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Book Signing Event with Furniture Maker Nancy Hiller, This Thursday in NYC


We are delighted when folks visiting New York take the time to come out to see Tools for Working Wood in person. Good thing we do, because especially in summer, we get many folks visiting.

We are not so easy to find. We're at the end of a dead end block. Our neighbor is a rusty wall that so screams "Grit!" that it was used as a backdrop for a photo shoot for the rock band Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real. We try to welcome visitors with a glass of iced tea this time of year, and if we have some cookies we share them too.

Our visitors typically fall into one of several groups:

Long term customers who have bought online and now find themselves in New York. Most of these customers are from the US. "Visiting my kid in Brooklyn" is often the reason for the visit from all over the US.

Eagle-eyed woodworkers who find us via Google Maps. We're grateful for all the nice things people have said about us on Yelp, but amazingly Google Maps - and the key word "Woodworking" in our name - has probably brought us more people.

Pilots squeezing us in during a layover at JFK. We're honored!

Dave, our shipping guy (and baker extraordinaire) is particularly excited when woodworkers make the trek from all over the world - Australia, Bolivia, Slovenia, Japan - to come to our shop. Fluency in English is a plus when seeking specialized tools, but it turns out pantomime, sketches, second languages, interpreters and Google Translate have all helped us meet the needs of woodworkers who aren't English speakers.

So we hope you'll stop by in person this summer and say hello. In addition we have some special treats to offer, besides the aforementioned iced tea:

Special events: This Thursday evening we'll be hosting a book signing party (with pinata) for Nancy Hiller. Nancy is a pioneering furniture maker, author and a really fun person. She'll signing copies of English Arts & Crafts Furniture and Making Things Work, sharing anecdotes and encouraging some mayhem with her traveling pinata. We'll have wine, cheese and other snacks. We hope you'll come to our showroom, 112 26th Street, Brooklyn, from 6 - 8 pm. For more information about this party, see here.

Expert advice: Tips on saw sharpening from people who have sharpened hundreds of saws. Advice about which router bit to buy based upon your chicken-scratch drawings of your project. Etc.

Previews of our Planing Stops and other tools: We've actually sold a bunch to different folks who read our newsletter and asked to see them. We don't even have the packaging selected! No matter. They've been seen in action.

Local attractions: Walk up the block to Greenwood Cemetery and visit the final resting grounds of Duncan Phyfe, Leonard Bernstein, Jean Michel Basquiat and other notable New Yorkers. Then have a pastry and espresso at Baked in Brooklyn across from the Cemetery. Then take the subway or ferry to your next destination.

And thanks for visiting!

Steven M. Johnson's Bizarre Invention #46: The Backpack Blazer

Vya Smart Bike Lights


Better functionality, less hassle and intelligent design characterize the Vya, a series of smart bike lights by Light & Motion. They offer both a headlight and taillight, both of which can be charged wirelessly. Popping the lights in or out of the mounts is done with a simple quarter turn. Their Pro HL model contains a sensor, so as it gets dark out the headlight stops its daytime safety pulsing and automatically switches to a steady beam.

Here's how they work:

Vya headlights and taillights start at $40 a pop, and you can check out their full line-up here.

Brian Gulassa of Modarri Cars Discusses What Goes into Making the "Ultimate Toy Car"

From left to right, Trevor Hite (COO) David Silvergate (CEO) and Brian Gulassa (CDO)

Brian Gulassa never lost his childlike sense of wonder and curiosity. It's a good thing too, since that same sense if wonder has allowed him to design toys for over 30 years at 50+ major companies. When he's not teaching in the Industrial Design department at California College of the Arts, Gulassa is the Chief Design Officer for ThoughtFull Toys, the company behind the award-winning line of modular cars, Modarri. Modari toy cars invite children to be apart of the design process by allowing them to rebuild and customize everything. 

In this interview, Gulassa talks about his design process, what makes designing toys different from designing consumer products, the do's and don'ts of launching a Kickstarter campaign and how hiring a high school band saved the company:

Core77: What makes Modarri cars different than other toy cars on the market today?

