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    A buddy of mine got the iPhone X. He likes the screen size, but is still getting used to the fact that for the facial recognition to turn it on, he has to pick it up, bring it up to his face, and stare at it. That doesn't appeal to me from a UX perspective.

    Another application of the face-rec technology is games. Developer Nathan Gitter figured out how to make a game that you play using your eyebrows. I can't tell if the game—which kind of reminds me of "Frogger"—is fun to play or not, but watching him play it is hilarious:

    It would be funny if all the top players of this game wound up with really wrinkled, wizened faces.

    iPhone X users that want to give it a try, the game is called "Rainbrow."



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    It's been a wild ride, but the 2017  Core77 Ultimate Gift Guide has finally come to a close. Thanks to all of you, our annual gift guide competition was better than ever. We're bestowing big prizes, including a Wacom Intous Pro Paper tablet, Prismacolor art markers, Wintersmiths Ice Chest and Leatherman multitools, to this year's gift guide Community Choice, Editor's Choice and Runner-Up champions. Our winners are as follows: 

    Community Choice Winner

    Books You'll Want to Sniff After You Unwrap Them

    Looks like our audience is filled with some serious book sniffers. Through their voting power, the Core77 community has declared industrial designer Thomas Ho's design book-filled gift guide this year's Community Choice winner. 

    Congrats, Thomas! You'll be receiving a brand new Wacom Intuos Pro Paper tablet in the mail. We hope its smell is up to your standards.

    Editor's Choice Winners

    Our readers really brought their A-game to the competition, so picking favorites was H-A-R-D! We decided on our two Editor's Choice winners based on playfulness, gift-ability, and theme ingenuity.

    Go Go Gadget!

    Product designer Daniel Slaski's guide has it all—convenience, diversity and a killer color scheme. What's not to love about 5 useful bright red objects you can fit in your pocket?

    Daniel, we'll be sending you the ultimate gadget—a Leatherman Tread Tempo! It may not fit in your pocket, but we're sure you'll find plenty of uses for this multipurpose watch.

    Simple Escapes from the Digital World

    In a world where everyone is attached to their phones, computers and Amazon Alexa, Product Design Engineer Andy Kriebel's gift guide is a nice reminder that tech isn't everything. We'll definitely be using this guide as inspiration to go on a digital diet during holiday break. 

    Congrats, Andy! We're sending a (tech-free!) 72 piece Prismacolor Double-Ended Art Marker set your way. We hope you'll sketch up even more ideas to help us escape from the digital world. 

    Runner-Ups

    Advanced Mixology

    There are few things more satisfying than snuggling up with a homemade cocktail during the cold winter months and impressing your friends with the fruits of your mixology labor. Kitchen Architect Ann Porter's mixology themed guide is a wonderfully curated list of tools to help make the perfect at-home cocktails come to life. 

    How fitting?! Ann, you'll be taking home a Wintersmiths Ice Chest to help out with your holiday drink concoctions. 

    The Best of Retro Tech Revival

    Tamagotchi Pets and a Classic Edition NES.... need we say more? Alex Netz's nostalgic technology guide really hit home for us. We were considering traveling back in time to bring back the best gifts from the past, but it looks like that won't be necessary.

    Alex, you've won yourself a Leatherman Wave multitool. Similar to your guide, the Wave was launched in 1998 then redesigned in 2004—so in a way, it's also a product revival!

    Makers Gonna Make, Make, Make, Make, Make

    We just can't get over this title and the creative gifts Paved with Gold Co-Founder Richard Ling put together for this maker-themed guide. We're proposing a Taylor Swift "Shake it Off" remix called "Make it Off"—you in, Richard?

    Either way, a Leatherman Skeletool is coming your way in the mail. Make away!

    A big thanks to our readers for submitting such thoughtful guides, and happy holidays from the Core77 team!

    We couldn't have asked for better entries. From practical to fun to outrageous and beautiful—you guys really nailed it! We're already looking forward to next year's showdown.


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    Furniture continues to be a popular topic with Core77 readers, and here are ten of the standout pieces and stories we saw this year.

    First off, some nuts-and-bolts stuff, that doesn't actually require any nuts and bolts. We covered how Ikea's new joinery system is advancing the design of the furniture itself.

