, I didn’t like how my presentation went. I think the project really needed more time, and that time I had ended up misallocated thanks to some shoddy planning on my part. Lets go through some feedback I got from the reviewers and other classmates:

1. The model backpack I made was nice, but could have used some more work on certain things.

2. Most of the work I did ended up more on the engineering side of things, and even that didn’t quite have enough work put into it.

3. Needed more work on Ergonomics

4. Boards were hard to read in parts where colors overlapped.


And, honestly the reviewers were right – I did spend far too much time on the engineering side of things, but in my defense, in a way, I kinda had to. If I had an engineer on my team working with me, sure, that would have been their concern, but I was told to tackle a problem that had a large amount of ‘how it works involved, and I wasn’t quite comfortable working on ergonomics of the pack when there was such a gaping hole in the plan, such as “how the things fit together”. As not to be completely depressing, It isn’t without its lesson – in the future, an approach closer to Wes’ (leaving the mechanical details in the air to some extent, and use some awesome computer renders to distract the reviewers) may work better.

I think the model backpack was what killed me – scratch that, I know its what killed me. When I have roughly half a week to go from vague concept to presentation, I just didn’t have time to be in the shop chiseling out a backpack from a block of sign foam, nor the time to spend another 5 hours gluing fabric on said block. With another week, that would have been a valid addition to my presentation, without some of the corner-cutting, such as proper-looking padding for the ergonomic people, and perhaps some more care taken when gluing to allow for an ‘open’ view or something. Unfortunately, a lesser model wasn’t possible, ignore fabric and you have an ugly brick of sign foam, ignore the sign foam and you have a hopelessly complicated sewing job. The route I probably should have gone would be a nice render of sorts, but since building a good computer model is, once again, nearly impossible for fabric in the programs I have in my skill set, marker would probably have been the way to go, allowing me more time to work on other more important issues. But, alas, I’m not sure my marker skills are up to the task – yet another thing to add to my to-work-on list.

As for boards, I was quite disapointed with them – I had such awesome plans, but just plain-old ran out of time – despite only stopping work between Wednesday and Friday for classes on Thursday and 3 hours of sleep Friday morning. Didn’t help that most of that was spent gluing fabric on a brick of sign foam, but yeah, we’ve been over that. Next time more planning is in order, with the hope that something nice’ll come out of it.



Sleep deprivation is now an approved design technique.

August 26, 2008

Not sure what it was, but I tried going to sleep over an hour ago – but something clicked on my design, and now I can’t get to sleep. I’ve now got a pretty good idea of what my design will look like, and have a schedule of what I need to get done when to avoid killing myself at the last minute.

If you know anything about my normal design style, this is not it. I typically just go at it until I run out of time, but I figured I needed to get this stuff started if I want to get what I need to get done this week done. (editor’s note: I’m relatively certain that made sense. However, as previously stated, I’m sleep deprived. When you read it, assume it means what I’m assuming you will think it means). Add the complication that I don’t want to be up all night Thursday (nothing to do with the football game, I’m perfectly fine with missing it for the cause), but I want to be alive after my presentation…

I think I’ve solved my troubles of how the boxes will attach to the frame (oh yeah, I decided to go on hard boxes in a soft case, with the added complication of an internal, probably aluminum, frame to hold the boxes where they should be). A bit more hardware added to a generic design should hold the boxes in place, with a simply designed spring holding the hardware in that position until you press in as sliding… its a bit hard to describe with text, but I’ll have sketches.

On the agenda for tomorrow is: Enough sketches to establish a final design direction, a model of the joinery, a model of a box, and begin on a solidworks model of the frame (with a simple geometry of the overall bag built over that to establish the size of a blank for my physical model).

Wednesday morning shalt be shopping morning, wherein I will run around buying stuff like a suburbanite on the day after thanksgiving, after which I will begin my models – gluing up a basic blank in sign foam (or pink, not quite decided – pink would be easier to work with, but lacks on strength – its cheaper, and with a coat of bondo it would be )roughly equivilant, but lighter…. hmm, will think on this more.), and get it to a rough shape. By the time I work in the evening (Yay, work in the shop. perfectly timed to wipe out an important evening), I’d hope to have it near to the point of sculpting basic details onto it – afterwards, its a long night of making the physical model.

Where from there depends – Thursday will be boards and further modeling if needed – I’d like to have a physical model of the frame as well as in SolidWorks, but SolidWorks would suffice in a pinch for time. Depending on how the boxes go (I’ve been informed that PETG, the plastic of which I have a healthy supply thanks to the Facilities people, doesn’t melt together with normal solvent cements – this would complicate any lasercut + glued together box design, which limits me to less friendly materials, or longer processes), I may want a couple of those functional too, to fit on any physical frame I have. Slightly on the unrealistic side, and I don’t know what they’d add to the presentation, unless they’re exceptionally well done.

Now to see if I’ve gotten that out of my system sufficiently enough to get some sleep – given that I need to get up way to bright and early tomorrow to get to Alias at 8:00… I sure hope so.