Brian Gulassa: The entire goal of Modarri was to make the "Ultimate Toy Car". We studied all the major toy cars on the market with an objective of keeping the best aspects from them and eliminating any negative aspects. For example, we loved building models when we were kids, but it took too long and the glue was messy—it killed a lot of the fun. That's why we developed our modular building system that uses "layering" and quick hex screw assembly, for fast, non-messy car building.

We also love the open-ended play aspect of Legos, but they never looked like real cars, and they were too fragile. When you build Modarri cars, they all interlock seamlessly, and they have real automotive surfacing, so it looks like a real car that you've designed yourself. Once the cars have been screwed together, they stay together, so you can play with them any way you want.

We also realized that with most toy cars, you're not actually touching them while you play. You either watch them run down a track, use a remote control, pull back or wind up and let go. Maybe you just push them once and watch them go in a straight line... or maybe you buy the car and put it on a shelf for display, never to be touched again.

That was a big "ah ha!" moment for us. How could we make a real, "hands-on" driving experience? That's what led us to design the finger-drive bucket seat, real independent spring suspensions, and our patented steering mechanism.

While assembling and driving the modular cars, kids and adults begin to understand the small, basic mechanics that make up the entire complex system, so they start to discover how everything works. For some kids, building Modarri cars will be their first time using a real tool, which develops new motor skills. Our unique hands-on steering system allows kids and adults to explore new tricks and driving techniques while mastering new skills as well. Overall, we wanted to encourage kids to be the designers by providing them with an easy, open-ended system that encouraged creative exploration through their own choices. Design with training wheels.

What challenges and obstacles arose during your design process?

We actually started with a completely different method of steering, and David the "forever inventor tinkerer," came up with our new system by disassembling RC cars. He built a perfectly functioning prototype using just a Dremel, hot glue and duct tape.

Early Modarri prototypes

The tooling was definitely a challenge to figure out. Prototyping was one thing, but making consistent injection molded parts was a whole different story. Trevor and I spent some time at the factory with X-Acto knives and superglue trimming away excess material of our non-functioning "first shots" to come up with the master model that worked perfectly.

Reviewing colors at the China Factory

Unfortunately, when they rebuilt the injection molding tools, it created loose joints, so our first container of cars had to be completely rebuilt by hand! These are the things you don't plan for... We had the factory fix the suspensions and air freight them out to us, and then Trevor hired a local high school band who was trying to raise money for a European tour to come in and swap out the suspensions on about 2,000 cars. This had to happen fast, or we would miss our Christmas ship date—which could have been the demise of our company. While sometimes painful, every challenge is there for a reason. On the other side of every obstacle is less competition.

You started this project on Kickstarter, what was that process like?

We had the impression that you just needed to put up your campaign and people will find your page and back the project. But in reality, you have to plan well in advance and get your social media and PR buzz humming ahead of time so that you already have a large group of backers the moment you launch the project.

"Most designers think of getting funded by Kickstarter as the finish line. In reality, you have only qualified to advance to the starting line."

We actually had to cancel our first Kickstarter and re-launch because we made this mistake. We launched and we didn't get much traction. The second go-around, we were prepared and had promotions and partners creating buzz before launch and throughout the campaign as well.

Do you have any advice for designers who are trying to use Kickstarter to launch their product?

Plan out a good launch! Our marketing manager will tell you that Kickstarter is not a "set it and forget it" thing... you need to actively search for new ways to promote your project, new networks to leverage, and new partners to team with every day. Unless you have an insanely great product that goes viral, you'll need to work on promoting your project almost every day that it is running.

One important note from our marketing team is that Kickstarter uses algorithms and thresholds to discover projects that they might want to highlight or feature on the Kickstarter website. Being featured by Kickstarter can be a huge help for a project, as the majority of Kickstarter backers come directly from browsing the Kickstarter domain itself. Therefore, having a strong launch and gaining a lot of backers in a short initial time frame is key to getting noticed by the Kickstarter team and having a chance to be a featured project on their site. 

Most designers think of getting funded by Kickstarter as the finish line. In reality, you have only qualified to advance to the starting line. You may have raised enough funding to tool up your product and maybe deliver it to all of your backers, but now comes the hard work if you want to stay in business. How do you get your product out to the rest of the world? How do you account for problems arising?

Thank goodness for Trevor and David. Having owned a toy company before, they knew exactly what they were getting themselves into. It is important to plan your sales, marketing, and distribution strategy as best as you can ahead of time. Taking a product to market is a complex world that requires knowledge of all sorts of things like retail sales, marketing, distribution, warehousing, logistics, cash flow, etc. It is stressful but very exciting—and there is a lot that needs to happen right if you want to succeed. Get your team in place before you start, and make sure you'll be able to cover all of the early-stage roles. David calls the first few years of launching a toy brand the "race through the valley of death."

When I spoke with you and David at New York Toy Fair, you both mentioned some great mottos like "build to play, not display" and the concept of "play value", can you elaborate on these ideas and how they shaped Modarri cars?

Before we even had a product idea, we walked through New York Toy Fair to see what products we liked. We quickly realize that a lot of toys have lost their sense of play by falling into categories like novelties, one trick ponies, collectible figurines or entertainment. Even lego has become more scripted—follow the instructions exactly and build this set.

So we started out with the goal of creating a better play experience by breaking down what makes great play. My measure of success is when a toy allows you to get so deep in imaginary play, that you lose track of time.

Our Long list of requirements was distilled down by David's formula: Play Value = (Level of Fun) x (Amount of Play Time). When you get a toy that is short-lived or just isn't that much fun to begin with, you've got poor play value. Great play value is when a toy is played with for a long time and is really fun throughout. If kids keep coming back to play with your toy because it offers fresh experiences—you know it has good play value.

"My measure of success is when a toy allows you to get so deep in imaginary play, that you lose track of time."

Every potential feature for Modarri was looked at through the lens of engaging play. When we say things like "build for play, not just display" we really mean that our entire design is deeply rooted in the value of the play experience, and not just the aesthetics (this might not be as common as you'd think for most of today's toys).

The contents of the Modarri Delux 3-pack

For example, the modularity of Modarri cars creates moments of exploration, discovery, creativity, surprise and almost unlimited newness—all while remaining simple and fun. This is by design, and there are certainly paths we could have gone down that may have over-complicated the system and taken away from the "flow" of the play experience. Our Modarri Delux 3-pack allows you to make over 235,000 different car combinations from one box, and it takes less than two minutes to build a car—that is a lot of potential for explorative play.


Your minimal packaging really stands out compared other toy packaging. Is this a conscious effort and why?

Kids these days are a lot more sophisticated. Most of them have bought Apple products and have experienced the unboxing and understand the quality. But Apple has the advantage of a well-known story—they can get by with very minimal imagery and messaging. We wanted to create an Apple-like aesthetic, but since we are not a household name (yet), we have to make sure we communicate what our product is.

I teach my Industrial Design students at CCA a lot of marketing principles so that they learn to effectively pitch their ideas. I used some of my own rules directly from my class. It's all about quick communication. A common mistake is to overload with graphics, bright colors, multiple effects, and make everything as big as possible to try to make a mediocre product get attention. When everyone is yelling, no-one gets heard.

"It's mostly an exercise in restraint. If it's not absolutely necessary, does it need to be there? Try to let the product tell its own story."

The first objectives are to get their attention and quickly communicate exactly what they're looking at. Then you can tell the rest of the story. You have about three seconds (maybe even less these days) to let people know what it is, what it does, how you use it, who it's for, and what the benefits are to the user. 

On top of that, our target age kids are not necessarily reading yet and we sell in international markets, so we try to do as much as we can without words. It's mostly an exercise in restraint. If it's not absolutely necessary, does it need to be there? Try to let the product tell its own story.

Be minimal, but clear. We found out that our mix-and-match system was not as obvious as we thought. Some kids built the cars from our three pack and didn't realize that you can interchange the parts across all Modarri cars. We ended up changing our primary tagline from Modarri "The Ultimate Toy Car" to Modarri "Design and Drive Building System" to make things more clear.

The first Modarri package we did, I included a lot of text information. Our packaging company later translated everything into seven languages. It ended up looking like a wall of text. I now look at IKEA instruction booklets for inspiration, because there is no text in them, and they are globally understood.

Do you have any general advice about the toy design process?

You have to stay curious and current. I never lost my sense of childhood wonder and exploration. I have been designing toys for over 50 different toy companies for over 30 years. I love designing toys because one day I might be designing an architectural house, the next day some cool cars and the next day a spaceship.

Designing toys is a different skill set than designing consumer products. Most of it revolves around some sort of narrative—you want to spark an idea but also give space for them to imagine and be a participant in the rest of the story. Toys are props for priming play.

I recall one day I had to design a junkyard playset for micro machines. I went on a field trip and spent the day in a junkyard. I told the workers what I was doing and they were just as excited as I was. They even let me climb inside the car compactor, now that I think about it, that was probably violating some OSHA rule. It's easy to rehash what others have already done so it's important to be authentic.

I remember another early experience where I had to design some vehicles, I knew what they wanted and was sketching those up while I was thinking to myself, "If I were designing this I would do something totally different. But wait... I am designing this!" So I threw my concept in as well, and they loved it because it was different and fresh. Make sure you add your voice. There are enough throwaway toys out there in the world, so do something meaningful. Be passionate about everything you create, it's infectious!


This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Design Job: It's a Jungle out There! Apply to Be a Senior Zoo Designer for Thinc Design


Qualifications: At least 10 years experience as a zoo habitat designer or as designer in an animal exhibition-related field. Proven capabilities to develop design and demonstrate concepts, writing a design proposals, choosing plants and landscape features, estimating expenses, supervising fabrication and construction, consulting with zoo personnel, and supervising the construction

View the full design job here

Look Inside This Automotive Engineer's Spherical Home/Office Pod


British engineer Jag Virdie had a good run in the automotive design space, working for Rolls-Royce, Bentley and Lotus. In 2010 Virdie went rogue, forming his own company to develop an active wing system for cars; Jaguar Land Rover then purchased the technology.

Now retired, Virdie found a new challenge to tackle: Building a completely spherical structure that could be used as an office or crashpad. While attempting to wrestle usable space out of such an odd geometric shape might sound silly, Virdie's project is interesting to see from an engineering-challenge perspective, and he does tick off some benefits of spherical structures:

Through his new company, Conker Living, Virdie is offering the pods for sale for £21,000 (USD $27,421). He envisions them eventually being sold in a variety of styles and for a variety of settings.

You can learn more here.

Gerber's Nifty ComplEAT, a Nestable Four-Piece Cooking, Eating & Cleaning Tool That Even Transforms Into Tongs


At the Outdoor Retailer Trade Show in Denver, Gerber provided a sneak peek at a product they'll be releasing next year: The ComplEAT, a "Cook Eat Clean" tool consisting of four pieces that nest into each other.

The ComplEAT tool has the bases covered with a long tine fork, deep basin spoon, dual-edge spatula, and 4 function multi-tool that nest for transport as well as snap together to convert into functional tongs. The multi-tool includes a bottle opener, veggie peeler, serrated package opener, and a can opener.

The tongs functionality is particularly clever:

The ComplEAT is scheduled for a 2019 release and should retail for about 25 bucks.

The Pack Horse Chair Wants You to Focus On Analogue Activities (And Eat More Snacks)


Here's an interesting piece of furniture: Michael Cooper's Pack Horse chair not only features a built-in bookshelf, but it also has straps to hold down a blanket and side compartments to keep various objects in place. Even though books are pictured, I'm already contemplating which snacks I could fit around the sides. Bags of chips seem most viable, but I am also open to candy and cookies.

You can even hide more snacks—maybe the ones you're more ashamed to be eating—in a hidden compartment under the seat. Or you could use it for more practical items like sketching tools.

Cooper is a recent Building Crafts College grad where he studied Fine Woodwork and Furniture Making for two years, but before that, he worked in journalism for around 15 years. He just showed his debut furniture collection, Analogue Living, at New Designers in London a few weeks ago. Cooper focuses on designing "active" furniture that gently encourages analogue activities. He describes his work as, "Furniture and objects that can more subtly than directly encourage people to spend time away from their screens and always on lifestyles."

For the Pack Horse's materials, Cooper used European oak, reclaimed birch plywood from the V&A Museum, Merino wool felt and cotton rope.

"I think furniture has the opportunity to play a meaningful role in redressing the balance between positive analogue behaviors and the constraints imposed by our digital heads-down behavior though suggestive and charming aesthetics and textural cues."

I think I'm so focused on snacks here because of the last time I waited in line for an extended amount of time. I left my apartment that morning with a tiny kid's IKEA chair jammed inside a zip-up IKEA bag that I transformed into a backpack. This "backpack" also contained snacks and water to last me the duration of my experience. 

Everyone in line gave me funny looks until about three hours in when their hunger began taking over and their legs weakened. My snacks were eventually stolen. With the Pack Horse chair, I could have simply stored inferior snacks in the outside compartments as a trap—when people inevitably stole those snacks, the joke would be on them since within the secret compartment would be a stash of carefully curated, more superior snacks. If the Pack Horse chair were somehow easily transportable and included a cup holder, it would have been the ideal upgrade to my makeshift setup. Hindsight is 20/20.

Design Job: Boring Consumer Goods? Never! Design Unique Products as an Industrial Designer at Uncommongoods


We are looking for an Industrial Designer - Consumer Goods to join our team. This role requires a business driver with market awareness, critical thinking abilities and a passion for design and innovative products; the ability to come up with and collaboratively develop new and

View the full design job here

Reader Submitted: Breezeye: Universal Eye Drop Bottle Design


Breezeye is an eye drop bottle design that makes the experience of applying eye drops easy and smooth. With an aiding feature integrated into the bottle, Breezeye allows all users to apply eye drops comfortably and gracefully, whenever and wherever. This project seeks a fundamental question in the field of universal design: How to design products usable by as many people as possible?

View the full project here

Watch Jimmy DiResta Bang Out Ten Different Pencil Holders From Different Materials


In the beginning of the design process, every designer needs to be able to quickly generate ideas. We industrial designers usually start this with sketching, but it's super fun to watch Jimmy DiResta bang out ten quick, totally different pencil holders by hand in his shop. Clever DiResta tricks abound: Watch how he renders a sheet of Corian cylindrical, exploits the properties of a sheet of plastic with a propane torch, devises a clever cutting method for bottles and more:

Ikea Bringing Back Vintage Furniture from the '50s, '70s and '90s


This year marks Ikea's 75th year in business, and to celebrate the company is dusting off old blueprints and reviving some designs from the past. The plan is to re-release selected pieces from three eras--the 1950s-'60s, '70s-'80s and '90s-'00s--and produce them in a limited quality in a line they're calling Gratulera.

"Each launch is very different," says Ikea Sweden Creative Leader Karin Gustavsson, "signifying its time period; from dark woods with a classic expression, to a very playful style with strong colors, and then to a more minimal look with natural light woods and graphic colors." Thus far they're only releasing teaser images of what will be on offer for each era:

The plan is to start rolling them out shortly, on a schedule: This month the 1950s pieces will appear, with the '70s and '90s designs coming out in October and December, respectively.

We Were Hacked, but Now We're Back!


Some of you may have noticed the absence of #processporn videos while scrolling through your Instagram feeds this past week. That's because we were hacked! That's right, it can happen to anyone. But we have good news:

Core77 is officially back on Instagram, and we are better than ever!

We were able to take back control of our account this afternoon, and you better believe we're comin' at ya full force with dovetail joinery, design comics, satisfying pasta-making videos and more. To make up for our disappearance (and the fact that the hacker deleted all of our previous posts), we'll be rolling out the greatest hits from our Instagram video archive over the next few weeks. If you don't follow us on Instagram yet, go hit that follow button, my friends, because you're in for a treat!

Hackers suck, but they can't stop us!

Design Job: Hey, Book Worms! Out of Print Is Seeking a Designer to Make Awesome Merch for the World's Favorite Stories


Out of Print is dedicated to celebrating the world’s great stories through fashion and accessories while promoting literacy in underserved communities. We are seeking a passionate, creative, detail-oriented designer to join the creative team in our New York office. The Product Designer will work closely with the Design Director and

View the full design job here

Japanese Overdesign FTW: Five Innovative Notebook Features


Spend any amount of time in Japan, and you'll find no detail is too small to attract design attention. A good case in point are the notebooks carried by students: Want a spiral binding that allows you to easily remove pages? Or one that's made from a material that won't hinder left-handed writers? Perhaps you fancy a Cordura cover, or a transparent one that lets you use your smartphone in the rain?

