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BadAbout: A Website Where You Can Complain About Product Designs


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.

Urban Design Observations, Los Angeles Edition: More from the Hollywood Hills


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.

Book Review Pt. 3—Brutally Honest: No Bullshit Business Strategies to Evolve Your Creative Business


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.


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."]


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"].


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"].


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"].


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"].


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.


Brutally Honest: No Bullshit Business Strategies to Evolve Your Creative Business is now available on Kickstarter

Freak Accident or Design Flaw? Diagram Explains Student's Accidental Death Inside His Parked Minivan


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."

Here's Our Idea for How an Omnidirectional Treadmill Would Work


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:

Explanatory video:

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.

Milan Design Week Recap: Days 1 and 2


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

Panda Giant
Affe Giant
Biene Giant

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

Atelier Swarovski by nendo's 'Softpond' collection only uses one piece of material per item
Atelier Swarovski by nendo 'Softpond' collection
Atelier Swarovski by Nendo 'Tangent' Collection
Atelier Swarovski by Patricia Urquiola 'Brillo' Collection

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

Part of the very large exhibition

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

Dozie Kanu x RIMOWA furniture

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!

An Interview with Jonathan Ward, Founder of Icon


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.

Icon's Process

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!

Steven M. Johnson's Bizarre Invention #96: The Tunnel Bus

Tools & Craft #92: How to Choose the Best Dovetail Saw for Yourself


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.

Reader Submitted: Hyperqube


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.

View the full project here

An Introduction to Bondo for Designers and Modelmakers


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.

Watch Joseph Herscher's Latest Rube Goldberg Machine, Which Took Three Months to Design


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?

Second Company Develops Sustainable Mushroom-Grown Leather, Will Debut it This Saturday


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.

Taking Your Business Seriously Without Taking Yourself Too Seriously 


From corporate to freelance to side hustle to small, energetic company, Steph Hoff has experienced just about every type of workplace culture through her career. Her innate sense of style and a savvy awareness of street culture give her a unique lens that she uses to filter and focus corporate initiatives into provocative campaigns. 

Through it all Hoff has stayed true to herself by making career decisions based on her personal interests. She's worked across Canada and the US with companies including Aritzia, Topshop, M5 Showroom, Hudson's Bay Company, and The Creator Class, and moved between both coasts, urban areas and rural organic farms. She founded her own homeware collections under the brand name of Credo, creating handmade quilts on commission. Today Hoff lives in New York and works as Creative Director for Canadian outerwear brand Moose Knuckles, and occasionally taking a quilt commission on the side.

We sat down with Hoff to get a run-through of her career, and along the way learned some valuable lessons about maintaining your own individuality while working in any type of environment.

How did you get your start in the fashion industry?

Steph Hoff with a few of her quilts from the Credo collection (photo credit Luis Mora)

When I was first starting out, I fantasized about working for Aritzia, which is a women's fashion brand based in Vancouver. I thought that working for them might be a good opportunity for me to get a foothold in the fashion industry. This was in the early days of blogging, where you needed to know a little bit of coding to blog. I made a video, and a mix tape, and some photo content, all using skillsets that I had taught myself. I put together all of this multimedia content around working for Aritzia, trend forecasting for them, posts about their product, just lots of different stories, all in the form of a blog. Then I sent it over to them, and they loved it.

They invited me to meet with their VP of sales, and their VP of marketing in Toronto. I was about 23 at the time, and I was super intimidated. I met with them at the Four Seasons, and the interview went really well. They ended up hiring me as the marketing manager, and relocating me to Vancouver. It was a really hard transition. Being that young in that big of a role is a lot of responsibility. You have to really come in and act professional. You can't really be yourself entirely, because you have to act a little bit older and more mature.

I didn't necessarily fit in there very well. There were a lot of women who were a little bit older, and a little bit more fashion savvy than me. I was bumpkin compared to them. I was there for about a year, and I really liked the brand and it was a great learning experience. Then I got an opportunity to work with someone who had left the company and started working with another brand in Vancouver. He hired me on as marketing director, and even though I was still pretty young I just thought "Okay, let's boss up, let's go." I did that for some time, and then moved to New York, and then back to Toronto and started working for the Hudson's Bay Company.

