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Posted by Carly Ayres  |  11 Apr 2014  |  Comments (0)


If you were attending the Salone del Mobile in Milan this this week, you might have seen a little black Daihatsu pickup driving around with some nebulous cargo in the back—the Cumulus Parasol, a cloud-like umbrella that inflates in reaction to sunlight.

Cumulus is the work of the Netherlands-based Castor Bours and Wouter Widdershoven. The duo has been working together on explorative design projects since early 2007, forming Studio Toer in the center of Eindhoven in 2011. "When you look around, most interiors are static," Bours says. "We want to create products that communicate with you. The Cumulus Parasol was developed from an exploration in creating an object that reacts to its own surroundings."

It works via four small, rectangular polycrystalline solar cells that harvest energy from the sun. The polycrystalline cells are made up of raw silicon, melted and poured into a square mold, that is cooled and cut into perfectly square pieces. As one of the most standardized processes for making solar panels, polycrystalline panels tend to be the least expensive on the market and can be easily sourced online, as was the case for Studio Toer. One slight hitch: Even though the polycrystalline panels are low in intensity, the duo found that too much power allowed the parasol to inflate in no sun. "Which is no fun," says Castor.

Studio Toer remedied this by using fewer and smaller solar cells that only kept the parasol inflated for as long as it's in direct sunlight. When charged, the panels transfer energy to a 12-volt ventilator positioned at the roof of the umbrella. The ventilator is sewn into the top of the nylon body, and when on, it inflates the Cumulus Parasol in 20 seconds. When the sun is obscured, the parasol automatically deflates. For manual control, there is also a power switch integrated into the pole.

StudioToer-CumulusParasol-2.jpgThe solar cells and fan on top of the parasol


Posted by Carly Ayres  |   4 Apr 2014  |  Comments (0)


With an elegant silhouette that doesn't scream "DIY," the Zeta Aluminium lamp is a welcome addition to the realm of hardware-free, flat-pack, assemble-it-yourself housewares. Designed by the Florence, Italy-based ZPSTUDIO, the lamp uses a narrow template design to wring maximum utility out of a minimal amount of material—resulting in low cost and little environmental impact.

Zeta Aluminium is actually the second iteration of this project. The original Zeta, released in 2011, was created from sheets of laser-cut poplar. ZPSTUIO'S founders, Eva Parigi and Matteo Zetti, sold the prototype to another design company, but they have now taken back the patent to redevelop the concept into Zeta Aluminium. "We wanted to further extend the early idea to achieve a more advanced, tech-like version," Parigi says.

Zeta Aluminium shares the same principles and silhouette of its predecessor, but instead of wood it uses Dibond, an industrial aluminum composite made of two pre-painted sheets of 0.012-inch-thick aluminum that sandwich a polyethylene core. This is a big upgrade from poplar: Dibond is lighter weight and more durable, and it will not warp or bow the way a sheet of wood might. Plus, the polyethylene core adds an additional layer of friction to hold the pieces together.

ZDStudio-ZetaFlatpackLamp-2.jpgAssembling the original poplar version of the Zeta lamp


Posted by Carly Ayres  |  28 Mar 2014  |  Comments (1)


With the rise of augmented reality (AR) technology, virtual reality headsets like the much buzzed-about Oculus Rift aren't just for playing games in a simulated universe—they can actually help industrial designers do their jobs, too. Four students at the Royal College of Art recently suggested how with Gravity, a 3D sketchpad that they debuted at an RCA exhibition last February.

Right now Gravity exists as a functioning prototype—and it works pretty much exactly how you would imagine. Users don virtual reality glasses and then draw objects in space above the Landing Pad, a handheld glass platform. This space above the Landing Pad is called "GSpace," and it can be comprised of a single drawing or multiple ones. By rotating or tilting the Landing Pad, the user can control the plane the drawing exists on and build out the drawing, much like adding details to a real object in space.

Gravity works by integrating several tracking technologies to be able to pair and synchronize all of the different elements of the system together with the AR glasses, so that the 3D-generated content is overlaid on top of the user's vision in real time. The team has a patent pending on its innovation.

