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- 02/08/18--15:33: _Announcing the 2018...
- 02/08/18--15:33: _An Interview with M...
- 02/08/18--15:33: _Nike's Mercurial Su...
- 02/09/18--10:40: _Live from the Awwwa...
- 02/09/18--10:40: _Unusual Illustratio...
- 02/09/18--10:40: _Ti Chang On Destigm...
- 02/09/18--10:40: _Reader Submitted: L...
- 02/09/18--10:40: _Math Teacher Dad De...
- 02/10/18--10:58: _Today's Urban Desig...
- 02/12/18--09:05: _Watch The Olympics ...
- 02/12/18--09:05: _Design Job: Use You...
- 02/12/18--09:05: _When Brain-Computer...
- 02/12/18--09:05: _How Team USA's Self...
- 02/12/18--09:05: _Olympian Susan Dunk...
- 02/13/18--09:08: _Boston Dynamics Tea...
- 02/13/18--09:08: _Nissan's Video Abou...
- 02/13/18--09:08: _How Snowboard Halfp...
- 02/14/18--09:28: _Design Job: Jump In...
- 02/14/18--09:28: _Hardcore Industrial...
- 02/14/18--09:28: _Zach Kaplan Says th...
- 02/08/18--15:33: Announcing the 2018 Core77 x A/D/O Design Residency
- 02/12/18--09:05: Olympian Susan Dunklee Breaks Down the Design of Biathlon Rifles
- 02/13/18--09:08: How Snowboard Halfpipes are Made
Designers: do you have a professional or passion project you're ready to get off the ground, but are lacking the space and support to make it happen? Well, we and our friends at the A/D/O design space in Brooklyn may be able to help.
Beginning this spring, A/D/O, a creative space and dedicated workspace for designers in Brooklyn, New York, will offer not only a beautiful work environment, but also fabrication equipment, exhibition space, and a flourishing community of like-minded individuals and support to further your design projects. Featuring a full calendar of cultural events, workshops and exhibits by visionary designers from around the world, members of A/D/O will also have a front row seat to some of the most engaging discussions around design in the city and beyond.
For the second year, today we're excited to launch our Core77 x A/D/O residency call-for-entry.
The A/D/O x Core77 residency is an outstanding opportunity for designers in the Core77 community to find a supportive space to further their efforts in design. Check out last year's residents Casey Lewis and byjimmi, who benefited from the environment to create new projects and develop existing pursuits.
After receiving your residency proposal submissions, Core77 and A/D/O will pick one designer to occupy a desk at A/D/O's space in Greenpoint, Brooklyn from April-June 2017 for free. The winner will have their own desk and access to all of A/D/O's facilities, services, as well as their shop & digital fabrication equipment.
During their time in the residency, the occupant will be expected to document some of his or her process (prototyping, digital fabrication, woodworking, etc.) through photography. Once a month, winners will also be visited by the Core77 editorial team to conduct a monthly check-in, which will result in social media content and ultimately an article showing a behind the scenes peek into the process of their project.
Core77 will be looking for applicants with specific project proposals—be it kickstarting an entrepreneurial project, development of a new product or even a conceptual design project. Applicants should be able to provide a clear summary of their mission if chosen as the Core77 design resident as well as telling us what stage in the process they are currently in. Although the chosen resident can use the space however they wish, we aren't looking for a designer simply seeking a place to work—we want to see a dream project you're ready to get started on in an environment with with plenty of resources and support!
As we'd like to ensure the space will be used by the winning designer, local applicants in the New York area will be placed at the highest priority.
Apply now to be in the running for this fantastic opportunity—submissions are due March 4th, so you only have a few weeks to apply!
In Part 1 of this interview, we followed Michael DiTullo's career path from unruly student to principal of his own firm. It wasn't an easy-breezy path; you don't rise to the position of Design Director at 30, then Chief Design Officer before your 40s, as DiTullo did, without encountering difficulties and setbacks. And just like when you're designing an object, when you're navigating a business environment you have to understand how things really work and how the parts fit together in order to achieve a successful outcome.
Here in Part 2, DiTullo speaks frankly and honestly about some of the BS that designers have to face and how he dealt with these issues.
Core77: Another topic I wanted to touch on is the setbacks designers encounter, and how to get around them. Can you talk about some of the more difficult setbacks you've run into and how you solved them?
Michael DiTullo: Yeah. I think I learned early on--we talked about that one from school [in Part 1 of this interview]--that I'm going to have to take things into my own hands. There is no benevolent force that's going to help you. You've got to do it. And you have to seek help; [no one's going to bring it to you,] you yourself have to get it.
I'm always open to feedback from other people. And if somebody has a good idea, I'm going to steal that idea. I have absolutely no problem with being like, "I'm going to use that," and I credit that person. I don't have an ego, it's about making the thing as good as it can be.
But on the flip side, I also have absolutely no problem with rejecting input, if I think it's wrong. I think that's one of the biggest challenges that a lot of designers face. Early in my career at Nike, I saw this shoe the company had produced, and it was a freaking disaster. I was curious and went to the guy that designed it, he was a Senior Designer. I'm looking at his original sketch, which was cool, and I compared it to the real thing and asked him "What happened?"
"Oh, marketing made me do this, and marketing made me do that," blah blah blah, he said.
"But how did they make you do it?" I asked.
"What do you mean, how did they make me do it? They just tell me to do it."
"Yeah, but you report to the Design Director, who reports to the Creative Director, who reports to the Head of Design. You don't report to Marketing. How did they make you do it?"
"I don't understand the question."
"Well, did they threaten you? What did they do?"
So it dawned on me: I don't have to listen if it's not a good idea. He knew that Marketing's suggestions weren't any good but still felt compelled to listen.
What can you do if you're that guy, in that kind of situation?
I remember being in a similar situation where a marketing guy was like, "Okay, you have to do this, this, this and this to the shoe."
I said "I don't think those are the right things to do to the shoe. I don't think that's going to make the product better."
"Well, you have to do it."
"Well, if you can prove to me that it will sell more, I will certainly do it. But that's really your value in this equation. If it's just like you want it this way, that is a design decision, and I'm going to make that decision, because I went to school for it."
He turned bright red and said "Fine, I'm going to cancel the whole program."
He says "So you would be okay with canceling this program just because you won't make a change I want to make?"
I told him "I'm not canceling the program. You're the one that wants to cancel the program over a design decision that you won't let your designer make. If you cancel this program, please do, I will set up a meeting with us and the VP of Product. And please bring a box, because you will explain to him why, over a grudge, you canceled an entire program that revenue was assigned to. And you will get fired. And then I'll never have to listen to your input ever again. If that's what you would prefer to do over this design decision, if you'd prefer to lose your job rather than listen to the expert that you have working with you, I'm totally fine with it."
In the end he was like "Okay, we'll keep it the way you want to do it."
And the shoe went into production and sold well. You have to know when to dig in. And I wasn't trying to be a jerk about it, but was just trying to frankly lay out the situation. I'm like, "Yeah, you do have the power to cancel the whole program. But that comes with a consequence. And I'm not going to be threatened by that, because, guess what, I've designed a shit-ton of shoes. And next season, I'll design more. My whole career doesn't rest on this. But yours might, if you lose this much revenue over a grudge."