At this point I'm a little older, a little more established in my career, and I got an opportunity to lead Top Shop Top Man for Canada across 14 concessions at Hudson's Bay stores. It was really cool working for Top Shop—they have just really innovating marketing, and they are a very digital-savvy company. There are a lot of really cool women at the top there, it's not a bunch of old guys in suits. It really is young, cool, interesting women that are calling the shots. I worked there for two years, while spending a lot of time in London. After that I decided I was ready to work on my own for a while, so I started doing freelance work, using a platform called Creator Class.

Is this when Credo started?

A quilt from Credo

Growing up I lived in inner city housing project, with my mom who was a single mother. We didn't have a lot of money. But about 10 years ago my mom remarried, to a man who was an organic farmer, and they lived on a farm. I was interested in that life, so I decided to take some time off work, move out and live on the farm, which was fascinating and super exotic to me. That is when I launched Credo, which is my quilt brand.

I got quite a bit of press around the brand, and even though I haven't yet done a full collection, the publicity led to a lot of commissions with really interesting clients. People approached me asking for custom quilts for special occasions, sometimes incorporating older blankets and materials. I was taking those fabrics and reworked them into new quilts. Many times it was a very emotional experience I was having with the clients.

How did you get the idea to work with quilts?

I grew up with quilts, and when I moved out to the farm and I met a lot of Mennonite and Amish women out there, and just kinda jammed with them. If you look at me you wouldn't think I could get along with Amish women. But they're some of the least judgmental, most open minded people that I've ever met in my life. I'm heavily tattooed, and I have my hands tattooed, and the top of my neck, and my ear, you know? I feel like I look like a city person. And they just welcomed me with open arms, definitely judged me based on my spirit, and my interactions with them, and not at all how I looked.

Working with them is a very collaborative process. We would visit farms, traveling in their all-black cars, driving out rural dirt roads about 2 and-a-half hours outside Toronto. We're looking at fabrics that are in the basement of a barn. Only Amish and Mennonite people have access to this fabric store that's on a farm. And I'm sourcing fabrics from them, and just sitting at this woman's house, Harriet. We have this really collaborative relationship creating these quilts. That whole process was wildly transformative for me.

How did you end up at Moose Knuckles?

While I was working on the farm, a recruiter contacted me about the creative director role at Moose Knuckles. I knew about the brand, and I wasn't actually very keen on it. I didn't really love a lot of the marketing that I had seen. But when I met with Al and Noah, the owners, they were just totally different than anyone I had ever met in the corporate world.

They were anti-establishment, energetic, fun-loving, and open to ideas. Just really authentic people. And they were not talking about money, they were not talking about growing, distribution, or sales, or the bottom line. It was all about the spirit of the brand. That really excited me. They said they really wanted me to take it in my own direction and go with it. At that point I realized what an incredible opportunity this was. If I didn't love the marketing before it didn't matter because I could make it into what I wanted to make it into.

I met the design director also, Tu Ly. He is a brilliant designer, and had worked for Ports, and Hudson Bay, and had helped design the Vancouver Olympics collection. I thought, "What a really cool team. There's a lot of opportunity to grow this." So I moved to Montreal to work for Moose Knuckles, and put Credo on the back burner.

What is like to work at Moose Knuckles?

We really try to have fun with everything that we do. Al and Noah are childhood friends, and they grew it into what it is now. That friendship, and that sort of family sensibility, really comes through. It makes for a pretty enjoyable community of people that we all have a lot of fun with.

We've grown our distribution, launching in Japan and Hong Kong and Shanghai this year. And we've expanded into Neiman's and Breuninger in Germany, and just a lot of incredible retailers. We've had this real success with the contemporary hip hop market. I mean, it's jiggy shit. It's 14 Karat gold logos with cookie monster blue fox fur. It's made for the rap market. We've had everyone from Chief Keef, to 21 Savage, to Cardi B, to Tiana Taylor, either worn us or they've tagged us on Instagram, or they've come through one of our parties.

Has that helped a lot with sales?

Definitely. And it's so fun to work for these guys, because they give us such freedom. Like, for the Future Party People campaign, I was like, "Okay so it's a post-apocalyptic future, and these party kids, they're out of drugs, they don't know where to go..." You know what I mean? They're in search of euphoria and the next epic party. And there's this party at the end of the earth, and they've heard about the prophecies, and they're traveling great distances to find it, it's so ridiculous.

