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Rachel Swaby

The Core77 Design Blog

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Posted by Rachel Swaby  |   8 Nov 2013  |  Comments (1)


Here's something you've probably noticed in passing: the UK three-pronged plug is incredibly bulky. Forget about sliding it into a thin tablet case. The British Standard was designed in 1947, long before anyone figured it would be used to charge anything as svelte as the iPad Air.

While he was a student at the Royal College of Art in London, Min-Kyu Choi carried around his laptop a lot. He carted it and his charger in a bag, which worked OK until the charger's massive prongs gave his laptop a good scratch. As he looked at the culprit, he realized that the monstrous UK charger is not at all designed for portability; it's completely out of sync with the sleek and slim gadgets that it's used to charge.

The whole situation needed a makeover. Although he couldn't change the plug's three-prong design, Choi thought that perhaps he could change the way it's stored while not in the socket. So he started sketching. What he came up with was a collapsible plug, straight out of Transformers. His design positioned the two horizontal plugs on a swivel. When they were in the wall, they'd appear in the normal configuration. But when not in use, the horizontal prongs could be rotated 90 degrees, so all three would line up vertically. The faceplate would then crack in half and fold back like bird wings. Choi's swivel-and-fold innovation would allow the plug to pack flat.

MadeInMind-MuPlug-2.jpgEarly sketches of the Mu plug


Posted by Rachel Swaby  |   1 Nov 2013  |  Comments (11)


About a year ago Union Wine Co. decided it needed to do a little rebranding. Ever since the Oregon-based company opened in 2005, it had embraced an unfussy approach to imbibing, but the company realized its message to consumers could be clearer. During a particularly electric brainstorming session earlier this year, it landed on a slogan, "pinkies down," and a brave new method of delivery: wine in a can.

Ryan Harms, the owner of Union Wine Co., is a firm believer in the saying "it takes a lot of good beer to make good wine." He likes the way a beer can feels in your hand and its portability, but he didn't seriously think about canning wine until that rebranding meeting in June. He and his team talked about wanting their products to be accessible, both in the approachability of the varietals' flavors and the ease with which one could grab a drink. They wanted to see their wines included on a backcountry skiing trip or packed for an exploration of Mount Hood. All of a sudden, the can seemed like a viable wine-delivery option.

But the company also had a difficult set of parameters to work within. Wine production is regulated, and wine can only be sold in certain size containers. At the same time, Harms felt very strongly about keeping it in a can that looked and felt like a beer can. That size, he thought, just felt so much more satisfying in the hand than the skinny cans in the energy drink world, which he didn't have any emotional connection to. But the average 12-ounce beer can holds just under an amount that can be put on store shelves. If Union wants a beer can, those cans will actually have to hold 375 milliliters, or 12.68 ounces.

UnionWineCo-WineCans-2.jpgThe packaging design for Union Wine's products, including its wine-can prototype, is by Story Manufacturing Co. Can photos by Graham Hiemstra for Cool Hunting

Union Wine was also up against a problem of the wine itself, which often likes special treatment before being consumed. Some wines should be decanted to introduce more surface area to the air. Others are only at their best in a glass of a certain shape or at a pre-determined age.

Harms is half businessman and half winemaker, and he didn't want the business idea to come at the expense of his craft. But he was also really tied to the everyday can. So he tailored the wine to suit the can instead of the other way around, discounting any varietal that wouldn't do well there. "The types of wine in cans don't need to be decanted or to age for five years to be accessible," says Harms. "That would be a real disservice to put products like that in a can." Wines that do better: "wines from the fresh and fruit-driven world, whether that's white or red."


Posted by Rachel Swaby  |  25 Oct 2013  |  Comments (0)


These days, lovers of a rustic aesthetic can choose from all sorts of personal accessories made of wood—there are wooden iPhone cases, wooden eyeglasses frames and even wooden engagement rings. But a wooden purse? The idea sounds clunky at best, summoning images of a glorified briefcase or perhaps the enigmatic Log Lady from Twin Peaks.

The Tel Aviv design studio Tesler + Mendelovitch has managed to pull it off, however, with a line of "wood skin" clutches that are remarkably elegant and eminently functional, thanks to a set of diagonally-oriented crosshatches that allow the wood veneer to arch and fold like a textile.

The transformation from raw lumber to limber handbags did not come easy. It took the designers, Orli Tesler and Itamar Mendelovitch, years before finding a form that felt right. "It took such a long time to get the simple shape," Tesler says. "In the beginning, we interfered terribly with the wood." She had her partner experimented with weaving it, sanding it and breaking it up into small fibers. "Nothing seemed to showcase the wood in a new way."





Posted by Rachel Swaby  |  18 Oct 2013  |  Comments (0)

Laokoon-EnsoLamp-1.jpgA close-up view of Laokoon's new Enso lamp, made of the Hungarian company's namesake material

In the Details is our weekly look at especially smart, innovative or unusual details of a new design.

When the designers of the Enso lamp start talking about how it evolved from Laokoon, the product's chameleon-like material, the details become a little elusive. "What I wanted to express was actually the potential Laokoon represents," says Lili Gulbert, the creative head and CEO of the Hungary-based company also called Laokoon. "I refused to close it into a definition and instead helped it find its own shape and explanation."

If the explanation is a little squishy, perhaps it's because the lamp is too. Enso undergoes morphological changes—twisting, arching, opening and wilting—when manipulated by the user. "You just have to experience it," Gulbert says. "People are drawn to touching it. The material doesn't have rules."

It may not have rules, but it does have a structure. Indeed, Laokoon may be best understood not as a material per se, but as a system. Strips of other materials—such as plastic, wood, paper, or leather—are laced together using a proprietary system developed by the Hungarian textile and tapestry designer Zsuzsanna Szentirmai-Joly. "The shape is basically a matrix that can be applied in different—but, of course, not endless—material variations," Szentirmai-Joly says.

Laokoon-EnsoLamp-2.jpgAbove and below: Some of Enso's many possibly permutations


In the case of the Enso lamp, the designers used 80 two-inch-wide strips of transparent plastic. The strips are scalloped and layered with printed color before being laced together horizontally. When the pieces are linked, the strips slide over each other to strike a pose.


Posted by Rachel Swaby  |  11 Oct 2013  |  Comments (1)


In the Details is our weekly look at especially smart, innovative or unusual details of a new design.

The founders of London's International design studio launched their company in 2010 with accessibility as the guiding principle. "We're both put off by the luxury market," says Robin Grasby, who believes that good design should be less exclusionary and more democratic.

International puts this philosophy into practice by developing modular systems engineered for standard fittings and fixtures. For Apollo, their first production piece, Grasby and his cofounder, Marc Bell, developed a series of slotted and solid aluminum lampshades in several colors. The variations will stack on a standard UK bayonet light socket in multiples up to four, allowing for nearly 750 possible combinations. Depending on the shapes, colors and perforations mixed and matched, the lamps will cast light in wide or narrow beams, in slotted staccatos or in warmer or more natural hues.

InternationalIndustrialDesign-ApolloLamp-2.jpgFour of the many possible Apollo lampshade combinations

When considering the outward appearance of their nested metal shades and the way they might manipulate light, International's founders drew inspiration from Poul Henningsen's 1958 Artichoke lamp. Their execution, however, needed to be more practical. International looked into supplying custom fittings for the light along with the shades, but, Grasby says, "electronics would have been a whole new realm of licensing. The standard UK socket suddenly makes the whole thing more affordable—99p [about $1.60] at a hardware store."