I had this thing with an engineer, we were developing a new cushioning technology. (That's a big deal in the industry and was another one of my goals.) The testing was coming back with good results, and Marketing had put an aggressive timeline on it to bring it to market. But the lead engineer didn't feel comfortable, he was really nervous. To his credit, he had worked on cushioning technology 15 years prior that had been rushed to market, and it failed because it had been rushed.
But this [iteration] was going fine. And I was pushing hard for it and siding with Marketing's aggressive timeline. I told the engineer "Dude, it's testing and performing great. There's no issues. And there's strong utility patents on it."
He felt I was really pressuring him, so he typed up this letter that said "Michael DiTullo is going to take full responsibility if this thing fails," that it was 100% my idea to bring it to market on this timeline.
I signed it right away and told him "This is freaking awesome."
And he's saying "What?" I think he thought I was going to back down.
I said, "You just gave me a document that says if we bring this to market and it succeeds, that you had nothing to do with it. And guess what? It's going to go to market, and it's going to succeed. And this says that you don't have anything to do it. Put me down." And he took the paper back and ripped it in half.
There's going to be uncomfortable moments in the process when you are trying to push a boundary. You just have to make it not personal. You have to be willing to have the uncomfortable conversation, and then immediately say "Hey, let's go get a beer." And make sure people know it's not you versus them. "I understand we both want the best thing for the project, but maybe we have some different views on how to get that done."
And in some cases I have been wrong. And that has resulted in product just sitting in the warehouse, and that's not a good feeling. I try to do post-mortems and learn from that, and talk to people who disagreed with me. There have been times where I have gone to an engineer or a marketing person and been like "You were right and I was wrong. And I'm sorry." So you've got to own that stuff too.
Sure. Speaking of tough conversations, when you are working with a team of designers under you, do you consider it their responsibility to inspire themselves? Or are you leading them and trying to inspire them from your position?
I'd say it's 50-50. I expect the designers I work with to want to be immersed in culture. I expect them to inspire me too. I expect them to bring me things like "Hey, have you seen this?" Awesome. And I will do that in return. I will mentor them, I'll expose them to something I've seen that they may have not because I've been around a little longer. Helping them understand that the work we're doing, it's part of a continuous stream of work, from before World War II until today, and we'll go beyond.
I think when you understand that it's not about what happened last year and what will happen next year--it's about what happened 40 years ago and what will happen 40 years from now. Then you can chart the trends very differently.
When designers work for me, I think the hardest thing for some is that there's this point in time where we're teammates. We're both designers working on a project together, I want your ideas, I want you to challenge me. But then there's another point in time where now we're reviewing the ideas, and I will make the decision.
Some people really get that, when to treat me like a peer and when to be deferential, because it's my name on the door. Some people struggle with that.
I became a director really young, when I was 30. I had a team working under me and this one designer happened to be a millennial. I don't believe in the millennial myths, but in this case he fit the type. So I tapped his input, and made a decision that went a different way.
He was like "I thought we talked about this, and I wanted to do it this way," and blah blah blah.
I was like "Dude, it doesn't work that way. I'm the director. You're the designer. You see that door over there? The other side of that door is where people that disagree with me get to stay, and they don't get paid. And on this side of the door is where I get to make the decision, ultimately. And those people get paid. Because at the end of the day, it's my ass on the line. If it doesn't work, I can't tell the CEO or the client 'Hey, it was a junior designer's idea. Sorry, it wasn't my fault.' I can't pass the buck. So I have to only go with things that I feel hold up to my scrutiny. It is why I only ever show concepts that I would feel comfortable with the client selected. We do not show filler. And I have to have a conversations with my team to let them know, "I was happy for your input, I want your input on a continual basis. Just know that I won't always go with your idea. When the time comes that I do, we will celebrate that."
I could share some horror stories here, but I better shift gears or I'll be accused of Millennial bashing. Can you tell us what you're working on next, or is that still under wraps?
I can tell you what's coming out soon. In February, there will be a line of pet toys that will be designed. I love dogs, and I know you love dogs too! Our studio dog, Enzo, is right next to me as a matter of fact. So that was a super fun project, never worked in that space before.
In April, a new e-bike is coming out that I worked on. It's a really cool bike, it was designed in collaboration with a legend and innovator in the mountain bike space from the '90s and early 2000s. It's got some really crazy geometry. The electronics are provided by a German electronics company, and it'll be the first e-bike with this German drivetrain, so that'll be exciting.
And then, I'm not sure when it will come out, but we did four vehicles for a Hollywood sci-fi movie that's currently in development. That was just bananas.
And then a really innovative concept vehicle for a large Chinese car brand. So, super diverse stuff.
It sounds like no two projects are alike.
Yeah. From pet squeaky toys to sci-fi movie vehicles, and everything in between. And that's exactly what I wanted to work on, when I started the studio.
I was bouncing some ideas off of people. I told a really good friend of mine, who is on the business side at Nike, that "I want to go with the tagline of 'Design Everything.'"
She said "I don't know, it's kind of confusing. What's your specialty?"
I said "My specialty is applied creativity. My specialty is I will bring influences from all these different industries to your project."
So I was concerned about [her reaction], because I feel like some people in business might not grok it so well, because they want specialists. But I've found that the people that get it really get it, and really see the benefit of, say, that phenolic material that's in the knife handle, now I'm introducing that to the automotive clients that I'm working with, thinking maybe we should start using this in instrument panel trims, instead of wood or fake carbon fiber or the aluminum that everybody's using. And I would never have learned about that material if I hadn't worked with the knife company.
That's interesting, how the work feeds itself. Is there any category of object or space that you want to design that you haven't been able to yet?
Yes. My goal for 2018 is to do a furniture project. I've never done anything for production in the furniture space. So I would love to work with a Herman Miller, or a Hayworth or a Knoll or somebody to do a production piece.
Another category I've never worked in is aerospace, so I'd love to do something, ideally the interior of a hypersonic, stratospheric jet or something, but anything in that space would be amazing.
Lastly, nautical. Those are the three categories that I'm targeting next. But the next one is furniture. You've got to have that big goal for the year.
Speaking of big goals, congratulations on starting up your own firm.
Thank you for the support! The relationship I've had with Core77 over the past, almost 20 years has been so helpful. I remember reaching out to Stuart [Constantine, Core77 co-founder] when I was thinking about going out on my own, just to get his advice, as a business owner. He asked me, "What's your exit plan?"
And I hadn't thought about it, but I immediately realized I didn't want one. I guess my exit plan is death.
I've always looked up to and studied the paths of people like Raymond Loewy, Frank Lloyd Wright, Walter Teague. They worked until the end because they loved what they do. I don't think Frank Gehry has an exit plan. That is why I named the studio my name. It struck me that every firm has their super-cool, irreverent word, "fill in the blank" design. I have nothing against that, but I feel like that space has been mined. I wanted to give a nod back to our founders and our originators, the Loewys and the Teagues of the world. It's my name on the door, and what you get is me and my experience. I'm not going to pass the hard work off to some intern!
Well folks, that wraps up our interview with Michael DiTullo. It's kind of funny--DiTullo has written for Core77 nearly as long as I have, but never in the same office and I'd only met him once. Prior to this interview I never actually sat down and had a one-on-one with him about his career. So it was great to hear these stories.