    Emko's unusual, circular line of hideaway desks/storage cabinets are "an all round success."

    Another round piece of furniture, this one made for boozehounds (or oenophiles, depending upon how classy you are" was the Don Vino Wine Table.

    Speaking of display furniture, this year we saw there's a robust market for furniture for geeks. Specifically, folks who want to store and display their Star Wars figures within a functional piece of furniture.

    We stumbled across this desk by Carroll Street Woodworkers that had a very unique feature.

    A more commonplace furniture feature that's now trending is the ability to make those around you disappear. At a time when people have little online privacy, furniture that offers physical privacy in public spaces is becoming popular.

    At Stockholm Design Week we spotted another piece of privacy furniture, this one inspired by both Samurai armor and insects, by FÄRG BLANCHE.

    Interestingly, the minimalist Wakufuru system of tables and benches is designed to offer not visual privacy, but "sonic relief" with its integration of sound-dampening materials.

    In terms of a designer/builder doing something wildly different from his peers, we found Kent Walsh, whose Griffin Modern Furniture & Design combines three disparate aesthetics: Steampunk, Communist military and Mid Century Modern.

    And finally, in another unusual but pleasing mash-up, Ikea and HAY finally released their much-anticipated collaboration, the Ypperlig collection.

    Stay tuned for the best Transforming Furniture stories of the year!


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    This story is part two of MakerBot's series of design studies, exploring iterative design and the relationship between designers and their tools. 

    You've probably taken something apart just to see how it works. Maybe you fixed it, maybe you marveled at the ingenuity of the design, but something about it was fascinating.

    I had this experience recently with a micro drone. It flies surprisingly well, has a camera, and even some stabilization features. With my curiosity getting the better of me, I decided to take it apart and reverse engineer it to create my own 3D printed design.

    Using the existing motors, battery, and electronic boards, here's how I did it:

    1. Dismantle and evaluate hardware components

    I began by disassembling the original drone carefully to expose the individual components and learn how they interact within the existing assembly design. Included in the assembly are a main board, a battery, an image board for the camera, and 4 motors for each of the four rotors.

    Next, I considered what the constraints are going to be in my redesign; there's a fixed distance between the motors, and the weight of my new design needs to be close to that of the existing design. I planned to maybe alter the location of the ports, the positioning of the boards, the wire routing, the overall structure, and further optimize for durability—because crashing drones is fun.

    2. Create blind solids based on components

    Using the basic information I had in front of me, I took measurements to design blind solids in CAD as placeholders for what the fixed constraints would be for a new, updated design. Calipers are a must for this. Try to get your dimensions down to at least 100 micrometers—especially at this scale.

    3. Sketch new design variations, then input to CAD

    With the existing components represented in CAD, I began sketching new variations of the crash-resistant design. Putting the blind solids in CAD helped to explore possibilities with an even better understanding of the spatial relationships.

    Among other design decisions, I chose to change the arm structure to improve cable routing and add durability, while creating a more blocky, "kid friendly" hull.

    4. Isolate new components and iterate individually

    Body:

    Working with a clamshell assembly, I took a shotgun approach and committed to testing five different fixture schemes. Using a 3D printer was a huge advantage here; these small bodies print incredibly fast on the Replicator+. It's also important to keep the limitations of the printer in mind; which are particularly complex, tiny features.

    Arms:

    The main challenge here was cable routing. I tested a piping system for a cleaner look, however, it added too much additional weight to be feasible. Additionally, I tested trusses, which gave good strength and simplified cable routing.

    5. Print preparation and 3D printing constraints

    With a finished design mocked up in CAD, I imported the entire assembly into MakerBot Print to fine tune print settings. Mass economy is important, so I dropped the number of shells to 1, and the infill percentage to 3%. It took me a couple of tests to get down the perfect combination of shells and infill in order to keep the body light and the arms rigid enough to hold up the motor's lift.

    To ensure clean embossing on the low-relief logo on the top surface, I kept my text size larger than 8pt to avoid any spurring.

    6. Print, test—repeat

    With the prints finished, I labeled everything before taking them off the build plate to begin assembly and weighing. This is the stage where I learned the most; some parts didn't fit perfectly; some arms were too heavy; some component layouts that made sense on the screen were obvious failures in the real world.

