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How Car Design Works Part 1: Who Designs What 


This article was originally published on Automotive Designer Matteo Licata's blog, Roadster - Life.

Even the most knowledgeable car enthusiasts still have a kind of romanticized view of the job of a car designer and what it entails. This is the first of a short series of articles in which I'll try to bust some myths and separate facts from misconceptions, all based on my own experiences in the field.

Yours truly in an old company video

Despite the fact that the car design profession and its importance for the success of a car company has never been more into the limelight, the process of actually designing a car and who does what is still very much unclear in the minds of even the more knowledgeable enthusiasts... Why?

Well, I'd say it's nobody's fault, actually: car manufacturers logically send out their top design managers to talk with the press, given that promoting the company's image and products is also part of their job. This means that what they are allowed to say has to be functional to the promotion of the latest "first ever" model and in tune with the overall company's latest "disruptive" strategy... There's really nothing to gain from exposing the inner workings of the machine as they are—it is simply in nobody's interest.

Since I am not a car company and I have no new model to launch, I can finally shed some light onto how car design actually works, at least according to my own personal experience. In this installment, I'll look into who designs what. I think that the current narrative is misleading to design students, as I've witnessed first-hand in my experiences as a design university lecturer.

I'll start from the top of the rank and go down to the bottom, please bear in mind that this is a generic picture. There are differences between how each OEM is organized, but the big picture is mostly the same. Let's get cracking:

Design Director

Does not draw anything nor is he required to, and would not have time for it anyway. Can have many titles (Design VP, Chief Design Officer etc.) but it's the same thing: it's one single person (usually a man, as this is still very much a male-dominated industry) that's responsible for the activities of the design studio and has the final say (or should have...) over the look of each vehicle the company produces.

That's not a small responsibility: a good "Design VP" is a key figure in the success of a car company, while a bad one can make lasting damage... That's why Design VPs get high salaries and other desirable perks like travel the world first class for auto shows and being the one who becomes the "face" of the company's design, taking the credit for pretty much everything, whether he actually likes that role or not.

The Design VP is an important person, but he has to be very smart and resourceful in the way he uses this power within the company to maximize results: there's no great car design without an open and productive relationship between design and engineering, let alone without a relatively high degree of confidence and autonomy granted to the Design VP by the top management.

Get it right and design staff will be motivated, the best people will want to work for the company, cool cars will result and sales success is likely to follow. Get it wrong, and you get a Fiat Stilo.

When things go wrong, badly wrong...

Usually exterior and interior design are separated as two different departments which of course communicate with each other (at least they should...) but have separate staff and their own directors:

Exterior Design Director

Does not draw, nor is he required to. Wants to take the place of his boss. Badly. There is a good reason the Exterior boss doesn't draw: if he did, he would somehow stifle creativity, given that his sketch will become the pattern everyone follows. The Exterior Design Director may get some media attention, depending on which policy the company he works for has.

Interior Design Director

Does not draw nor he is expected to, for the same reasons stated above. He too wants to take his boss's place, but that's less likely: Design Directors and upper management usually don't give a damn about interiors, regardless of what they say publicly. This of course is not universal, but I've witnessed it in more than one place!

Below, in both exterior and interior designers, lay the "Senior" designers, and those do draw quite a lot, but depends very much on where the project they have been assigned to is: as these people are the experienced ones, some may get responsibility for the whole project and be no longer able to physically draw every detail of their own proposals. As the project inches towards production, it'll be more overseeing modeling phases, deal with engineering and other departments... And of course oversee what the "Juniors" are doing!

"Junior Designers"

Those who sketch most of all: they have the less experience, but are fresh and creative (at least they should) and if all their bosses do their job properly, they'll stay focused and motivated, producing cool material that will usually be discarded or watered down to homeopathic concentrations later in the development process, leaving space for More Of The Same®? to take again its rightful place on the market. Sometimes a brilliant idea somehow still makes it to the production line though, and everyone in the process keeps striving for that to happen.

Car Designers fought a hard battle to get their foot in the door, and are among the "true believers" of the company, those who really want cool cars to happen.

Juniors become Seniors over an unspecified amount of years and work experience, in which they have ideally been through most of the phases of a production design project. Coherence between Exterior and Interior design language is always pursued but rarely achieved, because it all goes out of the window when at a presentation the upper management asks to join together the features they like of the different interior "bucks" presented... Into a new one (happens all the time even with exterior designs...).

Lately the bigger companies have built "Components" department, in which group of designers develop the individual detail components of the Exterior of the Interior: headlights, alloys, handles... Or steering wheels and climate control buttons.An even more recent development is the formation of so-called "HMI" departments, in which specialized professionals develop all that happens on the touchscreen all new cars have. That's a new field in car design, and one whose importance is still somewhat underestimated by design managers, despite declarations of the contrary.


No production model is the result of the work of one person alone. If someone claims or is given credit to have designed a car, be skeptical until you are presented with evidence, in the form of relevant signed drawings from the project in question. Success has many fathers, and everyone still wants to be remembered like "the designer of ...", as the great masters of the past are.

McMansion Hell Tackles Betsy DeVos' 22,000-Square-Foot Summer Home


Core77 is a non-partisan rag, but when McMansion Hell's Kate Wagner goes after Betsy DeVos' 22,000-square-foot summer home, we can't not cover it. Because it's freaking funny.

"Two weeks ago, somebody untied Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos's $40 million yacht from its mooring," Wagner wrote in Vox. "It got me thinking about another opulent display of wealth owned by DeVos: her 22,000-square-foot nautical-themed summer mansion, located in Holland, Michigan. Just a few more years of climate change and it'll be floating too."

It appears this was a work-for-hire, meaning Vox owns these images, so we don't dare post more than the three we snagged here just to promote the piece. We recommend you click on over and check out all of it, and read Wagner's rationale while you're at it.

The Arrim One AR Measuring Device


Who'dve thought that the real killer app for augmented reality would be measuring things? Arrim One, a little widget that plugs into your iPhone or Android, essentially turns your smartphone into a tape measure, angle finder, laser level, diameter-calculator and more; the tool can be used to measure not just straight lines, but angles, curves and circles. Take a look at what it can do:

They're claiming an accuracy of +/- 1.5mm over a distance of 20 meters. Too good to be true? Perhaps, and the Arrim One isn't on store shelves. It was a recently-funded Kickstarter campaign that did gangbusters, garnering $273,639 on a $20,000 goal. They expect to begin shipping next month, and we're curious to see if the product can live up to the promises.

Real Madrid and adidas Announce New Jerseys Made from Parley's Ocean Plastic


Yesterday morning, adidas Soccer revealed the first Real Madrid CF kit ever from the club to be mass-produced from Parley's Ocean Plastic material. The new coral-hued kit will be worn during the 2018/2019 season. The jersey's coloring represents various shades of coral, paying homage to the beauty of the oceans.

The jerseys were unveiled yesterday morning by real Madrid players, including Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema over in Queens. The unveiling also served as a showcase for the work being done by Parley For The Oceans, and before the reveal, a Parley workshop took place where guests could learn more about the program and how to address marine plastic pollution. adidas, Parley and MLS first collaborated in 2017 when four clubs wore Parley kits on Earth Day, but this will be the first time a team will wear the jerseys all season.

"Real Madrid has the power to amplify our message, to share it with their massive global following and to bring it to life with their own decisions and actions. The message is an urgent one. It addresses the survival of our oceans, of our own species. It addresses the massive problem of marine plastic pollution. It questions the material itself and defines plastic as a prime example of a toxic substance which we can't afford anymore. It creates too much damage to our oceans and our own health. That is why we are calling for a Material Revolution." —Parley For The Oceans founder Cyrill Gutsch

adidas and Parley For The Oceans have been collaboratively turning plastic waste into high-performance footwear and apparel (even swimsuits!) for awhile now, and jerseys for one of the most well-recognized sports teams out there seems like a wise next step to spread Parley's message that much more. The jersey is available beginning today and will be worn on the field for the first time tonight at 8PM EST when Real Madrid takes on AS Roma.

Design Job: Nickelodeon Is Seeking a Designer to Create Compelling Graphics for Marketing Collateral


The Designer, Nickelodeon Partner Positioning & Presentations will be responsible for the design of Nickelodeon’s trade marketing collateral. In this role, he/she will collaborate with key business stakeholders to understand Nickelodeon’s content, capabilities and target audience and translate them into compelling creative. For a sample of our

View the full design job here

A Clever Mechanism Inside This Japanese Mechanical Pencil Keeps the Leads Sharp


Here's another Japanese design that skirts the line between "Good gosh that's clever" and "Do we really need this?"

By utilizing thin, perfectly-cylindrical leads, mechanical pencils obviate the need for sharpening. But if you were to zoom in on the tip, you'd see that even the narrowest lead can alternate between blunt and sharp as it wears down. And apparently there's a market of really anal-retentive end users who require a razor-sharp point at all times. Hence Japanese writing utensil manufacturer Uni designed the Kuru Toga, a mechanical pencil that rotates the lead in place, always presenting the pointiest bit to the writing surface:

An internal rotating gear?!? How do they think this stuff up?

Steven M. Johnson's Bizarre Invention #59: The Bachelor Dining System

An Alternative to Plastic Storage: Stackable, Water-Resistant Recycled Paper Bins


When it comes to storing items, few things can beat the cost and utility of the transparent, stackable plastic containers you can buy at the big box store. Only problem is they're, well, plastic. For the more eco-minded among you, Japanese stationary brand Midori offers an alternative with their Pulp Storage Products:

Made from 51% recycled paper and 49% wood pulp, which is more sustainable than plastic, the cases come in three sizes: The Pen Case (H66 x W191 x D32mm), the Card Box (H119 x W167 x D68mm) and the Tool Box (H210 x W302 x D140mm).

While it might seem like the three colors are different to help you distinguish content categories, in fact they reveal the post-consumer content they're made from: The grey boxes come from newspaper, the white from newspaper and milk cartons, the beige from cardboard boxes.

As snap latches for the lids can't exactly be molded into paper, rubber bands are included instead. And if you're worried about storing them in a basement prone to flooding, the bottoms of the bins are water-resistant.

BioLite's Successfully-Kickstarted, Smokeless FirePit Now Available


It's been nearly a year since we brought you news of BioLite's FirePit, which was then in Kickstarter mode. Having been successfully funded, it's now in production and available for sale through their site.

To refresh your memory, the FirePit takes the best parts of a campfire, gets rid of the worst parts, and wraps them in a portable package that you can not only use to grill on, but to charge your devices.

A four-speed internal fan blows air through 51 jets, creating an ultra-efficient burn that produces far less smoke than a conventional fire. It'll burn either wood or charcoal. Because the mesh housing is largely transparent, you can zone out and watch the fire within. (If that doesn't sound appealing, perhaps you'll appreciate it more after accidentally eating a pot brownie.) Weighing in at just 19 pounds and with folding legs, the FirePit is easy to tote around.

You can learn more about the FirePit here.

Design Job: Razor Is Seeking a Production/Graphic Designer to Work on Their Sports Products in CA 


Work as part of the Creative Services team to help drive projects for US and International markets from initial concept to final production while adhering to critical deadlines. Responsible for the design, maintenance, and management of art files for new and existing products including logos, product deco, manuals, box artwork

View the full design job here

Gerber's FlatIron: A Cleaver-Style Folding Knife


The pointed tip of a pocketknife is great for poking, probing, prying and slicing. But if you're using the knife for other things, like chopping or carving, the point can be a nuisance at best and a liability at worst. Hence Gerber has designed the FlatIron, a folding knife with a cleaver-style blade:

The 8.5" knife retails for $42 on Gerber's website, where it's currently sold out; however, it can be had on Amazon for 36 bucks and change.

Aston Martin Takes to the Skies with Latest Concept Design


Better known for producing vehicles that have four wheels firmly on the ground, Aston Martin is reaching new heights in luxury transportation with its latest concept design.

Launched at the recent Farnborough International Air Show in the UK, the Volante Vision Concept is an exploration into personal air mobility that, being Aston Martin, aims to deliver the ultimate in premium passenger experience.

Together with its distinctive Aston Martin design language, the aircraft features vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) capabilities, autonomous technologies and hybrid-electric propulsion.

In order to deliver this concept as a near future study, Aston Martin partnered with engineers and specialists from Cranfield University, Cranfield Aerospace Solutions and Rolls Royce.

With room for three adults, the aircraft will enable customers to avoid congestion in and between cities by offering fast, efficient and luxurious travel in the skies.

Behind the design of Aston Martin's more recent cars, Aston Martin EVP and chief creative office Marek Reichman is excited about this new venture: "We are at the beginning of a new generation of urban transportation, vertical mobility is no longer a fantasy. We have a unique chance to create a luxury concept aircraft that will represent the ultimate fusion of art and technology."

"We have used forms and proportions that express the same devotion to design, engineering and beauty that shape our cars," says Reichman.

This project is interesting in showing how Aston Martin is further diversifying into other modes of luxury transport (they has been involved in yacht design for awhile and, more recently, submarines) but with the Volante Vision Concept the focus is particularly on the future of transportation. Yes, it is a concept but this aircraft isn't merely an exercise in styling. By partnering with high profile partners and their cutting-edge technologies, it's not inconceivable that it could be a reality in the near future.

Filson Announces More Affordable C.C.F. Workwear Line


The paradox with workwear: It has to be cheap, so that the working man can afford it. But it has to be durable, because the working man does actual work. And durable materials are pricey.

Carhartt does a decent job of balancing the two: I've found their 12-oz. duck pants are reasonably durable and very affordable at $40 a pair; however, their 8.5-oz. canvas carpenter jeans, which are the same price, are something you can expect to replace often if you expose them to any kind of wear.

Can Filson do better? The 120-year-old workwear brand has steadily crept upmarket, manufacturing durable clothing that no factory worker can afford, thanks to rising labor costs and efforts to keep manufacturing close to home. But now they've announced a new line, C.C.F. (for company founder Clinton C. Filson) that claims to offer both durability and prices that working folks can afford.

It still seems a bit pricey to me, and I'm not confident CCF will take any market share from Carhartt and Dickies; but Filson's downmarket initiative is a welcome one, and I'm eager to see how it evolves.

Lee Simpson on Why Diverse Experiences Shape Better Designers


This is the latest installment of our Core77 Questionnaire. Previously, we talked to Ron Faris of the Nike SNKRS app. 

Name: Lee Simpson

Occupation: My current role is Head of Media & Entertainment Products at ustwo, but I'm wearing many hats right now. Predominately, I'm a design lead and product strategist, which means I work closely with our clients in the media and entertainment space to bring new products and digital experiences to market.

Recently, I've been more involved in business development, developing relationships with new and existing clients and identifying strategic growth opportunities for ustwo. I'm also involved in setting the strategic direction for that work globally, basically defining ustwo's proposition, products and services and making sure ustwo (and our clients) are ahead of the curve.

Location: I've been in the U.S. for almost 4 years, but I'm originally from the U.K. I spent the first 3 years in New York, based out of ustwo's office in the Financial District. Last May, I relocated to LA to be closer to our clients.

When did you decide that you wanted to be a designer?

I came to design, as a career, kind of by accident. After leaving high school, I started my own street wear label/company. I worked with graffiti artists and illustrators from my local town, designing and manufacturing t-shirts and hoodies. Over time, our roster of creatives included people from all over the world and the brand grew into a small community.

ustwo's VR work for Google Cardboard

Later on, I met a guy who owned two or three contemporary art galleries North of England. He asked me to curate a show for one of his locations, so we brought a bunch of artists in from Europe and around the U.K. and put on a month long exhibition of their work. We almost sold out, and after that, I came on full time as gallery manager—I spent 2 years organizing shows and developing print releases with artists.

When the recession hit, art sales started to decline and we decided to close the gallery. Beyond art, the only other skill I had was a basic understanding of Photoshop, so I ended up taking a few freelance gigs designing logos and websites for local businesses. It was around that time I became interested in web development, so I started reading books and taking online classes on HTML and PHP. Things developed from there, and I started work at my first start-up in 2008 as a UI Designer and Front-End Engineer. 

What was your first job in media and entertainment design?

My first experience working in media and entertainment was at a small design and development agency in London. The majority of their clients are in the video content space and include a handful of the major U.K. broadcasters. The agency specializes in developing consumer facing, video-on-demand platforms and content management systems, so I got a fairly in-depth look at the industry—including its challenges. Some of these broadcasters are 60-70 years old and their audience numbers are in the millions. I'd always had a bit of an obsession with TV growing up, so getting to work on products of that scale with brands I actually loved was awesome. Working at that agency was definitely a career highlight.

What projects are you most proud of from your time at ustwo so far? 

One of my first projects at ustwo was with Comcast on a new video-streaming product called Watchable. They had an existing library of short-form content and asked us to help create a product that would serve to audiences in a unique way. The challenge was to get casual, short-form consumers to watch more.

Comcast Watchable

We designed the service around an editorial model, basically playlists of video content that were grouped by a theme or an event. The playlists would contain video from popular producers like Screen Junkies or Red Bull and were mixed with lesser-known creators as a way of introducing users to new content based on stuff they like. Rather than follow the YouTube or Facebook trend, we went in a completely different direction with the UI and UX. We wanted to design something that would stand out in a crowded market but would still deliver a good experience.

What are some current projects you're working on at ustwo that you're most excited about?

Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality have been a big focus for ustwo over the past two years, and a lot of our clients in the media and entertainment space are really keen to explore the potential there. As a designer, I'm always excited about new technologies and how they can be applied to solve problems. To go from designing 2D experiences to 3D experiences and overcoming all the challenges that exist with hardware and software is keeping me on my toes.

ustwo's VR work for Google Cardboard

What is the best part of your job?

The best part is definitely the variety. When I freelanced, I spent as much time taking care of the "business" as I did designing. No two days were the same. Since then, I've always looked for jobs that could give me that same freedom, hence why I was drawn to ustwo.

What is the most important quality of someone who works in your field?

I really like people who have had significant experience outside of the 'industry.' Some of the best designers I've worked with have had entirely different careers or studied something unrelated and decided to pivot to design and product. For me, those people always have the most interesting perspectives and their approach to problem solving is different than those who may have come from design school or had more formal training.

What is your favorite productivity tip or trick?

For some reason, to-do lists never really worked for me until recently. Last year, a friend introduced me to Things—a productive app on iOS and Mac that's actually been around for a while. It's fairly simple and doesn't have any bells or whistles, but when you find a process that works for you, it's a game changer! I use it for my daily tasks, as well as a CRM to remind me to reach out to people or follow up on something.

ustwo's office in NYC

I also love early mornings. I wake up around 5:30am most mornings, even on weekends, and use that time to get my focus work (like writing and reading) done, or go for a walk. If you work from home, a morning walk is like an energy power-up for the day. I've seen a significant increase in my focus since I started doing it more regularly.

How do you procrastinate?

I'm more of a "procrastiworker" than a procrastinator—I really enjoy my work and honestly find it hard to switch off. I'm always trying to learn something new and can't remember a time in the last 14 years when I didn't have some kind of ongoing side project. So outside of my 9-to-5, that keeps me fairly busy.

I watch a lot of YouTube and Twitch. Most of the time I'll have it on in the background, but if I get distracted I go into a hole. I love finding those videos from the deepest, darkest corners of YouTube. I discovered IRL streaming about four to five months ago, and it's been my latest obsession. There's a big community of people who stream their everyday lives—going for breakfast, buying groceries and hanging out with friends. It seems really boring but it's honestly some of the most compelling content on Twitch.

ustwo's VR work for Google Cardboard

What is the most widespread misunderstanding about your job?

It's a cliché, but the most widespread misunderstanding about designers in general is that their only job is to make things that look nice. That attitude is definitely changing, and over the past ten years, design has really earned a seat at the table. For some designers, however, it can be hard to break out of that box. I speak to a lot of designers coming to the end of their junior years, and they don't see a clear career path for themselves.

Do yo have any advice for young designers?

Talent is just one part of the puzzle. You need to work hard and diversify your skill set. I've seen a lot of designers in my career who obviously had natural talent but weren't willing to put the hours in. It's a really competitive market right now, and there are a lot of amazing designers looking for employment. A work-life balance is important, but so is self-discipline. A solid work ethic and those things will show in your work and give you a competitive advantage.

Also, always look for ways to diversify your skill set. The material taught in schools and colleges are already four or five years out of date by the time most young designers graduate. For example, no one could have predicted the impact that augmented reality, virtual reality, machine learning and artificial intelligence would have on the industry. You need to constantly look ahead to see what's coming over the horizon—keep yourself and your skills relevant for the market.

This Amazing German Lawnmower Attachment Can Cut Around Poles and Fenceposts


Mowing lawns is a straightforward process, until you get to a tree or a fencepost. You can only get so close with the mower, and the remaining scrub must be removed with a string trimmer, which is time-consuming.

So how do well-funded landscaping professionals tackle this problem? With German manufacturer Duecker's amazing Leitpfostenmaeher ("guide post mower"):

Here's a longer cut so you can enjoy the zen of it all.

Design Job: TANDEM is Seekng an ID Intern This Spring to Work on Smart Devices in Sunny LA


Tandem is currently looking for an ID intern for the spring semester to join our design team in Los Angeles working on an exciting range of smart devices and consumer electronics. We are looking for someone with passion for design with strong 3D focus. Ideal candidate should

View the full design job here

HAWRAF's Carly Ayres and Pedro Sanches on How Unconventional Ideas Can Help You Land Your Dream Clients


This interview is part of a series featuring the presenters taking part in this year's Core77 Conference, "Now What? Launching & Growing Your Creative Business" , a one-day event aimed to equip attendees with tangible skills and toolkits to help produce and promote their products or services.

The tale of launching a creative studio is age-old, and yet, somehow the ins and outs of that journey are still cloaked in mystery, and the helpful, frank tips young designers hunger for are often out of reach. It's easy as a young person to view your lack of knowledge as a serious disadvantage, but Carly Ayres, Pedro Sanches, Nicky Tesla, and Andrew Herzog, co-founders of experimental interaction design studio HAWRAF, recognized their steep learning curve as an opportunity. Two years ago, the group introduced HAWRAF into the world with a mission to share their journey of starting a design studio with other young creatives. The launch of HAWRAF began with "A-Z", a 26 hour live marathon where they would tackle 26 different design briefs on video. From then on, in addition to working on some truly pioneering interactive projects with companies big and small, they've also dedicated their practice to publicly sharing guides and tips on how to get clients and get paid what you're worth, all while doing what you love and pushing your industry forward.

The HAWRAF team: (from left) Pedro Sanches, Andrew Herzog, Nicky Tesla, and Carly Ayres

We recently sat down for some online coffee talk with Pedro and Carly—who will also be speaking at this year's Core77 Conference—to learn more about their professional journey over the past two years and what they've learned from their successes and hiccups.

Can you tell me a little more about the work HAWRAF does and your studio mission?

Carly: HAWRAF is an interactive design and technology studio based in Brooklyn. Our work focuses on engaging audiences in new and interesting ways, usually using some form of new technology. The work itself really runs the gamut in terms of how that manifests, but our special spot is either creating or taking a strong brand, a message, and getting someone to want to pay attention.

Pedro: We're always trying to think, how will someone interact with this? How will someone participate? And, hopefully, understand or care a little bit more about whatever it is that they're being asked to interact with through that process.

And what would you say are some of your cornerstone projects?

Carly: We did a mirrored poster for a dental startup that was covered with illustrated smiles, so you could add a smile to your selfie, and collaborated with SuperUnion to do a sound-reactive logo for the Brooklyn Symphony Orchestra.

Pedro: Most recently, we did an e-commerce site for Los Angeles-based clothing brand, Entireworld, where the entire experience is super voyeuristic, telling you how many people are on the website at any given time and where they're coming from, bringing everyone together in one internet space. It also generates tones based on where you hover your mouse, creating a unique composition with every browsing experience.

Can you tell me more about your mission of sharing your process of starting the studio, and why personally it was especially important for you all to do that?

Carly: When we started the studio, we had all these ideas around how we wanted to run a creative practice, but very little knowledge around the tactical and practical necessities of starting a business. We did a lot of research, talked to founders, read books, but none of it told us about how you should file an LLC or create a partnership agreement. How are decisions made? How do you handle disagreements? How do you file an LLC? People are quick to share the highlight reel, but few talk about the nitty-gritty, way less glamorous aspects of setting up a successful business. So, in starting the studio, we wanted to illuminate some of those darker corners and hopefully save some other folks a few steps of the long, hard, stupid path we stumbled along. It's a good journey, and we learned a lot along the way, but we there's a lot others can hopefully take away from our mistakes, missteps, failures, and, every so often, successes.

HAWRAF's site features different fun and surprising interactive elements on both desktop and mobile.

Pedro: And to that first point— when we started we also had all these ways of working and thinking that we wanted to try out. We were seeing a lot of discussion around how design studios were dying out because companies were developing in-house design teams instead. Large agencies seemed to be dominating what was left of that work, and we really felt like there needed to be a change in how a contemporary design practice operated in order to survive. What's the studio of 2018, 2019, 3019? As we test out our ideas, we want to share our findings there, as well.

And I'm sure that you've learned a lot throughout that process. I'm curious to hear about your experience as young designers working in the industry. From your perspective, what do you think that landscape is like for young designers? Do people take young designers seriously? And how can you, as a young designer, assert yourself as not an affordable option, but the best option, in an industry that might be skeptical of your experience or even your worth?

Pedro: I feel like we're still young designers. Some days we're younger than others. I think there's a skepticism around [young designers] being too idealistic, but that's actually one of the things I'm trying to not lose. I think the idealism of a young designer is a double-edged sword; some dismiss their ideas because they think they're impractical when, in reality, they might just be on the edge of what's next and all that's needed is a bit of imagination to make it a reality.

Carly: There's an element of trust that needs to take place. We earn that trust through existing relationships, or from the work that we do. Good work begets more work. When you're just starting out, it's all relationships. All of the projects we did our first year—and we're hitting the two year mark now—were with people we already knew and they trusted us to do good work. Beyond that, it's about finding the clients who are willing to take that risk on you.

A virtual walkthrough of the Entire World site, designed by HAWRAF


Youth aside, we had a lot of conversations when we were starting out where they'd say, "Get back to me in five years... if you're still around." The subtext being: If you can maintain a business for five years, you'll be a reliable enough to hire. E-commerce is a great example of that. We had a slew of conversations that went nowhere until Scott was willing to take a chance on us with Entireworld. He found our work, loved it, and hired us to design and develop this site. Once we did that, the floodgates opened and [other clients were] like, "Oh, we'll do it now. We'd love to work with you." Some people don't want to take that initial risk, but for the people who do, it's rewarding to work with them.

Another question that I had is, from the stuff that you've learned over the past two years, what are a few things that stick out the most as something that you wish you would have known prior to starting?

Carly: Ask for more money. Iterate quickly. I feel like our proposal template changed with every project for a while as we stumbled upon various obstacles and tough client conversations that we wished we had known to bring up earlier in the project. Communication is everything. Our kickoff process even includes a mutual communication agreement in colloquial language that outlines how often we answer emails, when and how feedback is expected, and so on.

Some questions recently asked by HAWRAF Instagram followers

What are some of the most common questions that young designers ask you guys about?

Carly: Everyone wants to know how you started. How did you know it was time to make the jump? How did you know who you wanted to make that jump with? The answer is that there's never a right time. You're never completely ready. When Pedro, Andrew, Nicky & I met at Google we realized that we had shared ambitions, similar values, and different skills. We all really valued the ability and privilege to learn, which is fortunate because we certainly got a huge dose of that out of our first year together. How do you find clients? Strong relationships.

And you guys aren't just a studio but also community leaders who value starting conversations in real life. Is that part of the network building? What drives you to have those conversations? To inspire your work? To meet more people?

Carly: Sharing has always been great way for us to reflect and to digest what we've learned. We just did a guide for The Creative Independent on working with clients. That was such a cathartic process. When you say it out loud, you're able to either reaffirm or question why it is so. You open yourself up to questions, as well, ideally from people who have different perspectives of your own. And it always comes back.

Pedro: Yeah, the design world is pretty small in New York.

Well, in order to survive, you have to rely on each other, right? You need that community to find new clients and things like that...

Pedro: Absolutely. And we wouldn't be anywhere close to where we are today without others who shared their own processes, experiences, documents —that has been so helpful to us. We still ask each other things like, "What printers do you know? How much do they charge for something like this?"

Carly: It's true. You never know who or what experience will lead to the next thing you're going to do. The world is small. We love introducing people to other people, to jobs, opportunities, resources. You don't know where it will lead, but it always leads somewhere. We relied so much on others who did that for us, and will forever be grateful. The moment you know something, you know it, but it means the world to you at the time. We never want to lose sight of that feeling.

Yeah, that's a good way to put it, because it's hard to maintain a fresh perspective once you've gained some knowledge about something. So staying sort of naïve in a way.

Carly: Yeah, or empathetic. Like, remember how hard that was? That was the worst.

Lastly—you guys left pretty comfortable positions working at Google. So, what was the impetus for taking that leap and going out on your own even though that's a terrifying prospect, and how has it been rewarding for you all personally?

Pedro: For me, I went into Google never thinking it was going to be forever. You're right; it's one of those places you can get really comfortable. And the work can be very satisfying, too, but I wasn't planning a future there. I wanted to be my own boss. I didn't want to work with one client. I wanted to do different projects with different clients in order to learn. I wasn't sure it was the right time or even a great idea, but I knew we were going to learn a lot. And we did.

Carly: Learning was definitely a large motivator. We all wanted to learn and, as it turns out, there's a lot to learn when starting a business. There's still so much to learn. But having partners, people you can really trust, who check in with you and share accountability with— makes it easier.

Freelancing was very isolating for me. I felt frustrated not always getting to choose my team, lacking control over the output, feeling like I was only pitching a piece of the puzzle. As a team, we're able to do so much more, all while growing together.

Pedro: The last thing I could say about that is I think, as a person, you're constantly growing and building these skills over and over again. When we left Google, we didn't know if we were going to succeed or not.

Carly: We still don't know if we're going to succeed.

Pedro: And I feel like you could always go back to Google if I have to.

Carly: You can always get a job. I should note, we are speaking from a place of privilege and acknowledging that. We were at a point in our careers and our lives, coming out of Google, where we could take that risk.

HAWRAF's site build for Visibility (who are also speaking at this year's Core77 Conference!)

Yeah. And often those risks that you take, like you're saying if you do lose a lot or whatever, it's something that people notice as part of your character that they want, whether you're working for yourself or later on you're going to work for someone else, so it seems like it's worth it.

Carly: Maybe. Check back in with us in five years and we'll see. We try to check in with each other often. How is it going? How is this feeling? Did you like that project? Did you not like that project? We're always making sure our values are aligned, making sure that we're still working towards the same goals, and what we want out of work and life. As we're all growing and changing, we're not always growing and changing in the same direction, so we try to make sure that we're at least keeping open communication around those things, because who knows what the future holds.

You guys sound like a married couple.

Carly: Well, it's a commitment. You're contractually committing to each other.

Yeah. I think if you start a company with someone, you have to be able to have this screaming moment, but then like 10 minutes later you're like, you know what, I know that was for the greater good and don't need to take that personally, or something.

Carly: Oof. I think we've outgrown screaming moments. We do, however, have "Feelings Friday."

So what does that entail? Can I hear a little bit more?

Carly: It's about making the space. For us, that's an hour at the end of every week where we check in with each other and see how everyone is feeling. Even when everything is going swimmingly, we talk about it. That way, when it's not, that time is still there. We talk about it. Then do it all over again the next week.

Yeah, it sounds pretty crucial if you're in it for the long haul.

Carly: Yeah, I don't know. People are people. I happen to be a people with a lot of feelings, so I find it to be very important.

Pedro: I think it's good. For the first year of the studio, I was traveling for the most part and wasn't quite fulltime in the studio. Chatting online didn't even compare. Face-to-face time is essential.

Definitely. Okay, any closing thoughts? Any inspiring mantras, whatnot?

Carly: Always be honest.

Pedro: Always learn. Never stop learning.


Buy "Now What? Launching & Growing Your Creative Business" Tickets here

You want to start a creative business...now what? Come to our 2018 Core77 Conference this fall to learn more about launching & growing a product line or design studio of your own.

Reader Submitted: This Full Drum Machine Comes in the Form of a Bouncy Ball


Whether it's due to lack of space, money, time or skill, playing an instrument can be pretty elitist. In fact, on average only one in ten people picked up an instrument last year. Everybody listens to music, but not everybody feels like they can really enjoy making music. We want to make laying down a beat easy, playful and fun for everybody.

Imagine if you could cram a drum machine into a ball—that's what Oddball is.

View the full project here

Inside Belkin, Part 1: A Slideshow of Their Facilities, an Industrial Designer's Playground


A lot of us industrial designers have worked freelance or for smaller consultancies, where we have to send our designs out to subcontractors and wait for prototypes and parts to come back.

The larger design consultancies, or companies like Apple and Belkin, have everything on-site and don't have to wait for anything.

If (like me) you've never worked for the latter type of organization, well, it's pretty darned cool to see inside one. We recently got a look at Belkin's considerable facilities at their headquarters in Playa Vista, Los Angeles, California. Here are the images they've allowed us to show you.

3D Lab: Workbenches for Belkin's staff of modelmakers
3D Lab space: 3D printers (from left to right: FDM machine, multi-material Stratasys EDEN machine, smaller Stratasys printer)
3D Lab: Epilog laser cutter
3D Lab: EDEN machine being prepared for print
3D Lab: Power water jet for removing EDEN support material from 3D models
3D Lab: FDM (fused deposition modeling) machine. This is used to print larger or more structural parts for testing
3D Lab: FDM (fused deposition modeling) machine. This is used to print larger or more structural parts for testing
3D Lab: Paint booth
Photo Stage: Used for still photography and video
View the full gallery here

Inside Belkin, Part 2: The Industrial Design Process of the TrueClear Pro


After dropping and shattering my expensive iPhone several years ago, I replaced it and took steps to prevent it from happening again. I kept the phone inside an absurdly bulky, tank-like protective case by Pelican, completely obscuring the beauty that Apple's designers had slaved to produce. 

This case was as indestructible as it was inconvenient. The raised bumpers on the side prevented my finger from using the full width of the touchscreen, making it impossible to advance to the beginning or end of a podcast. Sometimes, depending on the task I was doing, the phone was so bulky that I needed to snap it into a clip and place it on my belt. I would occasionally lose the clip and waste time looking for it. The thickness of the case meant it wouldn't fit into the pockets I previously liked to carry a phone in, and this actually influenced what clothes I wore.

Eventually I felt I didn't own the phone, and that the phone owned me.

When enough was enough, I went to the Apple store and bought their super-slim leather case and a Belkin screen protector. At $40, the latter seemed expensive to me, but the store employee assured me it offered great protection, and asked if I dropped my phone a lot. (I do; I'm a butterfingers.)

"We can put the screen protector on for you," he said.

"No thanks, I got it," I said. I'm an industrial designer with studio experience. I'll be way better at putting this thing on than you. Then I remembered trying to put the screen protector onto my dad's phone for him, and the air bubbles, and the cursing.

"Are you sure?" he said. "We've got a machine that puts it on. It only takes a few seconds."

"Uh, okay," I said, curious.

The employee returned with a contraption, and then I got to witness this:

I was fascinated by the machine and the procedure. "I am really impressed with how the designers of this object thought through the entire process," I wrote on Core77 last year. "The first green-skinned film you see being applied to the phone is to remove any dust or lint from the screen, the Apple employee explained to me. After that's removed they drop it into the machine, and as you can see the tabs keep everything perfectly aligned. It seems pretty idiot-proof."

At the time, I lamented that the anonymous industrial designers behind this device would probably never receive credit.

Little did I know that those very designers were reading Core77, and that I'd get to share the story of that device with you; Belkin reached out to me after that entry went up, and offered to open the doors to their facilities and allow me to interview the designers. (Full disclosure: Belkin paid for the flight.)

Belkin is located in the "Silicon Beach" area of Los Angeles, the coastal area known for tech startups. An emphasis on design is a priority for the company, and hidden within what appear to be regular office buildings is an industrial designer's playground filled with studios, shops and machines: Prototyping facilities, conventional workshops, digital fabrication machines, testing facilities, package design mock-up areas, a photography studio. They even had one of those consumer research rooms with the one-way mirrors, where test subjects are asked to open or assemble Belkin items; their ease or difficulty is recorded by overhead cameras, and designers review the footage to figure out how to improve the end user's experience.

You can see a slideshow of the photos we were allowed to show you here. But we were really there to learn about the people and processes behind the design of the TrueClear Pro, and for that we interviewed the designer at the top.

Oliver Seil is Belkin's Vice President of Design, and he defies easy categorization: Crisply-dressed and precise, the German expat has the serious look of a European designer--yet the laid-back demeanor of a native Californian. He seems young enough to be a grad student, yet he's been at Belkin for nearly two decades. After a number of years as Senior Director, Seil assumed the helm of the design group, where he harnesses Belkin's considerable resources--both human and technical--to execute projects that produce clear rewards, to both the end user and the company, while adhering to Belkin's motto of "People inspired."


Core77: The Belkin device that I saw in the Apple Store was designed to solve a problem. What is that problem and how did you first become aware of it?

Oliver Seil: A member of our European team had an insight: Phones are getting larger screens, and people are worried about breaking them. They want screen protectors--but because they're so hard to put on, people in retail stores aren't trying to sell them very much, because they're afraid that they will be asked by the customer to apply them. [The employees] don't like having to do that because it takes a lot of time, it's stressful and usually not successful; it's just not something humans are good at.

So a huge opportunity lies within that. If we were to solve that, we could sell a lot more screen protectors, because we'd have all retail employees feel really great and confident about applying them. And then the consumer gets what they really want: To protect their screens.

Was it obvious to the company that this was an industrial design problem?

Yes. And it was very clear, early on, that there wasn't an easy way to solve this. When we first heard the problem we were scratching our heads: How do you do that successfully? Various companies had developed a bunch of different products to help people put screen protectors on, but none of them felt retail appropriate. They weren't durable, or didn't have the right kind of nuanced design and usability approach. They were very clunky, engineering-heavy solutions.

It took us a while to warm up to the challenge--what happened is, our team had hired a design consultancy in Europe to build [a solution] that was so atrocious that it kicked us awake. We said, "No, we're not going with that. We're going to do it."

What was the first step?

To build a business plan. Ours was created around [a dollar amount that would emerge] if we were to solve it, and it was so compelling that people said, "Oh, that's a nice number." Then it quickly became an ID user experience challenge, and we [the design group] took the lead on finding out how to solve those problems. What would be the elements that would need to be resolved? And then it branched into an ID/UX and mechanical engineering challenge.

Speaking of which, what is Belkin's typical process--when do you bring in the designers and when do you bring in the engineers?

So in general, almost everything Belkin makes goes through ID, UX, ME (Mechanical Engineering) teams.

In that sequence?

Not necessarily, but mostly. We have a multistage design/engineering/development process that goes through a business review, where we begin to understand how complex something is to design and engineer. And then we assign the appropriate amount of resources to design or engineering based on whatever the challenge is. It's usually ID/UX first, and then quickly joining hands with the engineering teams.

In this particular instance, how did it unfold?

ID/UX took the lead with product management to help understand the challenge, because it was so different from anything else we'd ever made. Normally we know what goes "into the box"-- it has a circuit board or a mechanism that is understood, and we can quickly go into ID efforts to wrap it in a nice, appropriate enclosure, perhaps. And then we work with engineering to build that.

But here, it was completely different. We didn't even know how to solve the problem. The challenge was "We want to apply a screen protector with this level of precision, with this level of ease, onto a customer's phone in this environment--but we don't know how. Nobody's ever solved how to do that."