The Gravity team—Guillaume Couche, Daniela Paredes Fuentes, Pierre Paslier and Oluwaseyi Sosanya—is currently finishing the beta software and looking for manufacturers for the Landing Pad and the pen. Users will have to provide their own virtual-reality headsets; the developers have been working with AR glasses by the French company Laster, but they're aiming for universal compatibility. "We have recently made our software compatible with Oculus Rift and we are looking into making it work with all the leading-edge AR glasses on the market (that is, with on-board camera and LARGE field of view for immersive AR)," the Gravity team writes in an e-mail. "Gravity is a tool where augmented and virtual realities can be exploded as creation tools. This is why we are trying to make it available for as many platforms as possible. Our idea is to become the universal platform for 3D sketching in AR."


Posted by Carly Ayres  |  21 Mar 2014  |  Comments (0)


Francesca Gattello was completing her master's in product design at Politecnico di Milano last spring when she decided to enter Scenari di Innovazione (Innovation Scenarios), a competition that tasks students with creating new products for small artisan companies. After visiting many of the contest partners' shops, Gattello was struck by huge sacks of waste outside a marble manufacturing facility, which she learned posed a serious environmental problem. Given the expense of proper disposal, many manufacturers opt to simply pour their stone waste into streams—damaging the local ecosystem. Gattello decided to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak, incorporating stone waste into pure clay sourced from another local shop to create an experimental material that could be used for a line of housewares.

Gattello's project ended up winning the Scenari di Innovazione and, as a reward, she was able to prototype the products proposed. For her line of pots, cups, vases and bowls, dubbed Calcarea, the Verona-based designer drew inspiration from her collaborators' existing products. "I chose to work with Attucci Marmi, a little stone industry, to get the waste, and Rossoramina, a family-run ceramic company, to develop the product concept, the prototypes and the collection," Gattelo says. From Rossoramina, she got the idea for the vessels' distinctive vertical grooves, as well as for using two surface finishes—"a transparent glazed one," Gattello says, "to show the complete claylike production process, and a rough one, which shows the core mixed material, its nature, its visual and tactile qualities."

FrancescaGattello-CalcareaHousewares-2.jpgGattello had to hand-sift the stone waste to remove impurities, a process she hopes to automate for the production run.

FrancescaGattello-CalcareaHousewares-3.jpgThe vessels are made via a combination of mold-casting and hand-turning on a wheel.


Posted by Carly Ayres  |  14 Mar 2014  |  Comments (0)


Based in Syracuse, New York, Borough Furnace is a small metal-casting workshop founded by cousins John Truex and Jason Connelly. The crux of their operation is the Skilletron, a custom crucible furnace now on its fifth or sixth iteration that melts scrap metal by burning waste vegetable oil.

Truex was first introduced to the world of iron casting via a small cupola furnace, a miniature version of the old coke-fired furnaces that were the staple of industrial iron production for a long time. "Now most U.S. iron production is done in large electric induction furnaces; a lot of Indian and Chinese iron production is still done with large coke-fired cupola furnaces," Truex says. Wanting to create a small batch of cast-iron goods like skillets and bottle openers, Truex and Connelly looked at a variety of furnaces and manufacturing options to see what would make the most sense.

The duo discovered that for the same amount of money they would need to spend on tooling for overseas production they could build out their own micro-foundry and prototyping studio in the States that would also allow them to explore new cast-iron products and objects—retooling and making their own production molds for each new piece. Investigating further, they found that existing cost-effective furnaces like cupolas were restricting in their ability to only cast iron and types of bronze; also, because of the coke fuel, they were extremely dirty. But more expensive crucibles, which can melt aluminum or any other metal cleanly, proved unacceptable in the amount of pollution and fuel the process requires.


Posted by Carly Ayres  |   7 Mar 2014  |  Comments (0)


From concrete planters cast from fruit to whittled toothbrush shanks, Pratt Institute graduates Chen Chen and Kai Williams (CCKW) have been exploring industrial processes and materials to create furniture, products and art since 2011. "Our design philosophy is very bottom-up," Chen says. "We experiment with materials and allow them to inform us of what products to make from them."