    I took this batch of learnings and went back to iterating the individual components.

    7. Fly the Printed Drone

    Reverse engineering something is one of the best ways to learn how it works, while also sharpening other design and engineering skills in the process. You learn about the intentionality of design and manufacturing decisions and get to play a bit of forensics with why and how things are laid out the way they are. In this case, it was about hunting for opportunities for improvement, and the incremental improvements that define the iterative design process.

    Now, lets fly this thing!

    *****

    MakerBot, the Brooklyn-based 3D printing company, pioneered the first connected desktop 3D printers and operates Thingiverse, the world's largest 3D printing community and file library.


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    JAL, "Just Another Lamp," is a lamp based on simplicity, quality of materials, and purity of purpose.

    Just Another Lamp appeared in a small sketch while we were doing one of our weekly meetings—those meetings in which things go wonderfully off track and great ideas appear out of nowhere.

    We realized that the purity of an hourglass shape had the function of lamp holder in the union of the two cones. We just had to add a simple thread, a light bulb, and a cable to get JAL.


    View the full project here

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    This is a fascinating concept: Imagine a post-apocalyptic future where surviving humans are clustered in cities--that are all up on enormous wheels and roam the earth in search of ever-dwindling resources. And to get by, they can snack on other, smaller cities. 

    That's the concept of author Philip Reeve's "Predator Cities" series of sci-fi books, and now Peter Jackson has gone and turned it into a movie called "Mortal Engines," named for the first book.

    The trailer just came out yesterday. Here's what that world looks like:

    I love Reeves' term for this type of society: "Municipal Darwinism." I am imagining this scenario taking place in America, envisioning New York gobbling up Miami, Chicago eating Milwaukee, Houston eating everything. But I can't decide whether San Francisco would eat L.A. or vice versa.


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    As a practicing designer I worked in "structural package design," i.e. bottles. I had zero leeway in volume control; if I was tasked to CAD up a 500mL bottle, the internal displacement had to be precisely 500mL up to the fill line. And the folks in Marketing often determined the height of the bottle (to stand taller than the competitors on the store shelves), reducing my options further.

    My question is for those of you with flatware design experience. Are you allowed to determine the diameters and volumes of plates and bowls, or is that Marketing- or BOM-dictated? I ask because if you can, you are essentially controlling how much food people might consume by providing physical boundaries.

    I ask this because it's come out that wine glasses have been steadily growing in volume for the past 300 years, going from about 66mL to a whopping 449mL. That's a factor of seven.

    Then
    Then
    Then
    Then
    NOW

    According to The Guardian the discovery was made a Behavior and Health Research Unit at the University of Cambridge, who have been studying and measuring the volume of wine glasses from the 1700s up to the present day. That 18th-Century wine glasses were smaller doesn't surprise me; I imagine manufacturing limitations at the time meant small glasses were easier to produce. But nearly half a liter of rotgut in a single glass sounds like a bit much to me; who is behind this decision? Designers? Marketers? Manufacturers?

    Or maybe booze manufacturers. As you'd expect, increasing the size of the glass means people drink more--even when the serving portions are kept the same:

    Prof Theresa Marteau, director of the Behaviour and Health Research Unit at the University of Cambridge, who led the research…and her colleagues carried out an experiment at the Pint Shop in Cambridge, altering the size of wine glasses while keeping the serving sizes the same. They found this led to an almost 10% increase in sales.

    The Guardian puts forth a less nefarious theory about who's behind the size increase:

    The Wine and Spirits Trade Association said sociological trends were probably part of the reason for the growing wine glasses.
    "The size of a wine glass reflects the trend and fashions of the time and is often larger for practical reasons" said the WSTA chief executive Miles Beale. "Red wine, for example, is served in a larger glass to allow it to breathe, something which perhaps wasn't a priority 300 years ago."

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    My neighborhood borders the neighborhoods known as Little Italy and Chinatown. Despite a few holdouts, the former community has largely departed, displaced by the latter community.

    A striking and somewhat heartbreaking sociological difference can be seen in the local supermarkets. Whenever I see an elderly, local Caucasian woman in the supermarket, her basket reveals she is shopping for at most one or two people. In contrast, when I see elderly Chinese women in the supermarket, they look like they are shopping for a large family. (I have never photographed this in action because I feel it would be rude.)