The more ridiculous and juvenile we get, the more our audience loves it. I feel like other fashion companies wanna push it to that level but they can't. It's like fashion is so precious, and so serious. And I'm like, why? It's just coats. Fashion should be for everybody. We have very high price point pieces, but our marketing is for everybody.

And especially too, I feel like similar to Louboutin's, or a Birkin Bag, it's status to have a luxury parka on. So if you spend $1,000 on a parka this season, it's the only thing you spend money on, you're wearing that to everything. So I feel like it's a good investment. I'm blue collar, I'm a working class kind of person. I've been shaped by my blue collar upbringing. And despite the fact that we're a luxury brand, that accessibility, and that blue collar sensibility is important to me. It's about taking the piss out of fashion, because it's not so serious, and just opening it up and being like, "Okay, whatever, it's just coats. Stop." You know what I mean?

It's the same thing for my work with Credo too. I am creating high price point blankets, but they're modern heirlooms, they'll last your whole life. They're meant to be washed, slept on, carried around, thrown on a floor to have a picnic on, you know what I mean? Making blanket forts with them. They're meant to be roughed up. And at the same time, you'll never hear me talk about my artistry like it's so sophisticated, or vanguard, you know? And doing that out on a farm with my mom, you know? And just sitting there with a couple ladies who have never been in a high-end fashion store, that's my people, you know? Honest, hard working, salt of the earth type of people. And I really hope that I infuse that into all of the outlets that I have creatively.

How do buyers react to your product?

Buyers don't really like us. They're like, "We don't like the name" or "Your marketing is too aggressive" or "It's tasteless." But then they see all these celebrities and influencers wearing the product, and they don't have it in store.

Do they end up coming back?

Yeah, they come back. They're usually like, "I don't know why this is popping, but it is, and let's do this buy." Sometimes even celebrities and influencers feel the same way. We'll be like, "Hey, we'd love to give you a coat, we love what you're creating." And they're like, "No, I don't know if it aligns with my personal brand." But once they see that other people in their community are rocking with us, then they're like, "Okay maybe I like that now." Part of being this brand is being bold, and being sure of yourself, and just not being defined by society's ideals. So when people don't embody that spirit, we're kinda like, "Okay, pass. Bye." You know?

Why the name Moose Knuckles?

It has this double entendre where we all know what it means, but they always say the Moose Knuckle in the logo is a moose paw print in the snow. The knuckles are the brass knuckles in a hockey fight. The founder named the brand that, and I don't think he thought it would be the success that it was. It did amazingly right out the gate, and then it was sold at all the best stores in Canada. Then they thought "Oh maybe we should change the name, 'cause that was kind of a joke." They actually did try and change the name for one season, I think it was the second season the brand was out, they changed it to I believe M Knuckles, and there was a backlash in the marketplace. People were coming in and saying "We want Moose Knuckles. Why is this not Moose Knuckles? Is this fake?" And they had to change it back, they swapped out all the labels.

When you have a name like Moose Knuckles, and it's so ridiculous, that leads you as a brand too, where we have to be ridiculous and fun loving about it. Because what are we gonna do, take ourselves seriously? Our name's Moose Knuckles, we're from Canada. You know what I mean? Like what the fuck right do we have in the fashion industry? So because of that, it's given it this whole air of irreverence that has kinda worked well for us actually.

When you joined the team, what was the first change you made?

Initially some of the marketing felt jock-y, and I'm not a jock. I grew up in punk and hardcore, and I'm a female. I like sports okay, but I'm not really a sports fan for sure. Jock mentality is the most opposite of what I am. But what I liked about the jock attitude is how there is this I-don't-give-a-fuck that's there, and that actually is kind of punk rock. So I pushed it more in that direction, more toward rebellion and anti-establishment, instead of it feeling kinda bro-y. And that worked out really well, because part of the brand DNA is that candidness, that authenticity, living life to the maximum and giving no fucks. That was always there, and I just altered it slightly.

I think what's interesting about this brand, and especially how much we've leveled up in New York, and in the US market in the last year, it's like building a community of people that you rock with. Keeping it authentic, and making genuine connections with people. And having them over and breaking bread with them, and ordering pizza, and putting on music that we all like and having some Prosecco. Not just saying we're a party culture brand, but actually being a party culture brand. Having fun, coming into work and being a little bit hungover but ready to roll up your sleeves and get to work, you know? It's not about saying it, it's about being it. And it's about actually having fun.

The people involved in the company are the most important thing. They are authentically building out the brand. You can't be successful by getting a bunch of A-team salespeople here. If people here aren't funny, and they don't have a sense of humor, they just wouldn't work. You have to genuinely be that to work here. Because every single inch of everything that we do from our emails, to our phone conversations, to the in personal relationships that we build with people, to the way that we put together our sales documents, to the way that our website functions to our Twitter account, all of it is the same because we're all cut from the same fabric, you know?


Interested in listening to more start-up stories? #IMakeaLiving Powered by FreshBooks will be hosting their next event on April 25th in New York City. Learn more and register here, and in the meantime you can listen to the #IMakeaLiving podcast here.

Bondo Basics for Designers and Modelmakers, Part 2


Here in Part 2 of his series on Bondo basics, industrial designer Eric Strebel shows you how you can use polyester body filler to go straight from sketching to hands-on, to create complex 3D forms for prototyping.

If you don't have access to a 3D printer, or prefer the tactility of shaping an object by hand--as all designers once did--this is a great way to go, as you can make changes on the fly without having to edit the file and wait for the print all over again.

Strebel also gives you a bunch of his signature tips, from the application of glazing putty, to how to form smooth fillets, to using Bondo to bond Bondo to Bondo (never thought I'd type that!).

This Brilliant Japanese Labor-Saving Device Makes Farming WAY Easier


This is the best of what good industrial design has to offer. The Paperpot Transplanter, a Japanese invention for farmers, lets one person do in minutes what ordinarily takes an hour:

As cool as that tool is, what's even more impressive is how the designers thought through the loading process. This is a great example of harnessing the properties of materials--in this case, paper and Plexiglass--and shaping them in such a way as to make what would be a tedious task into something precise and easy:

Starting Seeds from Permaculture Voices on Vimeo.

This thing makes me want to farm. I want to sit in a shed and load that thing up over and over.

Prototyping an Inexpensive Set of Folding Table Legs Out of Construction Lumber


In order to maximize free space, the photo studio I run on the side contains almost no furniture. Different crews fill the space with different things, from racks of clothing for a catalog shoot to tons of lighting equipment for a documentary interview. And sometimes they build small sets in there. So space is at a premium.

However, one thing the studio badly needed was a table. Something big enough for a crew of four to eat lunch on (far as I can tell, the models don't eat lunch, or any meals at all), and big enough for a product photographer to spread items across.

I wasn't going to buy one of those plastic folding banquet tables because I am trying to lower my plastic usage. But fortunately a crew recently built some backdrops for their shoot, and after they left them behind, I salvaged all the 2x4s from them. So for zero dollars in material costs I got to experiment with building this thing, which I'd been wanting to try for a while.

The form factor is designed around the hardware; I had a crapload of butt hinges from an old project that I dismantled. (The white paint you see on them throughout these photos is from that project, a defunct tool cabinet.)

This project uses 12 butt hinges in total.

The long aprons are half-lapped to the legs. I used screws rather than glue because this is a prototype, and I want to be able to disassemble and modify it if something breaks.

The side aprons are split into two components, and each half of each side is made from four 2x4s glued edge-to-edge. My original brutish thought was to just make these aprons a plain rectangle--i.e. the 2x4s would all be the same length--but I reasoned it would be too heavy.

So I cut the first two 2x4s down for the inner sections and cut a taper into the third. The negative space is not enough for someone seated at the end to place their legs under, but a long enough tabletop should solve that problem.

For practice's sake I built this entire thing with hand tools. The 2x4s required a lot of planing to get them S-4-S. Using a chisel, I recessed all of the hinges, so that the thing would fold relatively flat when closed.

I didn't size the tabletop to any specific dimension; I just grabbed an existing piece of plywood close enough in size that I didn't need to alter it. I edge-banded it and called it done.

I screwed two cleats to the underside of the plywood.

These cleats lock the side aprons into the open position when the tabletop is put in place.

I chamfered the bottom of the legs, to prevent splintering if someone slams a rolling piece of equipment into them, and added self-leveling feet (the studio floors are wonky).

It's not attractive, but is perfectly functional. The table is surprisingly sturdy and rack-free, even in the long dimension.

After my clients have had the chance to knock this thing around for a while, I'll revisit it and figure out how to improve it. In particular I'd like for the tabletop to somehow integrate with the legs when it's in the stowed position.

I've wanted to build this for a long time but always subconsciously put it off, because I didn't know if it was viable and hadn't worked out the details. Then something Jimmy DiResta said in one of his videos, when he was trying out an unconventional construction method, inspired me: 

"I don't know if this will work," he said, "but if it breaks, I'll just fix it."

An Interview with Jonathan Ward, Founder of Icon (Part 2)


[If you missed Part 1 of this interview, it's here.]

Jonathan Ward is talking about old-school custom car styling shops. "If you were a baller in the 1920s, '30s or '40s," he explains, "you didn't go buy a Cadillac. You bought a Cadillac, and you sent it to one of the boys, and they built a custom vehicle just for you on that platform."

Ward is, in the modern day, one of the boys. He's got the same unerring sense of aesthetic as a Giuseppe Figoni or either of the Bertones--but he's also got access to 21st-century manufacturing technology and materials sciences, and the benefits of learning from the past hundred years' worth of engineering advancements. He can create vehicles far tougher than anything that came out of a 20th-century factory, which is important given the company's 4x4 roots; Icon's vehicles are not meant to be shown off at car shows (though that may happen). They are meant for you to beat the hell out of them.

Another thing that informs Ward's designs is that he's thought the user experience through very carefully: What happens if my client throws a connecting rod in Bahrain? What happens when some funky new engine technology comes out in ten years, and the brand-new powertrain I'm dropping in today becomes a relic? How do I keep this vehicle from eventually becoming outmoded or worthless? How do I make this thing last?

Here in Part 2 of our interview with Ward, we discuss durability, longevity, future-proofing, on-the-job headaches and pay-offs, what the current auto industry's missing, what Icon's working on next and more.

Core77: One of your end goals, which you discussed in one of your shop tour videos on your YouTube channel, is product longevity. Can you talk about that?

Jonathan Ward: We're trying to evolve products, and put more passion and longevity into a product. Versus the big-box whorehouse [disposable mentality]. We all have enough shit. Now people are starting to realize instead of buying a big-box $20 piece of shit backpack that their kid destroys in three months, start thinking a little more before the next consumption transition and find a product that someone gave a shit about designing. And, yeah, maybe you're going to blow 200 on that bag, but you'll have it for decades.

What concrete steps does Icon take in terms of both longevity and future-proofing?

Modularity is key. For example in all of our vehicles, the powertrain and powertrain management system are built as a sub-module, in essence, that can be isolated and removed in the future. Whereas our chassis, suspension, mechanical system, surface coatings, et cetera, are built to a very high standard. That ensures longevity of the platform but acknowledges the fact that that state-of-the-art [continues to evolve], that whatever motor we're running might be useless or outmoded over time.

I'm inspired by the fact that a lot of these vehicles we're working with are perceived to have been beyond the end of their viable life cycle. So, in essence, we're recycling them. By doing that, from a cradle-to-cradle mentality, the up-front industrial waste from the diesel by the tankers, and the packaging, and all that bullshit is already accounted for and more efficient. And the quality of that platform makes it viable decades into the future.

If we respect and stick to that quality in the core of our platform, and assume the [potential] irrelevance of aspects of it, and allow for the deletion and evolution of it moving forward, it can evolve and stay relevant in the future.

Though I do sometimes go against that.

How so?

I'm a big leather geek. My Instagram feed on the weekends is usually all my leather projects, and then during the week is this. I really like the organic, oil-tanned or veg-tanned, heavy natural character. But that, traditionally, is not going to be stable. On a Derelict, I'll communicate that to the client--"You're going to want to put sunblock on it, and conditioner." It's going to have a dynamic relationship with the patina on the outside, and it wouldn't last as long as some of the aircraft-rate leathers that we'll use on Reformers or a Bronco, or something, but it's part of the charm.

I also try and stay out of cul-de-sac mechanicals. Sometimes if I do go to a very niche, small supplier or a one-off design, it's because it's important to the final quality. But at the same time, I try and respect SOTS--"Standard Off The Shelf"-- military protocol.