We started the intro to Part 1 of this interview with a story of DiTullo going out on his first date with Kristina, his now-wife. So it's fitting that we'll close Part 2 with this relevant anecdote he shared after the interview:
"On about our third or fourth date, Kristina asked me what I wanted to do when I got of school," DiTullo recounts. "I thought about it for a second and replied 'Remember learning about Frank Lloyd Wright and Raymond Loewy in art history class? I want to be like those guys.'
"She laughed in my face, loudly!
"I must have given a look that spoke volumes, because then she said 'Oh, you're serious. I can get behind that.'"
There are two main design details to note here, the first being the Flyknit innovation that allows the full boot to be wrapped in the material. Nike explains this best:
"Previously, All Conditions Control (ACC) was applied on top of the finished Flyknit product, creating a thin layer. Now, ACC is embedded into the yarns prior to knitting, eliminating the additional skin without compromising the performance benefit. The result is a matte finish on a texturized upper that is softer to the touch but can still battle the elements."
In other words, Nike merged their all weather conditions technology with Flyknit yarn, creating a super-knit that can withstand the elements. The treatment also allows for elimination of the soleplate altogether.
The second design detail is more obvious: the forefoot and heel stud structures look ridiculously cool and remind me of a futuristic Galaga enemy.
At this point, it's unclear whether the ACC-embedded Flyknit will hold up overtime. Let's just hope Nike doesn't have another NBA jersey-like incident in the near future.
If you're interested in learning more, Nike Football Senior Design Director Jeongwoo Le, speaks a little bit about the Mercurial 360's design process in this brief video:
The Awwwards Conference are humming along this morning, on the second of two days of talks, and we're excited to share some of the UX insights and news from Berlin — but before we get into it, we'd kindly like to remind you that you can watch the livestream at Adobe Live.
If you happened to tune in (or be there), you already know that Day One was jam-packed with inspiration, with too many highlights to mention in a short recap — but we'll try anyway! Erich Nagler kicked things off by defining Art Director as a hybrid role in which one must wear the proverbial hats of a Conductor, Curator, Journalist, Director, and Ethicist, sharing a behind-the-scenes look at Google Doodles (where he works) along the way. (Among the fun facts: for Doodles that depict a historic writer, poet, or painter holding a writing instrument or brush, the team double-checks if he or she was right- or left-handed.)
The two subsequent talks showed the breadth of the programming: Jeany Ngo offered a deeply personal narrative while Harry Roberts offered a highly technical Vim showcase. The balance of the talks were crowd-pleasing showreels, edifying case studies, and words of wisdom, though it's also worth mentioning the sheer diversity of speakers and projects. Irina Spicaka elaborated on enabling artists and musicians to create interactive works through better UX, while Julia Kloiber advocated for empowering disenfranchised citizens through better UX, in keeping with her work as the founder of Code for Germany.
MC Mr. Bingo lightened the mood throughout the show, which finished strong with the two final talks: following a team of Wix designers who literally told a story through UX, Michael Flarup wrapped things up with a feel-good tale of his own path to becoming a successful maker of digital things — his favorite being app icons.
And speaking of icons, it so happens that Adobe XD has just unveiled a brand new series of icon kits designed by renowned studios, all available to download for free. To mark its commitment to top-notch UX, Adobe has partnered with Lance Wyman, Anton & Irene, and Büro Destruct to create icons that embody #GoodDesign principles. Learn more about them here, or download them directly here.
But wait, there's more! In addition to the release of the free icon kits, Adobe XD also offered a sneak peek of a forthcoming feature: vector graphics support in Creative Cloud libraries, allowing for seamless workflows between vector graphics and XD projects. Check out the teaser video:
There's still more than half of Day Two to go, so be sure to tune in between now and 5:00PM CET (11:00AM ET) for the home stretch of the Awwwards Conference in Berlin, including the closing keynote from Adobe's own Khoi Vinh at 16:10PM. Head over to Adobe Live for the livestream!
When I was still in art school, I met a grad student making big bucks as a medical illustrator. I saw some of her work and it was insanely detailed and precise. In that pre-widespread-CG era, someone with her skills could make a lot of money drawing cutaways of organs.
Another unusual sketch-skill-based job is police sketch artist. And it's almost the opposite of medical illustrator in that you needn't get every detail right, just a few telltale elements. Because of the way that we process faces, sometimes very little in the way of rendered detail is required for a witness to say "That's the guy."
Here's a case in point. The BBC reports that in Pennsylvania, an anonymous witness to a theft drew an unbelievably crude sketch of a suspect--and the police actually recognized who it was:
"While the sketch provided by the witness may have appeared amateurish and cartoonish, it, along with the distinctive physical descriptors, jogged the memory of at least one investigator to provide a potential suspect name," Lancaster Police wrote in their report.
They then showed a mugshot to the witness, who confirmed that was the man s/he had seen.
While that sketch was drawn by a witness working from memory, consider how difficult it must be, as a police sketch artist, to draw a face based on someone's verbal description.
Here's an example of how that process goes, where they must use photos of other people to prompt the witness:
The greatest challenge is that it's difficult to describe someone's face using language, even if that face is burned into your memory. Here's an amusing experiment where couples are asked to describe their partners' faces to a police sketch artist, then they see the results:
Better graphics software is probably going to wipe the profession out in the future. But for the time being, if you're looking for a short-term gig you can reportedly make $41k a year. If you're curious, you can learn how to become a police sketch artist here.
For this year's Core77 Design Awards, we're conducting in-depth interviews with each of our jury captains to get in a glimpse into their creative minds and to hear more about what they'll be looking for in this year's awards submissions.
This year's Consumer Product Jury Captain, Ti Chang, is Co-founder & VP of Design at Crave, a sex toy company with a mission to provide products with an elevated aesthetic. We spoke with her about her own design journey that led her to a job that she is truly passionate about, helping women and couples feel empowered and in control of their own pleasure.
I want to start off by asking you, why sex toys? And how did you decide to found Crave?
I've been a designer for pretty much all my career, and I've worked on various products from hairbrushes to bicycles, to furniture, and being a consultant. I never really found anything that I felt I was genuinely passionate about. What I mean is, I wanted to work for a company with a mission, that either helped people or changed lives.
I thought about the time when I worked at Goody Products designing hairbrushes. I know it's very mundane, but I led the design research for a line of hairbrushes. I received an email from a mother, who said every morning she would have to brush her 6-year-old daughter's hair, and it was just always a nightmare, it was always a fight. Because of the brush we designed, it made her morning just a little bit more peaceful.
That has always kind of stuck with me. That was kind of the sentiment that carried with me when I was between jobs, trying to figure out what I wanted to do next. It wasn't until I went to a sex toy shop in downtown Boston, where I was living at the time, that really struck me that vibrators, sex toys—this category of products for women—just completely lacked design consideration. The majority of the products in the landscape are very male-centric. It's all about the penis. Which, I mean, is fine but it's not always about the penis, you know?
Those were really the main types of products I saw out there on the market. As a matter of fact, 80% of women require clitoral stimulation to orgasm. So when I saw the lack of kind of quality and even just sensible products, I kinda decided, "look, this is really important. This is pleasure, this is part of how someone feels about themselves and how they get in touch with their body." That's what prompted me to start my first company, which was Incognito, that kind of brought together sex toys and jewelry. I basically bootstrapped this on my own with just a few thousand dollars, and off I went and I launched it.