One of the first results of this design philosophy was a set of Cold Cut Coasters, inspired by the way in which deli meats are sliced at the point of purchase. Chen and Williams wanted to replicate that effect with a product where they could pre-make a "loaf" and slice it depending on how much a customer wanted.

"Eventually, we came to the realization that this was not going to be possible," Chen says. "But in trying for that goal, we came up with a way to make composite materials with intricate patterns by soaking fabric in resin and then wrapping it around solid materials like wood. This process brought an element of chance into each composition we made, as we had no idea what the slices were going to look like until they were cut." That material exploration also laid the groundwork for what would become a series of four rugs made in collaboration with Tai Ping Carpets and released during Art Basel Miami Beach last December.

ChenKai-ColdCutsRugs-3.jpgDetail views of Coast Occult Dress (top)

ChenKai-ColdCutsRugs-2.jpgThe Oldest Stucco Star is another one of the four rugs Chen Chen and Kai Williams designed for Tai Ping Carpets


Posted by Carly Ayres  |  28 Feb 2014  |  Comments (2)


Like a lot of successful entrepreneurial ventures, Chrome Industries was born of out dissatisfaction. Its founders were a group of Boulder, Colorado, cyclists who couldn't find a messenger bag that met their standards—so they started making their own, using military-grade materials and salvaged seatbelt buckles. Now based in San Francisco, Chrome has been selling those messenger bags for almost 20 years, alongside a growing collection of similarly tough backpacks, apparel and other gear.

The latest addition to that collection is a line of what Chrome calls "knurled welded waterproof rolltops," released two weeks ago. The four bike bags (two backpacks, a front-rack duffle, and a saddle bag) sport roll-top closures and distinctive exterior seams with a nubby texture—evidence of that "knurled welded" technique, which the company says creates superior durability with very little weight.

So how does knurled welding work? Knurling usually refers to a surface treatment used on wrenches and other metal tools; in those cases, it creates a raised pattern that provides better grip. In knurled welding, that raised pattern is printed on both sides of the tool used to RF-weld pieces of fabric together. (Envision two waffle irons coming together.) This creates more surface area along the seams, which equals greater strength.


Posted by Carly Ayres  |  21 Feb 2014  |  Comments (6)


While desktop 3D printers have made rapid prototyping at home as easy as the push of a button, that accessibility comes at a price—a much lower level of quality than with traditional manufacturing methods. As a result, desktop 3D printing is still not a viable option for making finished products. At least, that's the general assumption—one that the New York-based Italian designers Barbara Busatta and Dario Buzzini hope to challenge with their Machine Series, a line of containers that are ready for use hot off the printer.

Busatta and Buzzini's collaboration was born out of a promise to do a project together each year under the studio name ICOSAEDRO, each time focusing on a specific material or craft as part of a joint effort to learn a new methodology. For their inaugural effort, Buzzini, a design director at IDEO, said that he and Busatta, a freelance art director, were drawn to the "artisanal process" of Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), a 3D-printing technology that involves melting plastic filament and extruding it layer-on-layer to build a form.

Icosaedro-MachineSeries-5.jpgThe Machine Series includes five containers with lids. There is a black version in three different shapes (top) and red and yellow versions (above).

Until now, FDM has not exactly been a fount of high-end product design. "FDM nowadays is a synonym for tchotchkes and miniatures for Yoda busts," Buzzini says. But he and Busatta felt that there was an opportunity to bring a new level of craft to an imperfect technique, noting that "it felt like the right starting point to express our point of view on what could be a way to bring craftsmanship into the future."


Posted by Carly Ayres  |  14 Feb 2014  |  Comments (2)


When choosing materials for a delicate hanging light, granite might not be your first choice. Not so for the Spanish designer André Simón Soneira, who decided to use the weighty material to create MIKA 350, a lamp that is just as beautiful to behold as it was challenging to make.

With this project, Soneira wanted to create a product that spoke to his identity as a designer, resonating with his traditions and heritage. Soneira hails from a region of northwest Spain called Galicia, known for its granite repositories. With strong Celtic influences, Galicia has a long tradition of mining and processing granite for different uses and has many rare types, including Pink Porriño, Gray Mondariz and Silvestre. "Galicia and its cities smell like stone," Soneira says. "When it's raining, the smell invades every street. … If Galicia were a lamp, it would be MIKA 350."

AndreSimon-GraniteLamp-2.jpgSoneira (center) with the lamp-shade craftsman, Esteban (left), and a colleague from Soneira's studio. All photos by Lino Escuris.

A look at the production process behind MIKA 350


Posted by Carly Ayres  |  31 Jan 2014  |  Comments (6)


As people get more and more used to paying for small transactions with credit cards, one group in particular seems to be losing out—baristas. At least that's what Ryder Kessler noticed in 2008 while using plastic at a favorite coffee shop with a noticeably empty tip jar. A (miserable) barista explained that the rise of credit card payments had meant the decline of cash tips. "That struck me as a huge problem for everyone involved," Kessler says. "The employees were working just as hard and making less money, the store was losing out on incentives for good service, and customers like me who liked the convenience of paying with plastic had no way to tip. I thought that the simplicity of a cash tip jar—just drop your dollar bill in—should have a credit card equivalent. That's how the idea for DipJar was born."

DipJar is exactly what it sounds like, a small aluminum jar with a built-in credit card reader that deducts one dollar per swipe. But realizing the simple device has taken several years. After graduating from Columbia University with a master's in English, Kessler let the idea for DipJar germinate in the back of his mind for a few years as he took jobs at start-ups and gleaned knowledge in how to build companies and ship products. Only then did he set about bringing his idea to production. Skimming websites, Kessler found the portfolio of Simon Enever, an industrial designer based in New York whose work matched the mental image Kessler had for the product. [Ed. Note: We've covered Enever's work before, most recently in an in-depth case study about designing a better toothbrush.] Together, they worked through various ideas for the design until they felt confident putting it into production.

InTheDetails-DipJar-2.jpgThe design evolution, from sketch to the first-generation unit now being tested in the field.


Posted by Carly Ayres  |  24 Jan 2014  |  Comments (0)


Any athlete who has had trouble with joint and muscle pain knows the value of getting support where it's needed most. For those athletes' whose Achilles' heel is their knee (so to speak), the sports-gear brand Opedix has recently developed a line of tights that promise to provide a new level of assistance to that frequently mucked-up joint.

Called KNEE-Tec, the tights aren't the first to use Opedix's patented knee-support technology, but they take it a step further with a new tension system developed by Dr. Michael Decker and his colleague, Mike Torry. Decker's design uses a combination of fabric tensions to push and pull on the knee joints to create a "kinetic chain" of pressure, a setup that the company has dubbed Torque Reforming Systems.

The secret to the Torque Reforming Systems lies in its non-stretch banding and careful placement of different microfiber fabrics across 19 panels that pull and tug against each other to create tension and deliver support, without compromising the banding's integrity. "We wanted a balance of elasticities to do the work for the product, keeping the non-stretch banding as tense as possible without stretching," Decker says. The non-stretch bands are placed strategically between the various patches to offer corrective control and keep the legs in what is known as a "neutral state."


Posted by Carly Ayres  |  17 Jan 2014  |  Comments (3)


At first glance, the Dream Chair looks like a concept, with impossible curves and a seemingly precarious structure that appears as if it could only exist in a 3D rendering. Yet the Danish manufacturer Carl Hansen & Søn took Tadao Ando's dream and made it reality with a chair that stands as a feat of both manufacturing and fantasy.

The project originated with Carl Hansen & Søn (CHS). Looking to create a tribute to the great Danish furniture designer Hans Wegner, CHS approached Ando to develop a design for a lounge chair. "I have been an admirer of Wegner's craftsmanship for many years," the Pritzker Prize–winning Japanese architect said in a press release. "This was new to me, as in the past I have been used to only selecting furniture for the buildings I have created over the years."

During their first meeting in Japan, CHS informed Ando of some of the restrictions of working with wood and veneer, which he wrote in his memo book, and then waited for him to bring back his first concepts. "When we saw the first sketches and drawings, we knew that to make this chair would be one of the biggest challenges that we have ever faced in Carl Hansen & Søn," says Knud Erik Hansen, third generation owner and CEO of Carl Hansen & Son. "Not only was the chair large, but the bending of the veneer was designed beyond what had ever been made."


Posted by Carly Ayres  |  10 Jan 2014  |  Comments (1)


Bang & Olufsen's new BeoPlay A9 wireless speaker is unusual in a couple of respects. First, there's its strange saucer-like form, with a 2.3-foot-diameter disc perched on a wooden tripod. But perhaps even more unorthodox is its development story, as told to me recently by the Danish designer Øivind Alexander Slaatto.

A9 marks the first manufactured product for Slaatto; previously, he "didn't even have a single toothpick in production." Surviving in Copenhagen as a tuba performer and a caregiver, Slaatto had to borrow the money (and a shirt) to cross Denmark and knock on the door of Bang & Olufsen's headquarters, arriving unannounced with his portfolio in hand. Surprisingly, B&O agreed to meet with him—and although the company rejected most of the work in his portfolio, it nevertheless saw promise in his ideas.

B&O decided to let Slaatto work in its studio with then head of design Flemming Møller Pedersen, with whom Slaatto completed the design proposal for what eventually became A9. "The idea only took a few days to come up with, but to turn it into reality took several months," Slaatto says. "I was involved all the way to the final production. I think it was worth the hard work."



Posted by Carly Ayres  |  20 Dec 2013  |  Comments (0)


In a world where almost everything can be controlled with the click of a button (or a clap of your hands), even the kerosene lantern is getting an upgrade with Vela, a portable, Bluetooth-enabled lamp that can be controlled using your smartphone.

Following a family camping trip, Joe VanFaasen, a designer at the Holland, Michigan-based firm Twisthink, found himself unsatisfied with the lantern options currently on the market. "What I found were the classic Coleman kerosene lanterns, which I admire, but they present a fire and gas hazard, especially with two little boys and a little girl running around," VanFaasen says. Although LED versions proved more convenient and safer, VanFaasen felt that they lacked the appropriate aesthetic and often gave off a cold, bluish light. "They all felt like either overly commoditized knock-offs or hyper-tactical backcountry-type lights," he says.

Recognizing a need and looking to fill a gap in the market, VanFaasen set about designing the perfect portable light for any scenario not only camping but everyday household use as well. And he wondered how he could incorporate "smart" technology to set it apart from other portable LEDs currently available.



Posted by Carly Ayres  |  13 Dec 2013  |  Comments (2)


Early this year, on a surf-and-ski trip gone awry, the San Franciso–based designers Wylie Robinson and Nick Polinko found themselves stranded in their car overnight in sub-zero temperatures. Luckily, they had sleeping bags, which not only kept them warm until they could get their car towed but gave them an idea for a new product—a high-performance blanket for the home that they dubbed the Rumpl and launched on Kickstarter this month.

"We felt that the soft, warm, durable materials used in our bags had the potential for many uses other than camping or super-technical apparel," Polinko says. "We realized the everyday blanket was severely lacking a modern update, and the boring style options at local home supply mega-stores were dull and repetitive." Looking at the options available, they noticed that everything seemed to be made for either college students or Martha Stewart. With a shared spite for dealing with clumsy duvet covers and an affinity for the feel of technical materials, the two knew they could develop something better. "We set out to solve a problem that we had, and found out that lots of other people felt the same way," Robinson says.

But realizing their vision was hardly a straightforward task. Robinson and Polinko knew exactly what kind of material they wanted—a durable, water-resistant coated nylon like the kind found in high-end jackets and sleeping bags. Their first step was to source the material in bulk, a surprisingly challenging task. With backgrounds in product design and graphic/environmental design, respectively, Polinko and Robinson had a lot of experience building new products from scratch, but never in the soft-goods department. To fill that gap, they brought in an apparel designer.




Posted by Carly Ayres  |   6 Dec 2013  |  Comments (2)


If your holiday shopping list includes any serious home cooks, there is probably nothing you can get them that will be as useful, or as appreciated, as a high-quality knife. But buying chef's knives is hardly a straightforward matter—indeed, the world of knife-making is its own complicated and fascinating design niche.

Recently, I set out to learn more about the design of Japanese knives, which have become increasingly widely available in the United States through brands like Shun and Global. [Editor's Note: Our own Hand-Eye Supply offers a few options from the more obscure Midori Hamano.] Not surprisingly, Japanese knife manufacturers take their craft very seriously. Shun, for instance, describes its blade as "a way of life"—and the name Shun (rhymes with "moon") is derived from a Japanese word that refers to the moment when a piece of fruit is at its sweetest, the peak of perfection.

This perfectionist approach trickles down to every aspect of the Japanese knife manufacturing process, which traces its roots back to the blade-making tradition of ancient samurai swords. Companies like Shun and Global pride themselves in the fact that none of their knives leave the factory untouched by human hands, as the final balancing process requires a myriad of hand-working techniques by skilled craftsmen to achieve the ideal weight.


Weight is one of the key areas where Eastern- and Western-styles knives differ. Eastern knives tend to be balanced with the weight in the blade, allowing for quick and easy chopping with no additional pressure. The Chinese cleaver is an excellent example of this, having a rectangular blade and a slight curve for easily mincing and dicing food using only a slight rocking motion. Western knives, more often, are neutral-balanced, meaning that the center of gravity exists at the "pinch point," or where the blade meets the bolster. This allows the chef to pinch the knife between the blade and the handle.

"Think of how a sushi chef works," says Tommie Lucas, the product development manager in the housewares division of Kai USA Ltd., the Stateside division of Kai Group, which manufacturers Shun cutlery. "They swiftly chop tons of fish and vegetables into clean, tiny pieces. That cut needs to be as seamless as possible and, since it's so repetitive, the motion needs to be easy and effortless."


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."


Posted by Rachel Swaby  |   4 Oct 2013  |  Comments (6)


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

When Slava Menn of the Fortified Bicycle Alliance decided to design a theft-proof bike light, he solicited ideas from as many bicycle enthusiasts, engineers and passersby as he could convince to offer an opinion. So when he was ready to put the light's mettle to the test, once again he turned to the crowd.

One afternoon last year, Menn and his business partner, Tivan Amour, headed out to Kendall Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to invite passersby to walk away with their theft-resistant bike light. The team announced in poster board and Sharpie: "Free bike lights... if you can steal them." Next to the light, Menn offered an array of bicycle light–busting tools: needle-nose pliers, an Allen wrench, lock wrenches and heavy-duty plumbing wrenches. If strangers could pry the light from the bike in two minutes ("No opportunistic thief will spend more than two minutes," explains Menn), the light was theirs to keep.

Over the course of an hour and a half, 20 to 30 people faced off against the lock. Menn believes the location offered a strong set beta of testers. "It's a tech-y, entrepreneurial community," he says. "But it wasn't until we got a bike-shop mechanic coming in that we got a little bit nervous." Thanks to the early wisdom of the crowd, not a single light was stolen.

FortifiedBicycleAlliance-AntiTheftLights-2.jpgAfter launching the Defender last year, Fortified is working on two new lights called Aviator (left) and Afterburn.


Posted by Rachel Swaby  |  27 Sep 2013  |  Comments (2)


In the Details is our weekly look at one especially smart, innovative or unusual detail—or, in this case, two details—of a new design.

Urbanears' latest set of in-ear headphones, called Kransen, has two unique features which together keep its cords tidy and readily accessible.