    Hauling groceries is not easy for older people. The elderly Caucasian women in my neighborhood all seem to use the same wire metal folding basket on wheels. The elderly Chinese women favor a sort of bag-cart hybrid. Anyways, there’s a Chinese-language senior center in my neighborhood, and as I walked past it today I saw the grannies inside had all parked their grocery-getters outside.

    There was one woman who was apparently tasked with watching these. I kept her out-of-frame for politeness’ sake.

    For the most part, there's a commonality in color palette of the bags. So I bet the one with the polka dots is a real firecracker.


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    I keep waiting to hear this is a gag, something uploaded by a disgruntled intern, but so far it appears legit.

    The World Chess Federation (abbreviated "FIDE," from the French Federation Internationale des Echecs) is holding their 2018 World Chess Championship in London, and they've just unveiled the official logos for that match. The first one they showed is this:

    Okay, intertwined hands on chess pieces, the disparate patterns presumably meant to represent folks of different stripes, i.e. diverse backgrounds. All fine and good. But the second logo they showed is this:

    Even more puzzling is that they have not addressed the interesting, er, seating arrangement in the second logo. Instead the accompanying press release text reads:

    We rarely stop to think about the brand of the World Chess Championship Match, because we are more interested in the players and the drama of the games. But the Match, the ultimate event that defines who is the smartest person on the planet, has much wider appeal than chess professionals. It affects politics, business, and, of course, design.
    As organizers of the Match we've been busy for over a year working with artists and designers to develop a perfect key visual, the image that will be associated with the 2018 Match and which will find its way onto mugs, posters, outdoor displays, venue design, media, broadcasting graphics and more.

    What on Earth do you think the designers are going for?


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    When you sharpen on a stone or sandpaper the hard flat surface of the abrasive gives accuracy over forgiveness. You either are touching the edge of your tool to the abrasive or you are not. Also, as you sharpen it's pretty common to apply pressure at the very edge of the blade and your bevel will slowly acquire a very slight belly. What this means is that the next time you sharpen there is a good chance your solid contact with a stone is actually a solid contact with the tool belly, not the cutting edge. Sometimes slurry gets caught in the gap between bell and edge and you sort of polish the cutting edge, but you don't remove much material and you don't get a burr.

    This issue applies no matter if you are free handing or using a jig. It's just pretty possible to find yourself spending lots of time sharpening a belly that has no effect on the cutting edge. Most annoying. If you are actually sharpening at the cutting edge, and there is no microbevel or flat to remove first you should be able to turn a wire edge in theoretically one stroke, in practice a couple more. Just polishing the edge means slurry is working but you don't have solid contact at the cutting edge.

    There are three simple solutions to this when freehand sharpening (I don't know if there is a solution when using a jig other than shift the tool in the jig). The first is to hollow grind the bevel. The second is always get make sure there is pressure on the very tip of the tool as you sharpen. The third is to lift the tool slightly to ensure contact at the very tip and form a secondary bevel. In the first case, hollow grinding makes it easy to bear on the front edge but you also need a grinder (which I consider an essential shop tool). In the latter cases, over time you will form a belly on the bevel or a series of secondary bevels and each time you sharpen you need to raise the tool a little more. When it becomes hard to continue sharpening or the belly/bevels get so pronounced that the angle of cut gets too high, just go back to square one and hollow grind. Japanese tools are flat ground not hollow ground, but the softer backing material makes developing the belly harder in first place.

    97% of the time when someone complains they can't sharpen and they spent hours on it, it turns out that they were sharpening the belly of the bevel and never came close to the cutting edge. This can be because they have their jig set wrong or they are applying pressure in the wrong place. Some teachers recommend embracing the belly and recommend a stroke that starts at the belly and eventually wipes out at the edge. This works but I think it's a waste of effort.

    Next time I will talk about how stropping can mitigate some of the rounding belly issues.

    ___________________

    This "Tools & Craft" section is provided courtesy of Joel Moskowitz, founder of Tools for Working Wood, the Brooklyn-based catalog retailer of everything from hand tools to Festool; check out their online shop here. Joel also founded Gramercy Tools, the award-winning boutique manufacturer of hand tools made the old-fashioned way: Built to work and built to last.