There's this little keychain apparatus called a "keyport" that every vehicle comes with, and has an 8-gig integrated memory stick [containing] all the PDF manuals from all the sub-component suppliers, the owner's manual, care and feeding notes, photos documenting the build from start to finish, as well as an unencrypted build sheet itemizing every single component used in the vehicle so that the client's service resource has way more clarity on what the hell is going on. So they're not left with the [situation where] you don't know where the hell to get [replacement parts], which really sucks.

Now we're even doing CAD model wiring schematics, which is a huge pain in our ass, but it's a really good long-term tool for people.

We've touched on this a bit, but how does ICON reconcile custom manufacturing with ease of repair?

By that SOTS approach. So, same with my watch design efforts. I'm not going to do my own complication, my own freaky little one-off movement. I'm not going to do an engine of our own design and manufacture, partially because I think there's an arrogance which, at least in that category, I don't possess. But it also goes back to that cul-de-sac design thinking, which is something I always want to avoid--

Sorry, what do you mean by "cul-de-sac" in this context?

I call them "cul-de-sacs", like there's only one way in and one way out, which greatly limits the serviceability and the reach of a product.

So I'll switch it between different manufacturers. GM seems to be my greatly preferred power train partner, because everyone knows how the hell to service it, and where to get the parts, and how to maintain it. That all exists in the community. They're efficient, or lightweight, and very well distributed. I think considerations like that really help us, and it's worked well. We have vehicles in crazy places. The bulk of our business is domestic, but we have one or two trucks in all sorts of varied countries [and they can all get service]. It's pretty wild.

What parts of the job give you the most headaches, and what are the best parts?

Headaches are generally, the constant variables based on the ills of time. The conditional variants of the vintage vehicles that we start with are impossible, generally, to anticipate beyond a point, and to time-manage. Everything else we've worked hard on to streamline and engineer the process, but the variables of that initial process can sometimes represent three or four hundred extra hours. So it makes the rest of it quite a production juggling act, and you have to stay very fluid.

Other headaches: Partners, part supply, content, both consistency of quality and product, changes that a supplier may make [without letting us know] because I'm a peanut client compared to their large corporate vendors. So I'll get no [alert] that a widget has evolved until suddenly the evolutionary change of that widget [causes] a chain reaction, going through a bunch of other things. So that's always a bitch.

The rewarding part is to drag in an old vehicle, then eventually see our very small team of experts drive it out so revolutionized. That never ceases to make me giggle. Especially with the one-offs. That's real cool.

And the most rewarding across all of the different product segments that we offer, is if the customer owned the vehicle that we built for them, and had significant ass-ometer time in it, in its original state. Or if someone owned that model for a long period of time in their youth and are revisiting it. Because nothing can compare to their perspective and depth of understanding of how significantly we transition and evolve these vehicles than that past experience. They just always get it at a deeper level.

What would you say the current auto industry doesn't get right?

[Over the years there's been] a very purposeful change across the industry to now make things have a shelf life, either by quality or content.

Also, starting with the Edsel, Ford's project--that was the first car built with focus groups, and look how that went. I think between pencil pushers and focus groups, these large corporate entities [are] no longer executing design-driven projects. They're not design firms, where the product is all about the design and the engineering; that's literally become an afterthought due to a variety of factors.

It's just become people saying, "We're going to release more of these next year, and more the year after." And it's part of this whole American treadmill of capitalism and it's bullshit. Past a point, it's flatly not sustainable. And the question is, when does that occur? What is that transition?

What are your thoughts on autonomous cars?

I hate them. I understand why, with all the different powers that be, it is important to them, and could have significant representations for improving safety and infrastructure.

But I'm just not that guy.I'm about the visceral connection between human and machine. So I used to be somewhat concerned about, long term, the viability of my brand because of that potential change. And let's face it, right? There are kids today 17, 18, 19, they haven't even gotten their license yet. Because there's definitely a disassociation en masse, where it's an app, it's not a relationship with a machine.

So I do see that having a considerable impact on the large, high-volume manufacturers, that they're barely addressing by thinking autonomous. [There is a problem with their] efforts towards constant scalability to appease shareholders, we already know that can't work any longer. Well, compound that. Wait until the impact is furthered by car co-op and autonomous shares where people realize they don't need their own car. You're going to see a massive downtick in volume and manufacture. So that makes me quite curious. But, for me, my little world? I think it's going to make my market even stronger.

I was going to say it doesn't seem like it would impact Icon, as your target market are people that love the automotive experience.

Yeah. And even if a guy goes "Shit, I don't even need a vehicle anymore" and joins a co-op autonomous neighborhood ride share, now he has an empty garage. He's going to yearn, I'd argue, even more, for the visceral connection that his M5 or whatever kept alive for him in his daily. And there's a hole in the garage. So I think it'll actually [grow] my community, and I'm curious to see where that goes.

Beyond the cars you've got on the floor now, what's up next for Icon?

I've been very deeply into engineering my next production model. [Editor's Note: That model is still a secret, but we caught a glimpse of it, and it's going to be a socks-knocker.] In the past, we've always done that within our customer community, where I just produce a sexy rendering or two, and reach out to my existing clients and say, "Hey, this is what we're going to do next, X number of vehicles for X number of clients. Who's game?" and basically, fund that from that small group of clients.

But that approach has its shortcomings, as you can imagine. So this time I seem to be financially in a position to develop it quietly, internally, with my own team and my own capital. And trying to up my own approach. I'm trying to evolve even the process of what we do and how we do it, by going very far into the future in the technology and techniques used.

[This approach] adds immense complexity and a bunch of unknowns that are downright scary. We're in the middle of trying to sort our way through some very tough engineering challenges. I'm about eight months into it, and hemorrhaging money. And I still can't tell you that I see a light at the end of the tunnel versus a freight train heading my way. So it's inspiring, but it's scary.

How long until you can assess if the new approach is viable?

If all goes well, I'm about a year out from debuting. And this time when I debut, instead of having one vehicle done and tested, I'm going to have a vehicle fully mapped and engineered, and finite analyzed, and track tested, and the engineering manual of how we're going to repeat it, and the repeatable parts on the shelf, and really have my shit together. I have to scale the employee training, so we'll probably be sold out for two or three years at launch because of that singular limitation. But at least we'll know exactly what the deliverables are.

The bigger we get, the bigger the gambles, I suppose. I'm already six digits deep, and could end up at seven just to find out if it's going to be doable. I refuse to accept that it won't be, but the price point might be so fucked up that there's only five or six people a year who can tolerate it.

But again, going back to my founding principles, if that's what it [takes] to execute the vision I initially had, then so be it. If the price point limits it to five or six units a year, I'll build out the team and manage it at that very limited scale. Either way it needs to be done, and I'm happy to have the challenge.


Follow Jonathan Ward and Icon's work on Instagram. 

FinalStraw: This Folding Metal Straw is Killing It on Kickstarter!


I understand that you don't want your smoothie messing up your moustache, but plastic drinking straws are stupid. They're not recyclable, and it's absurd to use something once that then gets thrown away. Drinking straws are easily carried off of garbage piles by the wind, so it's no surprise that they wind up in the ocean, where aquatic creatures choke on them.

The UK is mulling a plastic straw ban; one estimate has them responsible for placing 8.5 billion straws in the trash each year. The U.S. is of course far worse--we go through 500 million straws a day--and thankfully U.S. cities like Seattle, Miami and Malibu are banning restaurants from distributing them.

Then there's FinalStraw, a folding, cleanable metal straw that might sound like a silly product design, but which has far-reaching potential:

Incredibly, and hearteningly, at press time FinalStraw had netted $433,823 in pledges on a piddling $12,500 goal! And there's still 25 days left in the campaign.

Urban Design Observations: What is This Thing For?


In front of store on Spring Street in lower Manhattan, we see this object.

A hole has been bored into the side of it to admit a chain. The chain is attached to the bracket holding the on/off lock for the roll-down gate.

The top of this object has been tightly covered in gaffer's tape, to prevent passersby from filling it with trash. Even so, someone has tossed a discarded tissue on top of it. 

They had a dirty tissue, couldn't be bothered to wait until reaching the trash can at the corner, saw this thing, and dropped their tissue on top of it. Also, if you zoom in you can see someone has stuffed their cigarette butt into the hole that admits the chain. This is why I don't like people.

So: Any guesses as to this object's function?

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