A few years into that, I met my now co-founder, Michael. We bumped into each other at a trade show. I had already launched, I was already selling my products on the market. He just started Crave, and he was looking for a female industrial designer because he too felt that there were too many male voices already. I was the perfect person for the role. So basically, they bought my company to bring me onboard as co-founder. I've been co-founder and designing for Crave ever since.
And what's the thing that you treasure most about your job?
That every morning I'm working towards something I feel can help people in a positive way—it can support them in a way that other products can't. I'm part of a mission to help remove that stigma from pleasure, from sex toys, so that if you wanted to buy a vibrator, you shouldn't just be limited to poorly designed, overly priced, and bad products.
Part of my mission is really just to help provide different options. To me, from the early data points and from what I hear from people, it really makes a difference in their sex lives. This one gentleman wrote to us, saying that sex toys have always been part of their relationship, but when it comes to actually purchasing sex toys [his wife] would never want to have anything to do with it. One day she saw an article and she forwarded the link to her husband because it completely changed her idea of what sex toys could look like. Now, he says that she's leading the conversation. She now knows that sex toys don't have to look a certain traditional way.
That has done a lot for them. That is what excites me when I wake up every morning, that I am helping to move the cultural needle in some way when it comes to female pleasure and empowerment.
"If you see a sex toy that is, like this raggedy thing with weird gears...it's almost as if it's taking sexuality as a joke. It's treating women's pleasure as a non-serious topic. That to me is just not acceptable. You should approach it in a way, just like anything else, because it's about giving respect to the user."
I feel like that speaks perfectly to the idea that some people think, "oh, design is just about making something pretty." But, actually, in a way, that has a functional purpose.
Yeah, just like every product has its own design language, it says something about the maker and the ethos of the company that makes it. If you see something that is, like this raggedy thing with weird gears, and you have to put a C battery in...it's almost as if it's taking sexuality as a joke. It's treating your pleasure as a novelty, and that's what [sex toys] are, they've been categorized as a novelty. It's treating women's pleasure as a non-serious topic. The design, the form says that. That to me is just not acceptable. You should approach it in a way, just like anything else, because it's about giving respect to the user and providing a higher aesthetic for these types of products. It makes someone not be embarrassed about it.
Shame can be such a huge part of sex that's brought on by culture, by religion, by society. Having a product that looks like it's laughing at you is not really the best thing. Having a dignified, well designed, beautiful product, that treats you with respect makes less likely to feel bad about your pleasure.
Beautifully said. So in terms of product research, in your experience, what do you think is the most effective way to conduct research so that you're making something you know your user will love?
I think the most effective way is to not go in with a bias. Even though, yes you've put in all this work into it, ultimately your tests need to suss out whether or not people actually enjoy using it, if they actually like it, or they're just being nice and just because you're their friend, they're using this thing and they have to tell you nice things. You need to devise the questionnaires in such a way that is not about validation. It is genuinely about, will they actually use this, is there a real need? That oftentimes is really hard, because you have to put your ego aside.
So how do you ensure that happens within your questionnaires? Is it about asking the right questions?
Yeah, it's about asking the right questions. Instead of giving them only multiple choice questions, give them more open-ended questions, that's very helpful. Give them a range, like how to feel, 1 to 10. Give them some that were 1 to 5, give them a range of how they feel about certain things, ask multiple times. Just the tone in which you devise and ask the question shouldn't be leading. That's like basic consumer research, but still, I think when designers are sometimes involved with their own research, they can kind of want it to go a certain way because you spend so much time on this.
I'm at a point where, before we go too far into anything, we always have a checkpoint with users so that it's never too far [into the production process]. We do little checkpoints every now and then several times with every product before it goes to launch, that way we're sure it is satisfying a real need.
That's, I think, one of the problems with a lot of products, is that somebody had a great idea like, "Oh, I think people should have a USB rechargeable vibrator mug."—I don't know, I'm just throwing it out there, it's a horrible idea. But they just go and make it, and then put it in front of people and make them use it. It's just silly. Back that up a little bit, you know? I think oftentimes people just get too carried away with just coming up with ideas and they don't check their egos.
Bringing this conversation to consumer products in general, in what ways should consumer products evolve to fit into our modern age? What do designers need to be thinking about right now, and changing their perspective about in order to succeed?
I think it starts with the user because that's the difference between designers and artists. When you're manufacturing something on a large scale, you have a responsibility of making sure that the things that you make aren't just stuff for landfills. In order to make sure that happens, you need to make sure that there is an actual need and desire for your product. By being in tune with what actual users want and need, as our landscape technology, AI, all these things change. That is what's gonna keep whatever new product you create relevant.
And how did you start pinpointing Crave's specific user? I imagine it's a particular type of person, you know?
Actually no, it's quite the opposite. Every company when you have a new product, marketing wants to know—who are your users? Are they a 23 to 27-year-old who uses Instagram and drives a car? That kind of thing. But for us, for our specific industry, that doesn't apply. Because, what we found is that sex, and pleasure, masturbation, all this, it's not a demographics thing.
It's more about psychographic than it is about demographic. It's about the attitude that you have towards sex. So if someone is curious and want to learn, or eager to explore, or someone who just wants more, that's the type of people that would be drawn to our brand.
Let's zoom out even further—as the Core77 Design Awards Consumer Products jury captain, you're going to evaluating a diverse group of designed products. What are some of the common inherent values and traits of products that you would consider a great design?
I like the notion of form follows function and emotion, and it evokes an emotion. Which means that it has to do what it's supposed to do. However, the form should be in such a way that it's not disruptive to the user's life in a bad way. It's not aesthetically displeasing, you know?
"I think the best products are the ones that you don't know you're in love with. It's just something that you've always gone to because it's always worked."
Then also, the emotion comes from enjoying using this product over and over again. Sometimes, I think the best products are the ones that you don't know you're in love with. It's just something that you've always gone to because it's always there, it's always worked. There's just this familiarity that we kind of take for granted, but it becomes almost like a classic, an icon. It's just something that stays with you, that is very enduring. I think that's really the kind of products I look for, is that they have to have a very good purpose. You kind of fall in love with it a little bit more, through use and just continuing to own this product.
Do you have any advice, maybe for students, or people who are trying to put together a presentation about their product? How do you present something that's impressive and will leave a mark on someone when they see it?
The number one mistake I always see kids do is that they just kind of throw everything in—all the sketches, studies, photos, observations—because the tutor or the professor always says to show your process. "Show your process" does not mean throw everything in including the kitchen sink. "Show your process" means, where are the pivotal points that helped you to make certain decisions that lead to the final product?
Show the sketches that gave you a little bit of like, "Ah-ha, this is interesting. I really enjoyed this curve, or this kind of made sense to solve this problem." Show that. From that, you made this prototype. "This prototype was interesting because I learned that this didn't actually fit this way, so then I changed my mind and I designed it this way, which lead to this." Show those pivotal points, that's your process. If you can walk them through that, and articulate and speak to that in an interview, that's fantastic. But you don't have to do this for every product. Just show one and then I know that you understand the process, that's good.