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    We've all seen crazy "As Seen on TV" contraptions like this one:

    That Sock Slider could be useful for someone with a disability. But if you're able-bodied and injury-free, and if you find putting on socks merely difficult, I'd say you shouldn't use it. In fact, I think that as we age, we should actually make certain everyday physical tasks more difficult.

    To be clear, I don't mean impossible, just slightly physically challenging--and just for those of us that are able-bodied and injury-free. I am biased to believe this is better for maintaining our long-term health, and I'll explain why.

    1. I've been training in internal martial arts (it's similar to Tai Chi, long story) for years, and more recently have started teaching Qi Gong to beginners. This is a non-taxing but comprehensive series of body movements that improves circulation and general coordination. I have learned that regularly putting the human body through its full range of motion gets the blood going, loosens up body tightness and keeps people healthy.

    2. There's a park in nearby Chinatown that I pass through in the mornings. There you'll see a contingent of elderly Chinese folks, some in groups, some alone, doing Qi Gong and other bizarre-looking movement exercises. They swing their arms, clap their hands, balance on one foot or another. Some of these people are absolutely ancient looking, you'd swear they're in their early 100s. Yet they're still going, and their movement quality appears vital and healthy.

    A variety of factors have allowed that latter group to reach that age: Diet, medical history, genes, et cetera. Some of that stuff you can't control. But I believe that the regular movements they practice is a positive contribution to their longevity.

    So in addition to regularly practicing Qi Gong, what I started doing is making little things more difficult for myself, to force myself to relax into what might be arduous positions. As one example, I stopped sitting on my entryway bench to tie or untie my shoes. By bending over or squatting instead, and making sure to keep breathing while doing it, I am now comfortable in that position and do not find it so difficult.

    Similarly, I have taken objects that I use often and as long as they're not heavy or fragile, have placed them up on high shelves. As an example, kitchen items like my knife-sharpener, strainer, cutting board etc. In order to reach them I must stretch up to my tippy-toes to grab them. When I need to refill the toilet paper in the bathroom, the extra rolls are stored high up so I must stretch to reach those too. (I always keep a back-up roll on the tank so I don't have to do this mid-poop.) This idea has also influenced how I've laid out the tool wall in my shop, which I'll cover in another entry.

    The point is, by filling my regular living routine with a bunch of these micro-hassles, the extra range of motions begin to feel natural.

    Obviously some common sense is required here, and if you have a long-term injury or health issue you need to address that first. But if you are able-bodied and can make a regular physical task a little more difficult for yourself, try it out for two weeks, then tell me what you think.



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    2017 has without a doubt been an important year for all transportation industries. From out of this world concept cars seen at the Tokyo Motor Show to IKEA's flat-pack, modular bike, here are our ten favorite transportation stories of the year:

    You know those homes made from shipping containers? Well, this container ship converted into a superyacht is the nautical version. 

    Earlier this year, IDEO imagined a future filled with autonomous vehicles and ride sharing. We interviewed IDEO's Design Director, Danny Stillion, about his team's detailed "The Future of Moving Together" concept.

    If one thing's for sure, the Honda Element can go down in history as one of the most brilliantly designed cars. We took a moment to celebrate its interior design along with our readers that have had experience with the awesome vehicle.

    Circular airport runways, anyone? A Dutch design concept that blew us away back in March.

    Cruise ships have always been somewhat of a design mystery. This mesmerizing time lapse demystifies some of their build process. 

    We took a trip to this year's Tokyo Motor Show to scope out the best concept vehicles both major car companies and smaller Japanese companies have been working on. Let's just say, the future of transportation is looking bright. 

    At the very beginning of the year, IKEA unveiled their first flat pack bike, The SLADDA. The bike offers the option to purchase modular accessories, including a front basket and cargo trailer.

    This resto-mod for a 27 year-old Porsche was probably our favorite vehicle eye candy this year. We can't help it, it's just too pretty.

    Nissan's X-Trail 4 Dogs Concept SUV showed us what a dog-friendly car would be like. The pug looks a bit sad throughout the whole experience, but that's probably just its squished face. 

