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Articles on this Page
- 04/17/18--09:29: _Honda's Two Design ...
- 04/17/18--09:29: _Behind the Scenes o...
- 04/17/18--13:20: _BadAbout: A Website...
- 04/17/18--13:20: _Urban Design Observ...
- 04/17/18--20:09: _Book Review Pt. 3—B...
- 04/18/18--18:02: _Freak Accident or D...
- 04/18/18--18:02: _Here's Our Idea for...
- 04/18/18--18:02: _Milan Design Week R...
- 04/18/18--18:02: _An Interview with J...
- 04/18/18--18:02: _Steven M. Johnson's...
- 04/18/18--18:02: _Tools & Craft #...
- 04/18/18--18:02: _Reader Submitted: H...
- 04/19/18--07:01: _An Introduction to ...
- 04/19/18--07:01: _Watch Joseph Hersch...
- 04/19/18--07:01: _Second Company Deve...
- 04/17/18--09:29: Honda's Two Design Approaches to Help Stroke Victims Walk
- 04/17/18--13:20: BadAbout: A Website Where You Can Complain About Product Designs
- 04/18/18--18:02: Here's Our Idea for How an Omnidirectional Treadmill Would Work
- 04/18/18--18:02: Milan Design Week Recap: Days 1 and 2
- 04/18/18--18:02: An Interview with Jonathan Ward, Founder of Icon
- 04/18/18--18:02: Steven M. Johnson's Bizarre Invention #96: The Tunnel Bus
- 04/18/18--18:02: Tools & Craft #92: How to Choose the Best Dovetail Saw for Yourself
- 04/18/18--18:02: Reader Submitted: Hyperqube
- 04/19/18--07:01: An Introduction to Bondo for Designers and Modelmakers
Most people think of Honda as a car and motorcycle company, but they view themselves as a mobility company. That's why, nearly 20 years ago, an internal team of engineers was formed to help a subset of people who are functionally immobile: Stroke victims. By adapting the technology from their experimental bipedal Asimo robot, they reasoned, they could help people with damaged or impaired motor functions walk again.
While the engineers reportedly produced some 30 prototypes, "Grossly simplified, the Honda researchers split walking into two problems: fighting against gravity to maintain standing and generating a force to move forward," according to Exoskeleton Report. So the two prototypes shown to the public each tackled one of these issues. The Bodyweight Support Assist helps with the first problem, and was also envisioned to be able to help reduce strain on factory workers:
The second approach, then called Stride Management Assist, tackles the second issue:
That was just about ten years ago. In the time since, the first prototype has disappeared from the news, whereas the second prototype went into trials about five years ago at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. Then, in 2015, Honda began producing that second design, rebranding it the Walking Assist Device, and leasing it to roughly 250 facilities in Japan. And earlier this year, the company obtained approval in the EU to list it as a medical device, so we assume Europe will see them as well.
At press time there was no word on whether it will become commercially available in the 'States.
London-based fashion brand COS has returned to Milan Design Week for a seventh consecutive collaborative installation, following a very successful year with Studio Swine. This time around, COS's collaborator is Palm Springs-based designer Phillip K. Smith III who has created an otherworldly, reflective environment located within the 16th century Palazzo Isimbardi—the first time COS has selected an outdoor venue.
Immediately entering the Palazzo, visitors are faced with the largest structure in the installation. Almost like a kaleidoscope effect, the mirrors are ever-changing, projecting a different image of architecture and sky every time.
The large work is accompanied by smaller reflective works in the Palazzo's garden, just a few steps away from the main structure. Out of the hundreds of installations being designed specifically for Instagram selfies these days, it was especially refreshing to come across a mirrored installation designed to help you appreciate more than just your face.
On that note, we sat down with Phillip K. Smith III and COS Creative Director Karin Gustafsson to discuss what went on behind the scenes of Open Sky and to learn more about the materials and fabrication process:
Can you tell me more about how this project came to be?
Karin Gustafsson: We started off by reaching out to Phillip because we really like his work and have been interested in it for some time. We knew by then that we wanted to come back to Salone and do something here again. We've been here since 2012, so this is the seventh time, and we've never been outdoor before this. We invited Phillip over, and we had a first meeting where we shared a bit more about ourselves as a brand, shared our DNA, and our values. Then Phillip shared his work and his vision, and that was really the starting point.
From there did you immediately come up with concepts?
Phillip K Smith III: I just waved my wand! (laughs) No, but the process was great because COS was hands-off in a way. They basically said, "Here is who we are as a company, here is the site, and we look forward to seeing what you'd like to do." Essentially what you see in that courtyard is what I presented at that first meeting. It was very fluid and very free from the beginning. It was more like working with a museum than it was working with a brand.
How long did the entire process take?
PKS: Our first meeting was in September of last year. After that meeting there was a process immediately following where we decided which concepts we liked and began to think about how we could actually build them. That was when the real collaborative spirit started happening. It's COS and Phillip K. Smith III on the banner outside of the building, but there are probably over 100 people who have touched this project, and it couldn't have happened without them.
That ranges from people in my studio helping with taking this idea from sketch to a three-dimensional digital model, to working with fabricators both here in Milan and in Brooklyn. I worked directly with a company called UAP, Urban Art Projects, to work out a lot of the detailing and to ensure that the simplicity and purity of that concept would be maintained through all of the fabrication. There was a real high level of precision that I was after, so I needed to consider that when I was acquiring a fabricator. These were thoughts between both myself and COS—that there's a respect for precision. It was so nice to be able to work with a client that appreciates precision and understands the kind of simplicity of thought and how complex it can be to project that simple thought. So, working with the COS team, with UAP, with my studio, with the venue, with the production company here in Milan—it was a lot of different people all pushing towards this goal of getting this thing accomplished and built.