Secondly, remember you're an industrial designer. You have to realize something that's also beautiful, that the idea is sound and there's a real need. Most of your portfolios should show some really great renderings of final products and have a blurb about what it does. If your form and your idea are good, I can just read that blurb and see what you're trying to do. But, if you create a rendering and take 6 or 8 more drawings, and I'm still like, "What does it do and why?" that's probably not a good thing.
Having some of these beautiful glamour shots—those things are super important. Also, the last thing is only put in things that you really love and you're really proud of. Some things you may not be super proud of, but it shows a specific skill set that can't be seen in other projects show elsewhere, like technical drawings, or doing certain types of renderings, or certain kinds of research. Put that in there, because it highlights a skill set.
And don't show the sketches from your high school, nobody wants to see that.
Yeah, good tip.
It's about the edit. Editing is the hardest but most important.
The Core77 Design Awards Consumer Product Jury
2018 Consumer Products Jury Captain Ti Chang will be joined by these designers for the awards selection process:
Thinking of submitting to the Consumer Products category in the 2018 Core77 Design Awards? Submit today—Regular Deadline ends March 8th!
L 3 is a light object that is controlled by playing with a metal sphere and magnetic fields.
I'm typically not a fan of when people take someone else's videos and make a supercut from the clips, but at least they credited the guy here and are showing off his excellent work.
Samuel Mamias is a math teacher in France. And I don't know how he's done this on a teacher's salary--I think I need to move to France--but he seemingly owns every hand tool, power tool, Festool product and large stationary shop tool you can think of.
He's also got design and fabrication skills. So when he wanted to create a reading space for his family's home and utilize some wasted overhead space, he designed and built it himself. Regardez-vous:
If you want to see more detail, Mamias documented the entire thing on his YouTube channel over the course of ten videos. You can start on the first one here, but be aware that the explanations are in French only.
Remember those police barricades I wrote about earlier? The Parks & Recreation employees who maintain this park on the Lower East Side's Chrystie Street have snagged a few. Someone has removed the gates that seal off this fenced-in soccer field, which are usually locked at night. With the gates gone, people have been bringing their dogs to run around on the field. So the P&R folks have been blocking off all four entrances with the barricades, which fit perfectly.
Well, maybe not perfectly. As I was snapping these photos…
…a woman and her dog wriggled through the gap around the barricade on the other side to get onto the field.
On Saturday I was lucky enough to watch footage of the amazing drone display aired during the Olympics opening ceremony. Coordinated by Intel, 1,218 drones performed a lightshow--pre-recorded rather than conducted live, due to logistical issues--and it was posted to Vimeo for those who missed the live broadcast.
Sadly, the International Olympics Committee ordered the video removed due to copyright infringement. Fair enough--but then why not post the video themselves, so those who missed it could enjoy it? Neither they nor NBC has made the video available. NBC only has this snippet of it up on Twitter:
So I poked around and found a pirated copy on YouTube. It's also a truncated version and is somewhat spoiled by commentary provided by Korean news broadcasters, but at least gives you a taste. Watch it here (it's unembeddable) before the IOC orders it removed.
It really is a shame they pulled the video, because the team behind it busted their asses to pull this off. You can see some snippets of the footage in the behind-the-scenes video below:
I'm hoping the IOC comes to their senses and re-posts the full version. If they do I'll come back to this post and insert it.
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"I enter the subway. It's crowded as usual around this time, but I manage to find a vacant seat next to a Talker—a man carrying on a conversation on his phone in public space. Only grandpas do that these days. I take out my ThoughtReader. I just got a new one last month, much more discreet than my old one, it fits right behind my ear. I hold up my smartwatch and open the ThoughtNotes app. I press the tiny switch behind my ear and feel a little tingle, a sign that it's connected. A small light blinks through my ear to indicate to others that I am focussed. I start jotting down some ideas. It can be a little messy sometimes especially when you are just forming the thoughts, but it's fast and I can easily clean it up on my computer at home. When I'm done, I press save and open the QuietChat app. I call my husband and we thought-chat about work and dinner a bit. I can sense he's tired. It's funny, I think afterwards to myself, I can't believe we used to have these conversations out loud…"
This scenario may sound like your average sci-fi story, but there is an important difference—this scenario, like some of the better sci-fi, is grounded in real research and current technological development. More importantly, this scenario is an initial sketch for a future vision that I wouldn't mind inhabiting.
When I set out to write an article about the near future of brain-computer interfaces (BCI), I was met with a lot of shivers and 'hm, good luck'-s and 'oh, scary!'-s. The public image of BCI is heavily shaped by dystopian scenarios as depicted in movies and series like Black Mirror. Whenever a new technological breakthrough in this field is presented, you can bet that all the doom scenarios are listed in the endless comment threats below. I understand the strong reactions to such an intimate and socially impacting piece of technology, but what about the promises?
Most BCIs were initially developed for medical applications. Some 220,000 hearing impaired already benefit from cochlear implants, which translate audio signals into electrical pulses sent directly to their brains. Recent;y Elon Musk entered the industry, announcing a $27 billion investment in Neuralink, a venture with the mission to develop a BCI that improves human communication in light of AI. And Regina Dugan presented Facebook's plans for a game changing BCI technology that would allow for more efficient digital communication.
Whether you're ready for it or not, these are all signals that brain-computer interfaces won't just stay in the realm of neuroprostheses and entertainment, but could actually go mainstream. If we accept for a moment that people will continue to work on this technology and its capabilities will continue to improve, and if we assume that no-one is interested in living the doom scenario, then we can try to consider the real implications and possibilities of this technology and imagine a viable alternative. What does it mean for interactions with our devices, and more importantly, with each other? Could this be the ultimate interface—one that is invisible, seamlessly integrated into our minds?
First of all, what are these so called brain-computer interfaces currently out there actually capable of? The answer depends who you ask and whether or not you are willing to undergo surgery. For the purpose of this thought-experiment, let's assume that healthy people will only use non-invasive BCIs, which don't require surgery. In that case, there are currently two main technologies, fMRI and EEG. The first requires a massive machine, but the second, with consumer headsets like Emotiv and Neurosky, has actually become available to a more general audience.
In an impressive demonstration of the potential of so-called active BCI (where you substitute physical or voice control with 'thought-commands'), Rodrigo Hübner Mendes used EMOTIV's EEG headset to drive a Formula 1 car with his mind. Erica Warp, VP of Product at EMOTIV, believes there is even more potential in the use of passive BCI. "We currently interface with machines in very discreet moments, which is quite limited. Our constantly changing cognitive states, which we can access via brain computer interfaces, opens up a wealth of untapped information." Giving computers awareness of our cognitive state may allow them to adapt accordingly. Think of parameters such as focus, engagement, interest and stress. Assuming we figure out the privacy issues, I am excited by the idea of contextually-aware digital companions that respond more in sync with our state of mind. Like a good co-worker, they would not disturb me with notifications if they sense I'm deeply focused. Or like a good friend, they communicate in a more soothing, relaxed tone if they notice I'm tired or stressed. And like a good teacher, they could adjust an educational approach dynamically according to my level of engagement. And there are companies out there, like QNeuro, already actively exploring this direction.