    Our car enthusiast readers chimed in for this heated Chevelle design discussion. Which year do you think the model went bad? Look at the photos and decide for yourself.

    *****

    More of the best of 2017:

    2017 Best of Furniture Design


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    Designing and building functional furniture is challenging enough. When the designer goes the extra mile and renders the piece able to transform, so that it can increase its utility or save space, our hats are off to them. Here are the ten coolest pieces of transforming furniture we saw this year.

    Jessica Banks' RockPaperRobot created this brilliant Ollie fold-flat chair:

    Sander Lorier has been advancing an earlier design, and this year unveiled this improved version of an office chair that turns into a lounge chair:

    For portable seating, the incredible Sitpack Zen weighs less than a pound but will hold 300 pounds:

    We couldn't puzzle out who actually designed it, but this Bonbon Flip sofa transforms into bunk beds, in what appears to be an update on an earlier Clei design:

    An architect wanted a custom table that could transform from dining size to blueprint-displaying size. Daniel Chaffin Furniture Makers obliged him with this unusual design:

    How important is presentation? There are three fantastic designs for transforming tables presented with horrible videos:

    Fancy a table that folds into a bookcase? Izzy Swan showed us how to make one:

    In his Tools & Craft section, Joel Moskowitz showed us a great resource for learning to build your own transforming "campaign furniture:"

    Going old-school, we stumbled across the design of these killer Wooton Rotary Desks:

    And while this is technically P.O.P. or retail design, we also loved this old-school design for a rotating hardware organizer.

    *****

    More of the best of 2017:

    2017 Best of Furniture Design

    Our Favorite Transportation Stories from 2017


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    Scaffolding is such a common sight in downtown Manhattan that it's easy to ignore.

    But this morning I spotted something I'd not noticed before: While the nuts on the bolts above head level are the standard metal through-nuts, which leave the bolt exposed…

    …all of the nuts at torso- and foot-level have plastic end-caps.

    I assume this is so that passersby don't snag their clothing and/or cut themselves on exposed bolts. I'm impressed that the scaffolding company takes the time to incorporate this considerate step, as it requires an additional box of stuff to source, stock, throw onto the truck and remind the new guy to install in the right spots. This being New York, I cynically imagine this step was implemented after a lawsuit.


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    There's a shortage of students in STEM subjects. Whether its developing rockets to Mars, the new future of public transport or a bridge, society needs engineers to make it happen.3D Hubs Student Grant finalist JetX are a team of aerospace engineering students working with Rolls Royce to create the world's first functional 3D printed jet engine model that will provide instant design feedback and show people that studying engineering doesn't mean you're glued to a textbook.

    3D printed prototypes
    3D printed prototypes
    CAD model of Xplorer-1
    CAD model of Xplorer-1
    Front-view of Xplorer-1
    Front-view of Xplorer-1
    Side-view of Xplorer-1
    Side-view of Xplorer-1
    View the full project here

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    Our list of the top twelve footwear stories from 2017 includes everything from sneaker sketches to the adidas Futurecraft 4D to the Flyknit sports bra. We're already wondering what curious designs will be brought to the table next year.

    Tom Sachs collaborated with Nike for the second edition of the Mars Yard shoe, proving that failure in the design process can lead to future success.

    Netflix's Art of Design series put designers at the forefront of everyone's attention this year. We reviewed the Footwear episode, which followed around one of our design idols, Tinker Hatfield. 

    adidas made everyone's heads turn when they collaborated with Carbon for their Futurecraft 4Ds. The midsole is 3d printed using Carbon's "Digital Light Synthesis" process, where it emerges from a bath of liquid thanks to light and oxygen.

    Brooklyn-based company Storelli released a unique insole design that features a tab in the back and a material that eliminates slippage, even when socks are wet. 

    Nike came up with this badass reverse-parachute closure for the ACG.07.KMTRs.

    One of our favorite reader submitted projects this year: Ki Oriental's Ki Ecobe shoes require self-assembly and are designed to eliminate sweatshops. No glue required in the manufacturing process!

    This one-handed shoe tying system is genius for both the able-bodied and the disabled.

    This video on how Sneakers are made had us questioning the sustainability of our most beloved kicks.

    Nike's FENOM Flyknit Sports Bra showed the world the power of clothing made from performance footwear materials.

    Michael DiTullo showed us the key to sketching shoes as part of our Yo! C77 Sketch Series.

    Speaking of sketching shoes, we put together a roundup of our favorite shoe sketches found on Coroflot.

    It turns out, modern footwear designs actually force us to walk backwards. Looks like footwear designers have a new challenge to address in 2018...

    *****

    More of the best of 2017:

    2017 Best of Furniture Design

    Our Favorite Transportation Stories from 2017

    2017 Best of Transforming Furniture


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    Ever since I learned how to cut dovetails by hand, I've been using a simple, inexpensive English carpenter's mallet to whack the chisel for the chopping part of the process. This type of mallet works great and was a staple of British workshops, both for chisel work and for persuading parts to fit together, for centuries. ("At least 200 years," Joel Moskowitz, who sold me the mallet, explained. "But probably longer.")

    It's not a "forever" tool, of course, as the head will eventually wear out; but it's bound to last for many years, and at less than $20 my cost-per-use will be practically nothing. And even then I can create a new head to pop onto the handle, which oughn't sustain any damage in normal use.

    Last month I was watching a video by UK-based furniture maker David Barron. Barron occasionally creates his own tools for sale, and was demonstrating this gorgeous brass mallet he'd created for chopping dovetails. While the tool looks small and simple, there's actually a fair amount of design in this thing, check it out:

    I was smitten by three things, one aesthetic, two practical: One, the ooh-ahh shiny brass; two, the fact that it can be stood on its head, taking up way less space on a crowded benchtop; and three, that the rounded face can be used to tap the tails into the pins without damaging the workpiece. (With the wooden mallet I always grab a scrap piece of wood to serve as the blow-taking middleman.)

    I couldn't justify buying it, as it was bound to be pricey and my wooden mallet works just fine. But last week, with Christmas looming and my shopping for others completed, I figured I'd treat myself and clicked over to Barron's website.

    Alas, he's either sold out or has stopped making them. "I only have the [all-wood] mallets in stock now," reads the product page.

    Maybe this is the tool gods telling me to be happy with what I have and to not spend money on redundancies. And in fact, when I look at the business end of my mallet I can see the thing's hardly got any wear on it at all.

    I should keep and use this thing until the end of it starts looking like that butcher block table I saw on Hester Street.

    So instead, I ordered some tools that I don't own versions of and do need. More on those later.

    Do you folks ever upgrade to fancy tools, and if so, how do you justify it?


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    A talented builder named David Owen Lundell builds mechanical tables in his spare time. He recently posted this video of his latest creation, a wizard-themed table with secret compartments and some surprises, to Facebook:

    What's hilarious is how, in today's current climate, even something as fun and harmless as this table could spur divisiveness. I was looking at some up-close photos of this table in Lundell's feed and came across the following photo and comment exchange about it:



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    To be honest, our favorite category of furniture isn't the nice stuff made for clients or even the nifty transforming kind. It's shop furniture, the unseen workhorses that are used to created the first two categories. We love seeing what shop fixtures craftspeople use and how they hack them for greater efficiency. So here are our favorites from this year:

    Lifelong builder Les Hastings wowed us with plenty of process photos for his incredible design for a folding portable workbench:

    Cabinetmaker Timothy Wilmots knocked our socks off with his very well-thought-out transforming six-function shop cart:

    Wilmots also showed us how he built the thing:

    Furniture designer Daniel Moyers put an amazing amount of attention into building his workshop tables, which we went over in great detail:

    Douglas LaMont created this wonderful and functional Ex Machina Drafting Table:

    French craftsman Boris Beaulant designed and built this compact, clever contraption for height-adjustable drill press table outfeed support:

    Malcolm McGrath hacked a hydraulic lift to make the coolest-ever table saw outfeed table:

    David Barron showed us the smart modifications he made to his Moxon vise to increase its speed and utility:

    Tired of your vacuum hose snagging on the workbench edge? Australian cabinetmaker David Stanton came up with this inexpensive fix:

    Jeremy Schmidt showed us his design for DIY hardware organizing boxes that won't slide around inside a drawer:

    Lastly, if you need to work in the field, remodeler Steve Olson came up with this jobsite alternative to Festool's MFT table:



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