So we quickly said, "We can't lead with ID. We can set some user experience boundaries and then let engineering figure out how to actually solve the problem." So that's what we did. We built a set of goals for the outcome. And we said, "Right now we don't really care what it looks like, we first have to build the internal." We had to build that engine first, then build the car around it. So then the engineering team went off and did their work on how to actually do this application.

What did the Design department do while Engineering was working on that?

ID and UX were busy figuring out everything surrounding the applicator. We built the knowledge internally about how retail associates work, how they are rewarded, what does it mean for them to be successful in their job, what motivates somebody who works in a retail store around these types of accessories? So that we could start digging into understanding [this new type of] user really well. Our core expertise is regular folks, people like you and I that use mobile electronic equipment, they live and drive and have homes and work and all that stuff. We understand that user very well. But when it comes to understanding how this user would work, it was a different animal.

That was one of the core learnings--this is not for you and me, this is for someone who works in a retail store and has to make money using these tools, and hopefully we can make this so good that they would love using it. So that they would effectively help us bring this product, a screen protector, to the end user.

How and where did you conduct that research?

We have phenomenal relationships in the industry--from telcos to big box retailers to shops--and leveraged them to spend many, many hours around the globe in different retail environments. In Korea, Japan, the U.S., Germany, the U.K. We watched people and asked them "What happens when somebody asks you to put a screen protector on? And what is your process for what happens when you mess up?" We learned that 20% to 30% of applications go awry, it's very normal. So then they have to do this again and go through a process of return merchandise authorizations and so on. How do we help them get around that so that they would embrace the system, start using it?

We had a lot of help from the global team, as well. We actually didn't all do this ourselves as a design team; we have a lot of engaged sales folks that are really interested in helping with efforts like this, so it's pretty easy for us to leverage them as well. We give them a plan, go and ask these questions, come back with these answers, take pictures, feed it to us. It was a great effort. It was fun.

What happened after Engineering emerged from their lab with working prototypes?

We were participating in some of that work as well. But, what happened is we then were able to make a decision on which of the four [prototypes they developed] we would like to work on more. We chose the largest and biggest and bulkiest of the four, for a number of reasons, then said "Now, let's make this thing as elegant as possible. Make it palatable, so that it can live out in the world, and we are proud to put a Belkin logo on it."

What led you to choose this prototype over the other three?

The criteria that we wanted to apply: Which is the most practical, works the best, is most reliable, and is most realistically viable in the marketplace? It can't be ugly, weird or strange--we want it to have form, usability, an appearance appropriate for what we wanted to accomplish. It needed to be professional, and not feel overly theatric; one prototype had an inflatable electric pump that worked quite well to push air bubbles from the middle to the outside, but [it was overly complicated].

The chosen system, which became the TrueClear Pro CX, had interchangeable inserts to accommodate different phones; it was one big central object that doesn't go anywhere, it just stays in one place, and then you bring to it the boxes [filled with the application materials]. It worked really well, so we worked with the engineering team to take their mechanical solution and make it more aesthetically viable, interesting looking, polished and modern.

So Engineering figured out the mechanicals; how did Design get it the rest of the way there?

We designed the aesthetic around the overlays and helped with the usability, because one of the things that hadn't been figured out is: How do you make it error proof?

That was accomplished in the next stage. We designed it so that a phone and screen protector cannot be inserted in the wrong direction, there's guiding pins that have different sizes.

For the screen protector, we designed this sleek envelope package that is very inspired by food packaging. It's very sanitary, there's no dust in it. It's pulled open like a fresh package of something that has never been opened.

We devised the desktop box, which is that green box that opens up to reveal the product, the cradle [for the phones], the interchangeable components, the tools, and a work surface.

We devised instructions, taking inspiration from McDonald's and Taco Bell--places where people don't get a lot of training, but visual instructions to avoid the need for language and translations. We designed it so that the user never takes the wrong part and and tries to put it in the wrong way, accidentally looking bad in front of the customer and having to do it over. We wanted to eliminate errors. The goal was to ensure that anyone who uses this always feels good about themselves.

What are some aspects of the design that are not, and would never be, obvious to the consumer?

We designed an entire lineup of logistical components dealing with packaging that would allow you to easily refill depleted stock. Because, don't forget, the packaging here lives inside of these boxes, it's not meant to hang on planograms.

There was a whole 'nother thing that needed to be sorted out: When a store runs out of the screen protectors, how do they reorder it, and how does that reorder package quickly get integrated into the system? That was another really fun aspect to dig into, the backstory of how something ends up in a store. We figured out, for a number of large retailers, how that works.

How did you gather the data?

We went there, talked to them. We learned how it looks in the "back of the house," how they get the stock, and from where. It was a phenomenal learning exercise.

It's interesting that you started off designing a screen protector for consumers, and the ID trail leads you down this path where you're putting a lot of design attention on a supporting device, and entire system, designed for a retail user.

It's such a premium to be able to get into the hearts of retail associates, because if they like your product, they're going to sell it for you. So we wanted to design something a retail employee would genuinely appreciate: "This helps you be better at your job. It helps you be more successful, make more money, look better to your customers, have a better time at work."

It's a win-win for everybody: It's a better product for the end user of the screen protector; In the process of having it applied, they like their experience better in the retail environment that they're in; and the retailer profits, they sell more screen protectors, it works for everybody.

We could only do that by understanding all the reasons for what motivates people. We dug as deeply as we had to in order to make that whole experience seamless and easy for them. And that can only happen when you leverage really smart design thinking--user experience that's truly empathetic, that really thinks about the lives and the working environments of people. When you then connect that with a great engineering capability, and then the logistics backbone, we were able to bring all of that together. So it was a really great, interesting experience, one that there's not a lot of equals to.

In the years since you debuted the device, your sales of screen protectors went up by a factor of eight. Can you tell me what that translates to, in terms of dollars?

Last year, [redacted] dollars.

Holy COW! Can I print that number?

PR Handler: No!

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