Although valid in specific situations, I don't feel that use cases like these would make us walk around with a headset all day. In order to imagine that scenario, we have to travel further into the future. Back to Facebook's presentation. If Facebook can pull off what it presented, to develop a non-invasive BCI that reads the speech centre of our brain at 100 words per minute, 5 times faster than typing on a smartphone, things get a little more uncomfortable. Most of that discomfort comes from the sensation that this might actually be the kind of form in which BCI gets adopted more broadly.
These further out future scenarios are impossible to predict, but therefore even more important to imagine. This is where the average dystopian sci-fi image lives, and we should take some of the valid concerns exposed in those images and provide a more humane, preferable alternative.
For example, what are the terms and conditions? I rationally know that typing something on my phone might not be that different from thought-writing something to my phone, but the privacy bells start ringing in my head. What does it mean to wear a device that can read my brain? In my ideal scenario, the device is entirely and fully mine. I pay for the device, rather than exchange personal date for the device. I go through a period of training with the device, it learns how my brain communicates certain words, we get the difference between angry excitement and happy excitement. And after a week we are good to go. It is an amazing input device, like a keyboard, a very personal keyboard, my own brain-keyboard that I can plug into any computer I find. The keyboard only connects locally, it's like Bluetooth, or whatever its future equivalent may be, and I only connect it when I use it.
Initially, the social impact may not even be that big. It is, after all, just an input device. Say I have a coffee with a friend and I want to send a message to my colleague. I would need to activate my thought-reader and pull out a screen of some sort (a phone, watch or AR headset) and then, while doing most of the writing by thought, I would still closely watch the screen to avoid typos. And this whole ritual would most likely be considered just as rude as using my smartphone in the same scenario today. So while we think of BCIs as being highly invisible, I expect that the initial usage would still be reasonably transparent and visible to those around us.
The big social disruption likely lies even further out, but will be directly influenced by the way the first mainstream BCIs are designed. Imagine a future in which we can not only read signals from the brain but also write signals back to it. In this future, imagine Augmented Reality is pervasive—digital information can be overlaid on your visual perception at will. We can have very private conversations in public space. It might be hard to tell the difference between someone daydreaming or thought-writing. However, like the little light behind the ear of the protagonist in my scenario, designers might end up creating purposeful signs to show when someone is using a BCI and manage to avoid rude or otherwise uncomfortable social situations. Those are exactly the kind of mundane details that could define the difference between a dystopian and utopian future.
Although it is hard to tell where exactly these technologies will take us, people right now are working hard to make them a reality. Whether they will become mainstream is more a question of when than if, but when they do, my biggest concern will be how. Currently the biggest push comes from the medical, neuroscience and technology industries, and only few designers have shared visions for the possibilities of BCIs outside of assistive or diagnostic medical tech. In their unique position to represent the final user and consider downstream social implications, they could add meaningfully to the creation of a positive future vision. I believe it's important that designers help shape the future of our brain-computer interactions sooner rather than later and guide the way past dystopian visions to the promise of these technologies without their negative consequences.
It's so cold in PyeongChang that Italy reportedly advised their Olympic team "to skip the entertainment portion of the ceremony" due to the subzero temperatures. It would not be like the Italians to take their fashion cues from us Americans, but perhaps in this case they ought have; Team USA is being kept toasty courtesy of the self-heating battery-powered parkas they've been provided with.
The water-repellent, fully washable, down-filled jackets feature an American flag printed on the back--the inside of the back, that is. This flag is not meant as conspicuous badging, but is printed using conductive ink. A removable, rechargeable battery can be stored in a pocket and plugs into the jacket, and the resultant juice heats up the flag. There are three different power settings, and on the lowest the flag with stay warm for up to 11 hours.
Although the jacket is branded Polo Ralph Lauren, the company makes it very clear that it was created via collaboration between multiple design firms and manufacturers.
Delaware-based DuPont noted that "Other heated garments are available, but they are heavy and full of stiff wires;" to avoid this they developed the conductive ink. They then worked with Pittsburgh-based precision printing company Butler Technologies to apply said ink.
Massachusetts-based apparel manufacturer 99Degrees, which specializes in both sewn and bonded sportswear, was contracted to attach the heating system to the jacket's lining.
The battery pack--which features buttons that can be operated while wearing thick gloves, naturally--was designed by Maryland-based design and engineering firm Key Tech, which focused on "user interface design, material selection and finish, power management, electrical safety and design for manufacturability."
For the all-important connection point between the battery and the jacket, NYC-based consultancy Principled Design's ConnexI/O e-textile connector interface was used. As with Key Tech's contribution, design for manufacturability was a key concern here: "Key to ConnexI/O is our 'snap-and-latch' technology," Principled writes, "which allows our connector to be integrated on the apparel factory floor, requiring no soldering, opening up new opportunities for the seamless integration of electronics into a variety of e-textile substrates."
And finally, the jacket itself is manufactured by New-Jersey-based garment manufacturer Better Team USA.
Alas, all of this American design, engineering and manufacturing prowess have been offset by another American quality: Greed. The jacket was offered for sale to the general public and sold out immediately; originally costing $2,495, they are now being flipped on eBay for up to six grand.
To counter this, PRL will not offer future production runs for sale online. Anyone who wants to be put on a waiting list has to call their store in SoHo.
So I'm eating lunch at the bar and watching the Olympics when these two Startup Bros walk in. Though the bar's empty they sit down right next to me (of course) and start running their yaps, going off on speed-skating: "God, that looks like it doesn't take any effort at all. Boring."
I wanted to say "Of course it looks effortless--these are highly trained athletes that have achieved perfect economy of motion through thousands of hours of practice, you dope."
Then they started debating which was "dumber," speed skating or the biathlon. And I wished for the millionth time that NYC passed a law that lets you break a beer bottle over any bro's head, once a month, no legal repercussions and no questions asked. It would be called the Bro Bottle Law and I would avail myself of my rights.
The biathlon requires athletes to ski cross-country for kilometers with an 8-pound rifle on their backs, then slow their heart rates and breathing down enough to hold a rifle steady and hit a target 50 meters away. If I asked these two out-of-shape jerks to run ten feet into the next room and throw their iPhones into the garbage I bet they'd miss.
Anyways, the biathlon is rather unique because each of the competitors carries a bespoke piece of mechanically-complicated kit: Their customized rifles. The stocks in particular are works of art, traditionally made from wood and precisely sized to the user's specifications.
Watch this video (sorry, NBC has made it unembeddable) where Olympian and World Championship medalist Susan Dunklee breaks down the design of her rifle.
For an idea of the work that goes into making one of these stocks, here's a video by Swedish manufacturer Bear:
Lastly, if you're a New York City politician interested in sponsoring the Bro Bottle Law, please contact me and I'll organize a grassroots support campaign.
I feel that every Boston Dynamics robot demonstration prompts the same sequence of reactions in the viewer:
1. Hey, look at this thing!
2. It's kinda nifty, even cute.
4. That was supremely creepy.
The video has also demonstrated that the SpotMini robot has better manners than most New Yorkers.
There's a line in the first Thor movie where the titular character suggests that what humans call "magic," Asgardians call "science." The notion being that both are unseen forces, and bridging the two requires advancing and applying knowledge.