It's always fascinated me how the most simple forms are actually the most difficult to achieve.
PKS: Yes, exactly because the more you distill something—the more you're looking at it—the more you're perceiving it. If I hold up my hand and show it to you in motion, it's really difficult to get a full picture, right? But if I show you my completely still hand, now you're about to notice the wrinkles and all of the subtleties. When there's only a surface presented to you, you really look. And that's the goal of a lot of my work. I've done a whole series of light and shadow pieces that are all white, that are all about presenting light in its simplicity, and there might be three planes of white, and that's it. But there's a real scanning of the surface and then a recognition of how simple and pure and how beautiful it can be. There's a similar thought for, certainly, this courtyard piece as well as the reflectors out in the garden of recognizing the simple, pure beauty of the Renaissance architecture and the Milan sky.
We often work quite big, large and creative from the beginning, but then we reduce. The more you reduce, the more attention to detail you have to have. But that also creates more long-lasting experiences and more long-lasting value in product. Very often, I imagine in your studio, Karin, the struggles of, "How does this go next to that?" or "How do we make that line beautiful and pure?" There are so many detailing questions that come up.
KG: They can be obstacles, but the obstacles make you think and challenge you, and they make you move on. So, it's all for the good—it keeps us on our toes.
Karin, I think what Phillip was just describing is very much parallel with COS's clothing. Many of your silhouettes appear simple on the rack, but then when you try them on, you notice all of these small details that you would have never noticed. Phillip, when you first look at Open Sky, it's this one large piece, and then you really step up close, it becomes so much more.
PKS: It changes wildly, if you step to the left a couple feet or right to the couple feet. Everything changes.
What was your inspiration that lead you to this final point?
The initial inspiration was that square of sky that the palazzo frames itself. I wanted to pull the sky down to the ground. I lived in Rome my fourth year of architecture school, and I understood that courtyard space and the feel of that space because I used to walk through it every day to go to my studio. When I knew I'd be working within a similar kind of space here in Milan, I remembered that square of sky. It's so beautiful and distinct. It's almost like there were blinders of architecture that framed this perfect view. James Turrell's sky spaces are all about that, but here's a sixteenth-century Renaissance architecture doing that 400 years before Turrell, in a way.
I wanted to use the materiality of Milan, and the materiality of Milan in this case that is architecture and the sky—it was about distilling the materials I was working with to architecture and sky. I've had opportunities to do vast projects out in the middle of the desert, but really, if you distill those down, it is about land and sky or water and sky. In this case, it's architecture and sky.
Did you play around with any other materials before you settled on the mirrors?
Reflection is possible through a variety of materials, but my goal was figuring out how I could present the sky and the architecture as purely as possible. Structurally, what has to occur? How does it actually get fabricated? How does it get packed? How does it get assembled? What's the longevity of it? How easily does it scratch or not scratch? All of these very mundane questions were so essential to the project.
Ultimately, the material I selected is a mirror-polished stainless steel. It's a 14 gauge, so it's a little bit thicker than one-sixteenth of an inch. The material couldn't be much thicker because then you can't actually apply it. You'd have to slightly bend it in order to align everything, and if it's an eighth of an inch thick, it's too thick to be able to do that. There are a lot of those mundane things that have to be contained within this circle of fabrication logic, and assembly logic, shipment logic, a person lifting it logic, and then all of it with the litmus test of, is it true to the concept? Are we following and allowing the concept to stay as pure as possible?
There's a whole structural logic on the inside of the piece that you don't see. You only see two of the 34 ribs where the piece is actually cut on the edges. You see the kind of triangular logic—the structural logic. There's a repetitive modular element that runs throughout the structure, and if you figure out how to make one of those modules, you can, in theory, create the entire piece.
I'm sure there's a lot of beauty within that hidden structural system.
There's a lot of beauty in it. I love talking about that. I resist sharing some of those images because I like maintaining the mystery of the work, but I'll say, a lot of the photos of the piece before any of the concrete panels or the mirror went on were gorgeous. It was like looking at a skeletal structure of a human being; it's gorgeous.
Open Sky will be on view April 17 until April 22, 2018 at Palazzo Isambardi (Corso Monforte 35, 20122 Milan). If you're in Milan, be sure to stop by and see it for yourself.
BadAbout is the name of a website billing itself as "an online encyclopedia of criticism:"
"We allow users to quickly share and discover the drawbacks about something, usually a product or service. We are not a general review site. We collect the bad points to achieve a positive purpose."
That's right, submitters are only allowed to say negative things about each submitted item. They claim this will counter "clever marketing."
The site divides each user submission into one of three categories: Facts, Opinions and Experiences. Here's an example, on the page for the iPhone X:
It's a little depressing that people cannot distinguish between facts and opinions themselves, but you'd think I'd be used to that by now.
Some of the topics/targets on the site are specific products, as with the iPhone X; others are services, like the Facebook app and the Google Play Store; still others are general topics. I'm assuming this one was posted as a joke:
In any case, people do like to complain, so I imagine they're onto something here.
Lastly, they should license the following to automatically start playing in the background when you load the page.
We're back from the Hollywood Hills, which is a topographically crazy place to build houses. Each one sits on a precious lot that has been carved into a slope.
L.A. being a city of cars, parking is obviously at a premium here. These two parking spaces, hemmed in by unattractive cinderblock walls next to a beautiful home, are worth tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The real Rich People houses have garages. This four-story manse has two, and yet a third car is parked outside, in the sun.
It's a Chevy Volt, you can see it's plugged in. These people are rich and eco-conscious.
It's presumably parked outside regularly. You can see that this house has, on the wall next to the parking space, what must be a desirable feature in L.A.: A retractable sun awning.
Other cars with shorter driveways, which often seem to be located on the "bottom" sides of the road, are parked more chaotically. This guy's got two race-ready Porsches (or maybe a buddy's visiting) and no place for the second one.
If the grass under the front tire is dead I could confirm that this second car is regularly parked like this, but I could hear someone inside the house and I wasn't willing to start crawling around by the car to investigate. The friend that I'm staying with up here keeps a gun in the house, so maybe her neighbors do too. I like you guys but I'm not willing to be mistaken for a car thief and have a couple hot ones pumped into my torso so that I can write you an Urban Design Observation post.
Here's another Volt with an aesthetically-unpleasing parking position. This reminds me a lot of Tokyo, where you just stuff a car into whatever nook you can.
The owner could get it off the curb entirely if s/he parked it parallel to the front face of the house, but then s/he would block the doorway. Behind the Volt you can see the black door leading to a garage. The fact that the garage is oriented like that, rather than perpendicular to its current position, says a lot about the limitations of building the house on a steep slope.
Here's another house built on a steep slope. It's been broken into three separate residences, judging by the mailboxes. (I'm going to get to mailboxes in a minute.)
Something about this house caught my eye, so I kept staring at it until I figured out what it was. It's this funny little push-out window that appears to have been retrofitted.
It appears to exist only so that plants can be placed in it. I can't say why but I feel certain that's the kitchen and the plants are just over the sink.
I passed this house and was again struck by how good exterior wood looks out here, compared to in New York, where it all looks like shit. Having four seasons really beats the stuff up. California sun is either kinder, or they replace it more frequently out here.
Speaking of wood I saw this privacy screen that appeared to have had parts of it removed.
I got closer to see why; had it been damaged?
None of the nail holes look like they'd been torn out at an angle, but maybe something had been thrown through the middle of the missing pieces?
In the end I couldn't figure it out, and wondered if maybe it had to do with the garbage cans, like maybe the garbage truck needs to be able to see them from the street in order to know that they have to empty them. I don't know. Why am I even thinking about this. Sometimes I hate being curious. Don't be curious, folks, is my message to you. Also, give up on your dreams.
On my little walk I started looking at mailboxes to figure out how many residences each house I passed held. Then I noticed that there's no consistency of mailboxes out here, no HOA or anything like that. You just buy whatever you want.
Like this one.
This looks like the mailbox that Indiana Jones would place in front of his house.
He'd have a story about how he found it in one of those countries that ends in -istan, and how it once held the ashes of some venerated Emir whose shrine he desecrated. You would tell him that he already told you the story but he wouldn't listen and would talk over you until he got to the end of the story and you would stare at the ground and just kind of nod.
Lastly, my eye was drawn to this sleek modernist one on the right.
It's almost pretentious, the way the pop-up flag is, defiantly, not a flag at all but a trapezoid.
This mailbox definitely judges all of the other mailboxes around it. And the more I think about it, the more I find that displeasing. This mailbox thinks its shit doesn't stink. Eff you, modernist mailbox. The other ones are good too. Even Indy's stupid stolen urn mailbox.
We're publishing a third and final excerpt fromBrutally Honest: No Bullshit Business Strategies to Evolve Your Creative Business, the "tell it like it is" career advice book specifically catered to designers. Written by Emily Cohen, the book compiles honest business insights and strategies the seasoned design consultant has been preaching to design firms over the years. The book's campaign ends tomorrow, April 18th, so if you find yourself wanting more, now's the time to hit that pledge button on Kickstarter.
This excerpt goes over how to write the perfect cover letter for various recipients, ranging from existing contacts to from a conference speaker you admired:
Cover Letters— Content Examples
The following are very generic examples of the first and last paragraphs for a variety of different types of cover letters. Obviously, the final versions should be further customized (or entirely re-written) to reflect your firm's unique voice and personality as well as your relationship/knowledge of the recipient.
These examples are meant for inspiration only.
PERSONAL RECIPIENT A
Existing contact whom you haven't spoken to in a while (over 6 months)
Since it has been awhile since we last worked together/spoke, I wanted to reconnect. We really enjoyed working with you on [XXX] project and continue to be very proud of what we were able to achieve. We also wanted to briefly update you on what we have been doing lately as well as hear an update on what you've been up to.
I will send you an email (or give you a call) next week to see if we can schedule a time, at your convenience, to reconnect. Meanwhile, [here you customize something such as "have a great weekend" or "best of luck with the launch of your product or book."]
TARGET RECIPIENT B
Potential new business opportunity that was referred to you by someone else
XXX mentioned I should introduce my firm, XXX, and myself to you as [and here explain why, such as, they thought you may like our work, or are looking to hire a design firm]. [Here, in one sentence, say how you know XXX such as: "I have worked with XXX for two years developing their company's marketing materials."]
I will give you call you next week to schedule a time, at your convenience, to meet as I would like to hear more about your company, introduce my firm and, if appropriate, explore ways we can work together. Meanwhile, [and here you customize something such as "have a great weekend" or "best of luck with the launch of your product or book"].
TARGET RECIPIENT C
Cold inquiry to potential new business opportunity—someone that you have researched and want to work for
I would like to introduce my firm, XXX, as I think you will find that our work in your industry (or for other similar companies) may interest you. [Here you give your one sentence elevator pitch.] I would love (or like) to schedule a brief call or meeting, at your convenience, to show you our work and hear more about your company.
I will give you call you next week to schedule a time, at your convenience, to meet or talk briefly. Meanwhile,[and here you customize something such as "have a great weekend" or "best of luck with the launch of your product or book"].
TARGET RECIPIENT D
Cold inquiry to a connector or colleague
I have heard about your services/work in XXX and was inspired to introduce my firm, XXX, as I think we may have some common [interests and/or connections]. I would love (or like) to schedule a brief call or meeting, at your convenience, to learn more about what you do and explore ways we can potentially help each other out or collaborate.
I will give you a call you next week to schedule a time, at your convenience, to meet as I would love to hear more about what you do and explore ways we can work together. Meanwhile,[and here you customize something such as "have a great weekend" or "best of luck with the launch of your product or book"].
TARGET RECIPIENT E
Someone you admire (a potential connector, colleague or even potential client)—this is someone who wrote a blog/article, was featured in an article, or you saw speak
I recently read the article you wrote in XXX (or saw you speak at XXX, or read the article that featured you in XXX) and was inspired to introduce my firm, XXX. [Here you add a sentence that mentions what inspired you in particular or what you related to (the complement sentence).] I also wanted to introduce my firm as [give a reason here, such as: I think we have a lot in common, or share common interests, or we may know many of the same people, or my firm's work aligns nicely with your company's direction].
I will give you a call next week to see if we can schedule a time, at your convenience, to talk (or meet briefly). I would love (or am eager) to hear more about what you do, introduce my firm and even explore ways we can potentially collaborate. Meanwhile,[and here you customize something such as "have a great weekend" or "best of luck with the launch of your product or book"].
CLOSE WITH AN ACTIONABLE STATEMENT (1-3 SENTENCES)
This should emphasize your enthusiasm and include very clear next steps/ actions. Don't be passive. Rather than closing with the meaningless "I look forward to meeting you" write "I'll call you next week to follow up and see if we can schedule some time to talk or meet at your convenience." Or, use some variable of that statement. Then, follow through with that promise, or you look irresponsible.
Yes, you read that correctly. You remember snail mail? Send the cover letter and case studies in the mail to potential prospects.
Why? Because most people are inundated with emails, many of which are left unread or sent to spam. On the other hand, most people don't receive any enticing mail anymore, at least nothing that surprises them. They mostly get junk mail. But, if they receive a colored envelope or a personal letter, they become intrigued. You've increased the likelihood that they will indeed open and read what you wrote. Email won't do this for you.
Now, Just Do It
In the meantime, embrace Yoda's philosophy "Do or Do Not, There is No Try." If you don't know who Yoda is, well that's just sad. Look him up.
Just start introducing yourself to strangers. Meet new people. Build relationships. Be patient.
As stated, one way to do this is to attend conferences/events within your specialization. I will cover this particular strategy in more depth in the next chapter.
This is an awful story that automotive designers should take note of.
On Tuesday afternoon last week, 16-year-old student Kyle Plush went to his minivan in the parking lot of his Ohio high school to retrieve some tennis gear. He never returned.
Around 9pm that night his father, looking for him, located the minivan. Plush was dead inside, having suffocated.
Plush's car was a 2004 Honda Odyssey. The third row of seats in that car are designed to fold backwards into a storage position. This illustration produced by a Cleveland news organization explains what happened:
Just awful. Even worse is that Plush managed to reach his phone and made two 911 calls, connecting both times, yet officers never found him due to a bizarre confluence of events.
This does not appear to be a common cause of death, and one could argue that there's simply no way the designers could have foreseen such a freak accident; but now that it's happened, all automotive designers working on similar features ought be made aware of it.
Reuters reports that the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has contacted Honda and "will take appropriate action based on its review."
One of the hurdles that virtual reality designers face, in trying to bring their Ready Player One immersive worlds to fruition, isn't virtual; it's physical. It's to do with the fact that VR headsets currently require a physical tether, and that the wearer cannot stray far from that tether. Even if the tether eventually disappears, there is the larger problem of mobility: How can someone walk around limitlessly in a virtual world, when in reality they're in an arcade?
The designers of Hologate, a VR shoot-'em-up game I played at the World's Fair Nano, solved this by placing you in a relatively small fortified position--imagine standing atop a circular castle battlement--while virtual enemies came in from all sides. You could physically circle and sidestep in real life within this limited space and it was convincing in the game. However, I can see it getting boring over time.
Another developer of a horror game in Japan tackled the mobility problem by placing the gameplayer in an actual wheelchair. Within the game, your character is correspondingly confined to one that is motorized, providing the illusion of rolling around within this world while not actually moving in real life. Clever, but still a band-aid.
The answer would be to create an omnidirectional treadmill. A company called Infinadeck is working on one, and their approach is interesting:
Howevery, you can undoubtedly see the problems. The two-axis approach they have taken, and a series of motion-sensing challenges, provide significant obstacles to perfecting their device.
I believe I have a better idea.
Take a look at this existing product, "ball transfer"-style outfeed rollers.
Each of those spheres are captured within a housing and can rotate.
Imagine covering a surface with them.
You'd have to experiment with the diameter of the spheres, their spacing and certainly their coating (something rubbery, I imagine?) but it's not a stretch to imagine them all being individually motorized.
As you took a step and placed your foot down, sensors could deduce which direction you meant to travel in and the motors would instantly activate all of the immediately local rollers, sending your foot backwards, as if moving it down a conveyor belt, while your stride carried you forwards.
You would remain in place but feel like you were walking, and could conceivably do it in every direction.
Now if one of you could put in the hard work to actually make this happen, then credit me, that'd be great. We should probably work out some kind of royalty thing too.
We're two days into Milan Design Week, and although we haven't hit the big shows yet, we've discovered plenty of smaller wonders within or near La Brera and Ventura Centrale, ranging from wooden marionettes made from chairs to electric vehicle sketches:
"Giants with Dwarf" for horgenglarus
Swedish furniture company, horgenglarus dug into their archive to create Giants with Dwarf, an installation filled with gigantic wooden marionette creatures designed by Stephen Hürlemann. When looked at closely, visitors notice that each critter is assembled with horgenglarus chairs from the past. The creatures move when the giant wooden rings sitting in front of each one are gently pulled on. If you're going to destroy furniture dating as far back as 1880, at least turn it into giant pandas, bees and monkeys.
nendo for Atelier Swarovski
Swarovski had some interesting items on display at their Atelier space at the courtyard of Palazzo Serbrlloni, including two collaborative collections with nendo and crystal vessels by Patricia Urquiola that change shape based on what fills them. The Austria-based crystal company also decided to bring a bit of home with them to Milan through a pop-up cafe featuring cakes and pastries from their favorite Austrian bakery.
BYTON's concept car debut
Electric vehicle company BYTON made the Europe debut of their concept SUV all day yesterday in La Brera. For Milan Design Week, their unveiling focused on the design process, featuring sketches, material swatches and a mini clay model. We'll be following this post with an interview with BYTON's VP of design soon.
"Typecasting" by Vitra
We already covered Vitra and Robert Stadler's Typecasting exhibition, but that didn't take away from the wonder of seeing it in person. While it was thrilling to see Vitra furniture from the archives scattered together on a giant platform, we were even more curious in The Communals section, which featured new visions for communal furniture by various designers, including Robert Stadler himself, Barber & Osgerby and more. We only wish visitors had been able to wander through and immerse themselves in the aisles of coveted furniture.
Dozie Kanu for RIMOWA
On the outskirts of Milan lies Spazio Maiocchi, a new space that hopes to merge art, design and fashion to, "shape new cultural experiences. Three exhibitions are on view for Milan Design Week: Dozie Kanu x RIMOWA (presented by Kaleidoscope Magazine), Nike's Brothers of the World and Timur Si-Qin's NEW PEACE. We appreciated that each of the three exhibitions fell clearly into one of the three categories of art, design and fashion. On the design side, emerging furniture artist Dozie Kanu was tasked by RIMOWA to create a progressive image of their classic aluminum luggage. Each piece in the exhibition featured an actual piece of RIMOWA luggage.
Curious to see more from Milan Design Week? Follow our stories & posts this week on Instagram!
Every designer's dream is to create the exact object they envision, unhindered by accountants, marketers and planned obsolescence. Industrial designers among you, think of every project you've worked on where the best engineering and materials were prohibitively expensive; the style needed to be compromised to appeal to a market you had no interest in; and the object couldn't be too durable, because the company needed the customer to come back and buy a new one in five years.
Jonathan Ward has found a way to sidestep these obstacles and, as far as I can tell, he gets to live his dream over and over again.
Each year Ward and his company, Icon, produce several dozen obsessively-executed four-wheeled design objects with vintage style and 21st-century technology, created from a Bill of Materials so uncompromising that any CFO would march down to your office to have the pleasure of firing you in person.
Ward's CFO is his wife Jamie, and thus far his job is safe. Twenty years ago the two of them started TLC, a Land Cruiser repair and restoration center that's now the largest in the country. Ten years ago they formed Icon, where Ward could satisfy his urge to create new vehicles precisely the way he wanted to create them, absent compromises. He fixates on every last component and can expound on every design decision he's made, wowing even the most prolific of car collectors (he's been featured on both Adam Carolla's "Carcast" and "Jay Leno's Garage" nearly a half-dozen times each).
Ward's attention to detail makes Icon's cars expensive. When he encounters a tiny part that the original manufacturer felt was "good enough," and he then finds a part he feels is good enough and it costs nine dollars versus the 30-cent original, guess which one goes onto the BOM. The cars thus start in the $100,000s. Restoration shops that fall short of Ward's insane standards could sell seemingly similar vehicles for much cheaper. "When we started Icon, people said we were nuts," Ward recounts. "They had bets with each other, how long before we're out on the street, bankrupt."
That didn't happen. Turns out there were, and are, a lot of people who are fans of Ward's thorough approach and are willing to pay for its fruits. "Now we see that it's viable," he says, "and we have demand that we have yet to be able to meet."
The waiting list for an Icon is long; order one today, and by the time it's ready your Congressperson may have changed. And while a lot of automakers can produce cars that Tom Hanks, David Letterman or a Saudi Prince are willing to wait for, it's telling that also among Ward's customers are Marc Newson and Sir Jonathan Ive.
Loosely speaking, Icon turns old cars into new ones. Vastly superior new ones; it's sort of like they start with a shot-up Peter Weller (or Joel Kinnaman, depending on your age) and painstakingly transform him into Robocop. Everything beneath the skin has been redesigned and replaced using modern-day technology, clever engineering, high-end materials and the latest manufacturing methods. The look of the car, and more importantly the spirit, has been preserved; but its design, engineering, performance, and fit-and-finish have been pushed to a level that its original manufacturer couldn't have imagined.
The best designers don't just design their products; they design their organization and its processes. In the ten years since Icon's inception, Ward has assembled some 52 fabricators, engineers and technicians with difficult-to-find skillsets (and at least one engineer so deluged with walk-in requests that his door must be kept locked). He has evolved a process that is both high-tech and hands on, CAD work done with dirty fingernails, CNC machines employed alongside craftsmen fitting components by hand.
A glimpse of Icon's process: Car bodies are removed and laser-scanned. With a digital file created, Ward and his team design a custom-fit chassis accounting for the precise location of the powertrain and engine, which might be the supercharged LS-9 from the Corvette ZR1, Ford's "Coyote" 32-valve V-8, dual electric motors powered by an array of Tesla batteries (divided between front and rear locations for optimal weight balance), or whatever viable powerplant the customer desires.
The axles, suspension components, brakes, exhaust system, etc. are either custom-built or selected from suppliers renowned for producing the best: Brembo, Borla, Dana, Eibach. Dynamat insulation panels line the insides of the sheet metal, the body undersides are coated with a protective heat-cured polyurea. Scratch-resistant powder-coated paint jobs with custom colors are cooked up. Then there are the fixtures--rearview mirrors, door handles, headlights--all reimagined as if the design brief dictates they must pass MoMA muster.
"No one has ever applied real craftsmanship to the blank canvas these vehicles can be," Ward says.
That craftsmanship also extends to the interior of the cars: "There's new opportunities there," Ward explains, "where, depending on the era, the cleanliness and the clarity of the design, we'll go back and redesign knobs, fixtures, trims and textiles.
"We'll do what we think the original designer would've wanted to do before the focus groups and the accounting department fucked up the details."
We had the opportunity to interview Ward and visit his 76,000-square-foot facility in Chatsworth, outside Los Angeles. Here in Part 1 we discuss how and why Ward does what he does, what makes Icon viable, how digital tools and CAD figure into his process and more.
Core77: The cocktail party question: How would you describe to a stranger what you do?
Jonathan Ward: I would struggle with that because I'm a self-appointed designer, but in all honesty, I have no degrees or rights to call myself one. But I've always been driven by industrial design. I'm constantly geeking out on everything around me, surfaces, textures, shapes, forms.
Where do those compulsions come from?
I don't know. As a young kid I lived on a farm in Elkridge, Maryland and then we moved to New York City, where I was suddenly overwhelmed with input from architecture and design. And I was always sketching and tinkering. My hobbies over the years have included sculpting in stone and in marble, woodworking, Pre-Raphaelite painting. And now leathercraft is a current major weekend obsession.
How long have you been interested in transportation?
Ever since I was little. My granddad had a corner car repair dealership spot in a small town in Virginia that we'd visit. He'd shuttered it before I was born but still owned the property, it was frozen in time, boarded up and still had cars stored inside. So there was something romantic about that to me. I was constantly geeking out on vintage cars and learning about them by taking them apart. When I was around 16 I started [amassing] a huge library of biographies and autobiographies of historic automotive pioneers. The business ethics and the visionaries in the transportation sector from decades ago always excited me, as did the designs, far more than what was coming out new.
And travel's always been a big thing for me. So being hyper-cognizant of all these different inputs, and having a lot of those different skills, I quickly found that transportation design was the most interesting and extroverted combination of all of the shit I love and am fairly competent at.
So that's how I found my space. But, yeah, what do I tell people? I tell them I'm a designer and have a small car company. And, in a nutshell, I try and tell people that I'm all about revisiting classic design in a modern context, be it transportation, or my watches, or other things that I don't do professionally yet. That seems to be the DNA, the theme amongst all the crazy shit I'm into.
You already had a successful business with TLC, your Land Cruiser repair business. What made you start up Icon?
I had a very clear vision of wanting to do things my way, when it comes to what I see as [the automotive space's] missing continuity in design and engineering. Also, the lack of engineering I see, where guys are building "Johnny Cash Specials," [borrowing] a bit from here, a bit from there. I don't understand it. At the end of the day, [that kind of] engineering is going to be self limited, because it's like trying to redo a house comprehensively without tearing it down to the chimney. There's too many constraints, and you're never going to get it there.
So the whole founding principles of Icon were: I didn't like the status quo, the established genres/segments that the [custom auto] market had stuck themselves in. Same with the engineering limitations: What's good enough? What's acceptable?
Thirdly I also wanted to take the mom-and-pop resto-mod shop and get it out of the Stone Age. Obviously, that references the other priorities of creating principles and aesthetic, and founding engineering concepts that are consistent across the brand, but also to be far heavier in CAD. In this industry, at this level, hardly anybody's in CAD, laser scanning, reverse engineering.
I saw these opportunities around the same time that Bertone, Figoni et Falaschi and all these amazing storied custom body houses were going out of business. Disappearing at a time when the technology--the CAD evolution, 3D printing, hydroforming, on and on--was coming together, and you can do that [kind of work] at a higher level, quicker and more effectively, than any time in our manufacturing history. It didn't make sense to me. So I wanted to pull all of that together.
For the CAD users in our readership, is there any software or digital tools that you find indispensable?
Traditionally we've been a SolidWorks shop, but Fusion 360 is a downright game changer. With no plug-ins, its ability to communicate direct with machining, CAD/CAM, 3D printing, then the truly beautiful surface rendering capabilities--I love it. We've recently transitioned many projects over to it, but not all because the program is still recent and not fully developed to handle large-scale assemblies.
And FARO's latest blue laser scanners kick ass. MAKEiT 3D have become friends--I don't know if it's public yet, I think it is--they have a new large format printer that's kickass. So we've been working with them, prototyping parts.
Our shop is what makes our weird model able to exist. It's such a geek mash-up of super low-tech tools from 1910, to a 5-axis CNC and laser scanning [rigs]. We're total MacGyvers, because we have to be to make this crazy shit viable.
About how many cars have you done since inception, and how many cars do you have on the floor at any given time?
Just through Icon, about 200, 210 vehicles thus far. Through TLC would be a confusing thing to answer--we do everything from a less comprehensive power train update through to a full resto, so it's much harder to track. But on restorations, maybe a thousand.
At Icon I have 21 active on the floor, and 76 sold and on the list, waiting their turn to be worked on.
That's a lot of cars. Can you talk about the difference between the one-offs and the models you repeat, so to speak?
So what makes the company viable is our production models, using the term as lightly as possible, of the BR, the FJ, and the TR. The BR is the '60s Bronco-inspired build.
We have the FJ, which is based on the old Toyota Land Cruisers.
And we have the TR, which is the Thriftmaster, based on the '47 to '53 Chevrolet truck.
So those, we repeat. And instead of handmaking a bracket every single time, we handmade that bracket for the first five or six trucks. We kept geeking, and tweaking, and refining, until it was exactly the best form we thought it could be. Then we revised that CAD file. We're in an old aerospace area, so I have them made [locally], and they're in stainless, and TIG-welded, and laser cut, and far more consistent. So they're more cost effective, and more identical/repeatable, allowing us to get more scale and perfection in our build.
Then you have the one-off division, which really keeps me entertained--it's like a customer-funded skunkworks. That's where we do the Derelict and Reformer vehicles, which are one-of-one, every single time. Those are fun as hell. They're also stupid business. At the end of the year, if we clear 5% net on them, it was a good year.
So they're just dumb, because the amount of resources--they tie up my engineering department, they tie up the CNC department, they take up the most skilled fabricators and the floor space. But they're the most important for us to be constantly innovating, and learning, and testing new platforms, new materials, new power train solutions... And they're fun, fun, fun.
How do CAD and digital tools figure into the process?
In the design and engineering review phase, we'll generally do a full 360 laser scan of the body structure so we have it in CAD. Because obviously they [don't exist for a lot of these cars]. Then we do a pretty detailed design review with the client, including mechanical stuff, cosmetic principles, some rough sketches, in some cases whole renderings, depending on the client's ability for me to babble my vision--[some are like] "Hey, I can picture it, fuck yeah, let's go," [others say] "That sounds cool, but I really need to see it."
And then I work with a couple people, must notably with Eric Black of E. Black Designs. Fucking rock star. So I'll work through that with him, produce the rendering, the outline, go back to the client, get approval, take a deposit. Then what kills me is it sits, because the backlog is so long before we're ready.
And then, usually about six months before we're really ready to put labor, boots on the ground on it, me with my engineers will work through all the details and have it all locked down.
I firmly believe you've got to know where you're going, what the end goal is, before you start anything with a job. You can't just start taking shit apart without really understanding the end goal.
To be continued.
Coming up in Part 2: We discuss product longevity, how to future-proof something as complicated as a car, how to reconcile custom manufacturing with ease-of-repair, what the mass-market auto industry gets wrong and more. Stay tuned!
Today I had the opportunity to chat with a customer about dovetail saws, and he asked me the same question that I get all the time: what makes one saw better than another? Of course, since TFWW makes the Gramercy Dovetail saw, I have a pony in this race. We're lucky to live in a time in which people have a lot of good choices. There are many great modern makers of dovetail and backsaws. I know a lot of thought went into the Gramercy Tools dovetail's design, so I end up talking a bit about those features, and what they mean to woodworkers.
We tout our saw's high hang handle and its light weight, which makes it easier to saw straight. This isn't a useful feature for anyone who has spent a lot of time with other designs and has learned to saw straight accordingly. The Gramercy Tools Dovetail Saw has the smallest handle on the market, but we think it helps with the sawing. It's rare that anyone has an issue when using the normal three fingered grip - most people find it very comfortable, just different than what they expected. A review in the woodworking press noted the small size of the handle as if it were self-evidently bad, which I found very frustrating. The handle isn't cramped or uncomfortable to use. It would be a shame if this design feature puts people off unnecessarily. By the way the picture at the top of the blog is my saw atop a pile of student practice dovetails left over from the class.
Earlier this year I began teaching a class called Mastering Dovetails and it's been fun to explore the concepts of sawing dovetails with the students. Most students use our Gramercy Tools Dovetail Saw but others bring in a variety of saws by other makers. It gives us a chance to play with different models and understand the design features of each better. I'm gratified when students gain the satisfaction of gaining a skill and find it fun to make dovetails well. The Gramercy Tools saw is designed expressly to make woodworking more fun.
Gramercy Tools Dovetail Saw is not the most expensive dovetail saw you can buy, but at $240 it is still a chunk of change. We totally get that it's an investment decision that almost no one makes lightly. Remember if you purchase a dovetail saw from us, or in fact anything from us, you have a lengthy six months (and, if you live in the US, free return postage) to decide if the saw is right for you. And of course the best judge for this would be you yourself, not some pundit (like me).
Here are the criteria that seems to guide choice:
Does it look pretty?
Some people profess not to care about how a tool looks, but I think most of us do. Our tastes may differ. I happen not to like the modern streamlined look. I love classical detailing. For other woodworkers, it's the reverse. But either way, I think every time you look at your saw, you want to be able to smile and say to yourself, "Wow."
Does it inspire you?
The main reason I don't like modern saw design is that my thinking about woodworking is deeply influenced by history. Every time I cut a dovetail I am thinking of some 18th century apprentice. I love the brass and wood or period designs that keep me in the mood. I constantly am reminded by my tools that I am not as good as my equipment. Nice tools keep me striving. In the case of our Gramercy Tools Dovetail Saw, the handles are made of black walnut - which I love. I know many makers like to use exotic woods: Duncan Phyfe had a small saw with a zebrawood handle. I get the appeal, although an exotic handle can really throw off the weight of the tool.
How is the fit and finish?
There is an old saying among metal finishers, "Highly polished and deeply scratched." No matter who makes your saws, you want over the years to have honest battle scars, not simplifications because the maker didn't know how to fit a back, polish some brass, or make a handle without tearout. For me also - and the reason we have those nice decorative file lines on the handle is that it looks much better than a curve cut by a router - I don't want crude lines and corners, or a square handle with barely rounded over sides. We chamfer the brass on our brass backs and chamfer and round the nose. I like the finished look. I don't even like most historical backsaws post-1820 or so because the workmanship is just cruder than the earlier saws. I find the 18th century elegance that we copied inspiring. I've already written about our saw etch, and while saw etching uses a later technique (post-1860 or so), I love the what it brings to the tool.
Is it easy to start?
This is an actual important feature that shouldn't need mentioning, but everyone seems to report on it. Most modern saw-makers use foley saw filing machines to do their teeth. Foley machines are great but finicky and can't really reliably files saws finer than 15 tpi. In the era in which tools for handwork reached their peak - around 1800 - 1820 - dovetail saws were typically of much finer pitch (18 tpi and up) and pretty aggressive rake (zero). Starting a 15 tpi saw is a lot harder than a 18 tpi (or finer) saw, and I'm not a fan of the various schemes that are used to get around this problem, such as making the teeth less aggressive. sawing backwards, etc. I'm of the starting school of placing the toe of the saw on the wood, maybe tilted up a touch, and pushing forward, keeping as much weight off of the wood as possible so that the teeth do their job without jamming. Works like a charm with a fine tooth saw. The only drawback to a finer pitch is that in thick material 1" or more the saw does cut slower as the gullets fill up.
Can you control the saw - and saw straight or at any angle you so desire?
We honestly think that the Gramercy Tools Dovetail's high hang handle and ultra light weight make it easier for a beginner to saw accurately. I've gotten to see a lot of beginners give our saw a try at shows and now in the dovetail class, and it's easy to observe how quickly and easily beginners find the saw to control. A lighter saw influences the cut the least. Woodworking shouldn't about fighting your tools.
9" is about average. You can go shorter or longer. Some people like a longer saw. In my class one student used a Gramercy Tools Sash Saw that he purchased because he wanted a more versatile saw. It's a light saw for its size. It took a little getting used to, but it worked out fine. Fast too.
Is there a break-in period?
No lie: our saw has a break in period. This has gotten us into trouble with some reviews in the woodworking press. As far as I know, we are alone in echoing not just the general appearance of a traditional saw but also the way it is sharpened. This means aggressive filings and zero rake. When you first get your saw, it has seen only a few strokes when the shop tests it to make sure it tracks correctly and cuts fast. But those teeth are like needles. When you first use the saw, they will want to catch in the wood, especially in open pore species like oak. But after 10 minutes or so - the break-in period - any burrs and bits from the filing should be worn off have worn off and the teeth should be thoroughly evened out. At this point your saw will work smoothly and FAST.
Will the handle stay true over time?
We use Black Walnut because it is stable. I would guess that all of the mainstream materials used by everyone in the industry are fine, but if you do get a saw that is made from an exotic wood, make sure the maker says it will be stable. You won't find much to admire in a gorgeous handle that is heavy and unstable. Nothing is more frustrating than a warping handle - especially on a premium saw.
Handle size and shape.
Think about golf. The amount of effort that goes into designing a handle and club that let's someone driver further is insane. And of course what a pro does is teach you to exploit the tool, not force the tool into your current posture. Sawing is exactly the same. The goal should not be that a saw handle feels perfect from day one. It might - hopefully it will, but it should not under any circumstances just mimic whatever you are used to, it should make you a better craftsperson.
Is it within your budget?
This is a tricky one. In theory, even the most expensive dovetail saw on the market is less than a trip to Disney World. And over time, per use, it's inexpensive. But a budget is a budget and all the dovetail saws worth buying are a healthy chunk of change - with two exceptions: The Veritas saw is well made, inexpensive (1/4 of the cost of ours), works very well, but way too modern for my tastes. I don't think it is as easy to use as our saw, but it's the best deal in well-made pistol grip saws. We also stock a straight-handled gent's saw that I recommend to students all the time. It could use a sharpening out of the box but even so it works well, albeit slowly.
As you might imagine, I think the Gramercy Tools Dovetail Saw does well according to these criteria. But I admit I'm biased. If I didn't like the way our saws performed we would be making them differently. The real good news is that with so many modern makers to choose from, all of whom make fine saws with differing characteristics, no matter which saw you pick, you will end up with something pretty excellent.
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.
The Hyperqube is a modular cubistic lighting system out of glass. The LED light engine is dimmable via App or DALI. The modularity offers countless possibilities in color, size and form. The hyperqube is a pendant and floor light which can be customized for interior projects in restaurants, hotels and everywhere else.
When it comes to making models, few materials are as diverse (and yes, smell as bad) as Bondo. It sets up quickly, can easily be machined and shaped and sticks to just about anything.
Here industrial designer Eric Strebel kicks off his series on Bondo's basics, demonstrating how he mixes, tints and molds it, what it can (and can't) be applied to, and how he does it. There's also some good backstory on the stuff.
Joseph Herscher never ceases to amaze with his Rube Goldberg contraptions, and this is without a doubt the most inventive one he's done so far. It involves danger, babies, fluids, open flame, butter…ah, you get the idea, just watch it:
How does he come up with this stuff?
Remember MycoWorks, the company that developed leather that can be grown from mushroom roots? Now another company, Bolt Threads, has also cracked that biomaterials mystery and is bringing out its own version.
Called Mylo, the offering from Bolt--a company that got its start by developing synthetic spider silk--appears to be created using the same method as MycoWorks', and of course offers the same environmental benefits:
Mycelium is the underground root structure of mushrooms. It grows as tiny threads that form vast networks under the forest floor. We developed Mylo™ from mycelium cells by creating optimal growing conditions for it to self-assemble into a supple, sustainable material that looks and feels remarkably like animal leather. Mylo™ can be produced in days versus years, without the material waste of using animal hides.
Bolt's production methods were developed in collaboration with mycelium-minded Ecovative, who we last saw at the Biofabricate conference. The material they've come up with is strong, abrasion-resistant, can be imprinted with a variety of patterns and its overall dimensions, including thickness, can be controlled.
Mylo will first be shown to the public this Saturday, as the constituent material of a Stella-McCartney-designed bag to be shown at the Victoria and Albert Museum's "Fashioned from Nature" exhibit in London.