Check out the features in these five notebooks. At least one of them is bound to make you hate your boring un-Japanese notebook:

Fancy hacking your own sketchbook's spiral binding? Check out Eric Strebel's tutorial.

More Japanese Overdesign FTW:

The Kadomaru Pro Corner Cutter

A Highlighter With a See-Through Tip

The Beetle 3-Way Highlighter

This Dual-Spring Mechanical Pencil Tip Prevents You From Accidentally Breaking Leads

Need to 3D Print a Pattern That Behaves in a Certain Way Under Force? Check This Out


Disney Research has come up with a design/fabrication aid sexily named "Mechanical Characterization of Structured Sheet Materials." What they've done is create a variety of lattices based on different isohedral (i.e. tiled) patterns...

...and observed the differences in each pattern's range of movement when stretched.

They then came up with software that accurately predicts how each pattern will respond to being pulled in different directions or, in geek-speak, each pattern's "direction-dependent macromechanical behavior." 

Then they created software that can generate the patterns themselves, based on what behavior a designer might desire:

So, working designers among you: Any ideas for applications? Or if you're a design student looking for something to build a thesis around, I say contact the research team and see if they'll let you play in their sandbox.

Wicked Footage (and Sound) of High Speed Laser Engraving


This incredible clip of high-speed laser engraving is gaining steam on Reddit:

Of course there's no attribution, so I can't credit the company nor machine. But poking around on YouTube turns up similar videos from another high speed laser engraver, by a company called Z-Tech Lasers, and these have audio:

In this one they do relief work by taking three passes:

Here they go full 3D-relief-style on a diamond and tungsten surface:

"The speed you need," the company writes. "The most advanced laser engraving and cutting systems in the industry. Speed, accuracy and reliability are few of the many traits we breed in our California based manufacturing facility." The machines they use are the high-powered QM Plus Series, which is made in the USA. Ask your boss to start saving up for one today!

Reader Submitted: MODU: Life-Size Building Blocks that Encourage Play


Build your own creations from life size building blocks in tactile foam and enjoy a toy that makes active play the fun and natural choice for kids in all ages.

MODU puch wagon
MODU ride-on
MODU floor surfer
MODU stepping stones
MODU roller
View the full project here

Design Job: Coca-Cola Is Seeking an Industrial Designer to Provide Creative & Technical Design Input on New Products


Industrial Designer (Contract) Job Description Background Coca-Cola Freestyle (CCFS) business unit is seeking an Industrial Designer for a limited term contract (typically 6 months) to support a new platform. The overall ID concept is in place, but the development of design details and requirements for successful engineering implementation will need

View the full design job here

Canvia: The World's Most Realistic Interactive Art Display


Here's an interesting product that might raise some thorny copyright issues.

Canvia is a digital frame that allows you to display artwork in either portrait or landscape, but what makes it different from others of its kind is that it contains built-in sensors and proprietary display software that renders its images realistic; in other words, oil paintings look like actual oil paintings, not just photographs of them. And whether you're displaying paintings, drawinsg or photgraphs, the color, contrast and texture are all, claims developer Palacio, represented accurately.

So where does the art come from? Canvia owners have access to Palacio's online art library, which features "thousands of artworks…covering a wide variety of genres, styles, eras and media. [This] includes works across a wide range of genres and styles to ensure diversity of content; a lot of these are based on partnerships with established galleries and museums throughout the world (e.g. the Met, National Gallery, Rijksmuseum, etc.), which gives us access to amazing works throughout art history."

Here's the potentially thorny part: The end user can also upload any image they want to display. This means that if one can get one's hands on a digital copy of any piece of art out there--which, though technically illegal, isn't terribly difficult to do--they could conceivably "own" any piece of art they'd like, without the original artist seeing a dime.

Canvia is expected to retail for $550, though there are still a few Early Bird specials available on Kickstarter for $250. The project has already successfully been funded with $94,313 towards a $75,000 goal, and there's still seven days left to pledge.

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