We have a lot of technology today that would have seemed like magic to people from 100 years ago. Imagine driving around in a primitive automobile from 1918 and wanting to hear a particular song; you must wait until you get home, take your coat off, pull a vinyl record out of a sleeve, place it on a phonograph and guide the needle to its surface. Show those people footage of you driving around in 2018, calling out to Siri to play a particular song and it fills the car within a second.
But even as wondrous as instant music is, or wireless backups, or Bluetooth speakers, none of those things feel like magic to me. This does:
Sure it's a little silly, and we've seen Nissan's Intelligent Mobility initiative before with their self-organizing office chairs, but there is something magical about seeing inanimate objects tidy themselves.
I suspect that the reason this elicits a different response than Siri pulling music out of thin air is because this is more visual, physical and kinetic. I think that the combination of those three things will always yield more amazement than a voice-equipped refrigerator that announces you're out of milk.
Last night Olympic snowboarding fans were treated to a thrilling spectacle: America's 17-year-old phenom, Chloe Kim, crushing her final run with a 98.25 and gaining the gold medal.
But before I get to that yes, we're a design blog, so let's go over how halfpipes are made.
The 2018 Olympic standards call for a 600-foot-long run, an 18-degree pitch and elliptical walls that are precisely 22 feet high and spaced 64 feet apart from lip to lip.
The walls should not rise to dead verticality. The halfpipe at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi was constructed in that manner, and considered dreadful by the riders; the U.S. team's Danny Davis referred to it as "garbage," while Australian competitor Torah Bright called it "brutal."
Obviously snow, but not just any snow: It has to be a consistent blend with "No lumps, dry spots, heavy wet spots," as Snow Park Tech president and expert halfpipe builder Chris Gunnarson told NBC. The material consistency is crucial for reasons of safety, and it's another area where Sochi screwed up: On her final practice run there the U.S.A.'s Arielle Gold, then the defending world champion, wedged her board into a bump on the surface that shouldn't have been there and crashed. She separated her shoulder and was robbed, by shoddy workmanship, of her chance to compete.
Construction and Equipment
The initial step can be done in either of two ways: The first option is to build an earthen structure that is then topped with roughly half a million cubic feet of snow. The second option is to use Snowcats to plow existing snow into two massive snowbanks.
No matter which option is selected, both require the same final step: The crucial shaping and shaving of the walls into a smooth and consistent arc.
First a line is marked on the deck using a rope line and a chainsaw. Then a Snowcat that has been fitted with a massive, elliptical-arc-profile arm containing an articulated augur is used to shave the walls.
Interestingly, the first machine of this sort was invented by an organic vegetable farmer, Doug Waugh, in the late '80s. An ex-engineer, Waugh's familiarity with both agricultural machines and snowboarding led him to create the Pipe Dragon out of sheer boredom; he was based in Colorado and had plenty of farming to do in the summer and nothing to do in the winter. The Pipe Dragon was a success, sold well and Waugh was hired to create the halfpipe for Nagano in 1998, when snowboarding was first introduced to the Olympics.
In the '90s Zaugg, a Swiss manufacturer of agricultural and snow removal machinery, designed a competing product called the Pipe Monster that cuts a more elliptical curve. Waugh passed away in 2000 and the Pipe Monster is now the standard.
Alternate Snow-Gathering Method
If you've got access to Red Bull money, as two-time Olympic gold medalist Shaun White does, you can have guys in a helicopter drop 25-pound explosive charges onto the side of a mountain. This induces an avalanche that delivers the desired amount of snow down to your pipe site. I have no idea what the ecological consequences are but I'm hoping they looked into it and deemed it harmless.
So that's how you build an Olympic halfpipe. How do you get to ride one? Well, now that the design stuff's out of the way, I'm glad you asked…
How to Get a Chance to Ride an Olympic Halfpipe
It's really pretty simple. First, ensure you're born to a father who takes up snowboarding and brings you along when you're four. Then, start snowboarding and be mistaken for a boy. Train for 13 years.
What to Do on an Olympic Halfpipe
Chloe Kim qualified for the 2014 Olympics in competition, but at 13 years old she didn't meet the age requirement.
Now 17, on her first run at Pyeongchang she scored a stunning 93.75. No one else came in close; China's Liu Jiayu was in second with 85.50.
On Run 2, Kim attempted to do two 1080s back-to-back, but blew the landing and scored a dismal 41.50. Liu improved to an 89.75.
On Run 3, Kim was slated last. As each competitor made their runs, none of them exceeded 93.75 or even broke 90, meaning Kim was now guaranteed gold, and Run 3 would be a mere formality.
But, as she later told the cameras, "I knew that if I went home with a gold medal knowing I could do better, I wasn't going to be very satisfied. I wanted to do the back-to-back 10s. I wanted to go bigger. That third run was for me to prove to myself that I did it, so I could go home and be happy with myself." So this was her Run 3:
Congratulations to Ms. Kim!
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Yesterday, Olympic snowboarding fans again witnessed an awesome spectacle: Two frontrunners going at it, the U.S.A.'s veteran rider Shaun White versus Japan's incredible Ayumu Hirano. Hirano appears to have been born strapped into a snowboard; Burton has been sponsoring him since he was in the 4th grade. Now just 19 years old, he's battling for gold with the more experienced 31-year-old White.
Now for some design talk. Both White and Hirano are sponsored by Burton, so no matter which of them took gold, Burton would be the true winner.
So here we're going to highlight a design project Burton has spent years developing, their Step On binding system.
The dominant method of attaching boots to bindings is via straps. From a UX perspective, straps work well during riding but are a bit of a hassle to get on and off. It would be far easier to simply step onto the board and have the boots magically connect. That's why in the '90s numerous manufacturers, including Burton, attempted to design "step-in" boot-to-binding systems, but none of them could get it right; the riding performance was compromised with every design. It seemed impossible to design a step-in system that performed as well as straps, and thus the latter prevailed.
Three years ago, however, Burton decided to take another crack at it. "A strapless boot-to-binding system that doesn't compromise comfort or performance sounded like a tall order," the company writes, "but we pulled together our best developers and set them to work."
This is the classic industrial design process here. Ideation, experimentation, improvisation, testing, testing, testing. Using the hell out of an SLS machine for rapid prototyping. Getting user feedback, solving engineering problems, and having that willingness to fail and learn, fail and learn over and over again:
I love seeing the things they have to build that end users never think about, like the improvised GoPro rig for real-world observation, and the snowblowing rig to clog the binding with snow.
Now back to the Olympics! Japan's Ayumu Hirano, who's known for his amplitude (i.e. he gets crazy air) is no joke: He won silver at age 14 at the 2013 X Games, making him the youngest X Games medalist in history. At 2014 he again took silver while Shaun White, a two-time gold medalist, did not make the podium at all. Here's Hirano's run yesterday:
Hirano's 95.25 beat White's earlier 94.25--but White had one run left. Here's White's final run:
Click here to watch the original HD video of this epic run, which NBC has made unembeddable, to better understand what's happening. Watch it!!!
For this year's Core77 Design Awards, we're conducting in-depth interviews with each of our jury captains to get in a glimpse into their creative minds and to hear more about what they'll be looking for in this year's awards submissions.