The first, dubbed Snap Construction, connects the two earbuds back-to-back with, you guessed it, a simple snap. The second, called Cable Loop, secures the coiled cords via some acrobatics of the plug. The innovations were developed separately, a year and a half apart and for two different brands. Only when combined in the Kransen did the solutions really shine.

The idea for Snap Construction arose three years ago during an argument between two of the Stockholm-based company's founders. They were trying to agree upon a way to easily store earbuds during a momentary interruption in music listening—say, while talking to a grocery store cashier. Putting the headphones away is an unnecessary and time-consuming chore. Keeping them in is just rude. So where do you put them? The idea then on the table—to make one side of the earbuds extra long so it could be flung over a shoulder—was, one founder claimed, fundamentally uncool.

A children's-store display solved the quibble—and got rid of that asymmetrical-cord idea forever. Someone at the toy store had built a pair of non-functioning headphones out of Legos. As it happens, some folks at Urbanears had done consulting work with Lego, and the display resonated. Urbanears' design director and co-founder, Marcus Von Euler-Rudbäck, wondered, "What if you could snap [the earbuds] around your neck all day, and when someone calls, snap them off?"


Posted by Rachel Swaby  |  20 Sep 2013  |  Comments (0)

TuneChair-StefanDiez-1.jpgPhotos © Jonathan Mauloubier (left) and Mario Gastinger

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

The German designer Stefan Diez has been working on the same chair, more or less, for seven years. His latest version, called Tune, was released this summer as a part of the exhibition Seven Studies, held at a furniture showroom in Munich. Compared to the first version of the chair, Tune is a little brighter and a little more bespoke. But the skeleton is the same. In fact, it's those bones that gave the original chair its name.

Chassis was developed for the residential and office furniture company Wilkhahn starting in 2006. (It didn't reach consumers until 2011.) "They have quite a reputation, and I was quite ambitious about trying something new," says Diez. He aimed to build the chair from strong sheet-metal parts, and then wondered: Why couldn't the manufacturing process match the materials? Diez consulted with automobile suppliers based in Germany and the Netherlands about using a modern car-manufacturing method for his chairs. They decided on space-frame technology, where 300 tons of pressure deep-draws a fine steel sheet used for the frame.

TuneChair-StefanDiez-2.jpgDiez (center) with prototypes of his new Tune chair, which is a reworking of his earlier Chassis design



Posted by Rachel Swaby  |   6 Sep 2013  |  Comments (1)


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

About a year ago, James Smith set out to design a lamp with what turned out to be a challenging set of parameters. With a bachelor's degree in product design and sustainability, and an apprenticeship in cabinetmaking, Smith, who is based Cornwall, England, aimed for something with a simple, stripped-down appearance that was made sustainably. "I wanted to try and create a lamp that has the same sort of functionality as angle pulleys—and to do it all using timber and as many natural materials as possible," Smith says. "It was an exercise in structure and engineering to see what I could achieve without any mechanical components."

Smith chose ash wood as the base material—not only because it's fast growing and indigenous to the UK, but also because he could source the strips from a place he has a connection to: his parents' farm, which has some forestland as well as livestock. When a tree needs to come down, Smith buys the lumber from his father.

JamesSmith-TaskLamp-7.jpgAll photos by Artur Tixliski


Posted by Rachel Swaby  |  30 Aug 2013  |  Comments (0)


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

Daniel McLaughlin's final project for London's Royal College of Art, where he graduated with a master's in innovation design engineering last spring, is a tribute both to his home country of New Zealand and to the good old-fashioned process of trial and error. McLaughlin embarked on the project without any real idea of what kind of product he was trying to make; his one starting point was that he wanted to find a way to utilize waste produced by New Zealand's wool industry, one of the cornerstones of the country's economy.

But what kind of product could he make out of wool waste? McLaughlin tried dunking the material in oil (to observe its natural hydroscopy); lighting it on fire (to watch it self-extinguish); and mixing it with wood glue and polyurethane resins to create rigid felt panels. The latter experiments were promising—what if, McLaughlin wondered, he could make the wool not just rigid but structural?—but they were obviously not environmentally friendly.