Our 2018 Open Design Jury Captain Zach Kaplan, founder of Inventables, a company manufacturing economically (and geographically) accessible 3D carving technology. With his work, Kaplan hopes to inform future generations on how to design and make the objects that surround them while also empowering designers to find independence by through the production of their own designs. We spoke with Kaplan about how the commercialization of fabrication tools will change how we produce in the future as well as what he hopes to see in this year's Open Design awards entries.
Can you tell me a little bit more about your company Inventables and its mission?
Sure! The purpose of our company is to bring out the maker in all of us, and for our mission, we are trying to build accessible tools and community for the maker journey. We think about the purpose and the mission a little bit differently, like the purpose is sort of like why we come to work every day and the mission is what we're trying to accomplish.
And you make tools, like the X-Carve, as well as software—tell me a little more about both of those.
We're trying to build a new part of the manufacturing economy. Some people talk about it as distributive manufacturing or independent manufacturing—"indie manufacturing"—but the theme is that today consumers are being presented with more choice than ever before.
With 20th-century manufacturing it was all about getting scale—that's how you drove out cost. Think of the assembly line as the key driver of that or even injection molding. You pay for the tooling and then we can make this accessible by making a million units. What we're doing is like 21st-century manufacturing. It's less about scale and more about customization. There's no additional cost for complexity with our X-carve or Carvey tools, so we're able to give our customers basically a tool where they can then make custom products for their customers extremely cost efficiently.
Because of that, we see this whole new section of the manufacturing economy coming up that's all about customization, really special niche goods and they're not distributing them or selling them through big-box retailers. They're selling them online through places like Etsy, Kickstarter and Shopify, and even sometimes Instagram.
They're not buying TV ads like big companies used to do. They're using social media and they're not selling in a big store, they're selling online. Our tools are a way that they can actually design, make and produce their products. So from a Core77 perspective, I find this really exciting because it's putting designers in a position where they can kind of control the whole experience.
"We're not going to go back to lighting up General Motors-size factories in America that's more cost-effective than in China. It's just not going to happen."
Another part of Inventables that I am aware of is that you provide machines to libraries and institutions, and so part of your mission is also making sure technology is accessible to the masses, right?
Can you explain how you bring your products to different communities and why that's important to you personally?
Yeah. Because we're trying to build this new section of the manufacturing economy, indie manufacturers, we need to start educating people about what this new type of manufacturing is, and I personally believe this is our country's chance to be relevant in the next century from a manufacturing perspective.
We're not going to go back to lighting up General Motors-size factories in America that's more cost-effective than in China. It's just not going to happen. But we do have an opportunity to make distributive micro-manufacturing facilities. So I think if we're really going to compete nationally or globally we need to start teaching students and kids and people in the community in accessible ways. It used to be you got the job and then they did on the job training. Well, if you're running a one-person company there is no on the job training.
We need to start getting kids, designers, people in the community excited in places that they are—so schools, libraries, maker spaces and community centers. We're partnering with them and we've made [our hardware compatible CAD program] Easel so it is the most accessible software to get started with because it's free and you don't have to download anything. You can just do it in the browser. Then if you go to Inventables.com/50states we show where all the publicly accessible machines are in schools, libraries and maker spaces. You can zoom into wherever you live and find the one that's closest to you.
That's awesome. I want to open the conversation up more generally to open design because you're going to be the Open Design Jury Captain. I'm curious, what do you think has been the most significant change or development in open design in DIY in the past few years?
I think it's just how accessible it's become. I remember Nike talking about this 10 years ago. All of the ways that you could do open design back then were very modular or cookie cutter, where today, technology has gotten to the point where the consumer or the user of the product really can have a lot of control over reshaping their experience. It's partially because our phones are, just the computer technology is so cheap. LEDs are so cheap and accessible. It's just become easier.
Right, I agree. It's definitely become more available to the masses in a way that it hasn't before.
And in ways that as designers we weren't thinking about 10 years ago. Back then I feel like everybody was trying to design these mass customization experiences and now there are just more tools available that make it possible for designers to imagine. So because of the availability of this stuff, it's just made it more interesting.
What do you think is the greatest misunderstanding about open design and DIY?
That it's for kids. People are almost a little dismissive but I believe the hand-made, small-scale business market is not something to take lightly.
When they say "DIY" they're thinking of yarn and craft projects, but like our customers, we have a huge number of them that are running quarter million dollar businesses off the machine. I know when Etsy started it was one of more crafty, yarn-oriented projects, but it's evolved and I think people's impression has not evolved as quickly as the market has.
"Design ideas used to get watered down and it was almost comical because you had to design to the lowest common denominator where these open design products are now making it so you don't. You can really design for the individual and I think that's bringing out a whole richness."
So where do you see something like open design having the biggest impact in the future?
From our perspective, I think it's all of these tools, these digital manufacturing tools that are enabling people like individuals or teams of one or two people to do design and manufacturing in a way that was only done by Fortune 500 companies, big companies before. These people are coming to market, designers are coming to market with products that are super interesting and compelling. As someone who worked with Fortune 500 companies before, a lot of the ideas and designs that people are bringing to market now [in a corporate environment] would get cut in those brainstorms and meetings because they weren't for the masses.
All the ideas used to get watered down and it was almost comical because you had to sort of design to the lowest common denominator where these open design products are now making it so you don't. You can really design for the individual and I think that's bringing out a whole richness. It's like the Brooklyn of manufacturing.
How do you think customization will come into play in terms of manufacturing in the future?
I think because the customization is inexpensive, you're just going to see a lot more of it. We used to only see customization as high end. Now you're going to see it at every price point.
I'm literally sitting in our phone booth room next to this really beautiful unique lamp that's a one of a kind, and 10 or 20 years ago that would have essentially been unaffordable for a startup to have this one of a kind lamp. Now it's not unrealistic because the tools are inexpensive and accessible.
It's true. It's definitely becoming much more possible to just envision a product in your head and realize it fairly quickly.
Yeah. People don't want to have the same stuff as everybody else, you know? You know when you go into an apartment and it's all IKEA, and you're like, "oh yeah, I've seen that"?
What we're seeing now more is like people are mixing IKEA stuff or West Elm stuff with custom stuff, which is kind of what happens with a high-end home where everything isn't custom, but they sort of mix in a bunch of custom things with non-custom things so it makes it feel special and unique. I think that's where you're going to see some really compelling stuff happen.
Absolutely. So, final question bringing it somewhat back to the awards, what are the most important design considerations you look for when evaluating either your own or someone else's project when it comes to open design or DIY?
I would say it's sort of three things I think about. One would be enchantment, another would be accessibility and the last would be functionality. By enchantment, I think about: is it enchanting? Is it drawing me in? That sort of hard to put your finger on, emotional thing where you see it and you know it. It's just "wow"….That's enchantment.
Accessibility means, is it an order of magnitude more accessible than its predecessor? Most of the things in this category probably exist in some form, but you're bringing this new version. Is it easier to use? Is it drawing more people in? Is it changing the game on what, who can participate? That's what I think about accessibility.
Finally, there's functionality: does it do what it says it's going to do, but more importantly, does it do it really well?
The Core77 Design Awards Open Design Jury
2018 Consumer Products Jury Captain Zach Kaplan will be joined by these designers for the awards selection process: