Posted by Sam Dunne
| 16 Jan 2015
Just the mention of the word "termite" can send many American homeowners, wood workers or furniture enthusiasts running for the hills. So it seems an unusual idea that we might actually consider welcoming these little home wreckers into our living rooms voluntarily.
Enter Chris Poehlmann—an exhibition builder veteran who fell for these misunderstood wood munchers whilst constructing a live habitat for them as part of a museum installation. Since then, Chris has been experimenting in his workshop, trying to find a way to bring the beauty that he saw in the swarm of insects devouring a log, into the home. Fast-forward the duration of one Kickstarter campaign and Chris has raised a over $18k (his original target was $5000) to produce two sizes of what he has dubbed "Termitat", an escape-proof exhibit for your very own colony.
As an avid documenter, collector and all around object enthusiast, my accumulation of 'stuff' from design school and beyond would rival designers much older than myself. In notebooks alone I have managed to fill many a bookshelf. Even a recent downsize upon relocating to Germany has done little to stymie the flow of sketchbooks, notepads, drawings etc.
Perhaps because of this, I immediately felt a kindred spirit in Jay Cousins, industrial designer and inventor of the 'Betabook' a current campaign on Kickstarter. Betabook was developed out of Cousins' experiments in living simply and with minimal objects—an interest he discussed as ranging from purging lesser-used objects to an anecdote about attempting to live in only 3 square meters of his Berlin apartment.
The Betabook is a direct result of Cousin's effort to take stock of his notebooks and sketchbooks nearly two years ago, only to find that the majority of their contents no longer retained enough value to warrant keeping. He began to experiment with alternatives, eventually removing the pages and recovering the bindings with a reusable whiteboard surface and documenting the important pages through digital photos. Cousins was later joined by co-founders of the creative studio KS12, Patrizia Kommerell and Gabriel Shalom to design and produce the final iteration of the Betabook as a consumer product.
Today ends, successfully, the Kickstarter run of the Plug & Feather watches we wrote about earlier, which have unique stone faces. Now another watch made from an elemental material--wood--is also nearing the end of its crowdfunding run. And interestingly enough, these latter watches were designed by two teenage brothers.
Reed and Riley Stephens are 18 and 16 years old, respectively, and come from a line of woodworkers, following in the footsteps of their father and grandfather. Their Ambici watches come in ebony, koa, maple and sandalwood, and were carefully designed to avoid a potential materials conflict: Wood movement.
[With other wooden watches] the shrinking of the wood over time...often leads to a cracked crystal that is challenging to replace simply because the opening of the watch is now smaller. So essentially, there's an expiration date on the watch because of its wooden case....
Ambici watches [feature an] internal metal casing [that] prevents the wood from shrinking over time and cracking the crystal. It also adds weight to the watch [and offers] additional water resistance that typical wooden watches don't.
The pledging period ends five days from today, and the chosen date isn't arbitrary: It's the birthday of the Stephens brothers' departed grandmother, who suffered from Alzheimer's. Their goal is to start a watch company not just for profit, but to help fund Alzheimer's research.
At press time they were quite close, at $11,450 of a $12,500 goal. You can get in on it here.
When watchmaking startup Plug & Feather says their timepieces are "built from timeless materials," they mean it. The faces are made out of stone, milled down to an unthinkable 1mm. The company reckons they're the first to pull this off, and they're not using run-of-the-mill rocks either: They offer (pictured in order, below) Snowflake Obsidian, Cloud Jasper, Sodalite, Carnelian and Charoite.
"Every watch face has been milled from a different sliver of stone giving it a set of marbling and coloring that is entirely unique to that very piece," the company writes. "No two watches are exactly the same."
What's even more shocking is the price--just $99 per watch, at least for a lucky few, meaning the first 100 backers on Kickstarter. And while those are all gone, the next level up starts at $104, with 95 slots left at the time of writing.
Here's the pitch:
This one's no sure thing, however: At press time the campaign was at $20,000 of a $30,000 goal, with nine days left to pledge.
Scott Stowell's Design for People was one of our Gift Guide picks this year, by way of Etsy Creative Director Randy Hunt. But we've gotta plug it again because it's in danger of not happening.
To refresh your memory, Design for People is a book by Scott Stowell, founder of design consultancy Open. The purpose of the book is to "[tell] the stories of our biggest projects through interviews with clients, consultants, designers, interns, vendors—and regular people who use the stuff we make, including my Mom and Dad (and maybe you!)," Stowell writes. "If you like to get into the details of how things work, Design for People is for you." The book also features the contributions of Core77 veterans Emily Pilloton, Bryn Smith and Alissa Walker.
Stowell has opted to self-publish, and the book is currently on Kickstarter. Here's the thing: It's short of its target with $44,000 pledged towards a $50,000 goal, and there's only three days left to pledge. The book is close, and just needs that final push!
Have a look at the trailer and see if it doesn't tickle your fancy:
Fancy tickled? Then get in there and pledge!
"I noticed I was using packs and packs of mechanical pencils at work as disposable items," writes Andrew Sanderson, who spent six years as an aircraft propulsion technician and a decade as a gas turbine engineer. He subsequently switched to product design, with the goal of creating a mechanical pencil that you could keep and use forever.
"I set out to design a mechanical pencil that would reduce the waste, be a testament to U.S. manufacturing and design, and not break the bank," Sanderson explains. "Having a single mechanical pencil that replaces the endless packs of plastic that end up sitting it landfills and floating in our oceans has to be a good thing."
What most impressed me about Sanderson's design is how he endeavored to hide the seams. It really does look like the conical tip and the shaft are one solid, machined piece, though of course they're not. Take a closer look:
Posted by Sam Dunne
| 1 Dec 2014
On first glimpse of the HashKey—perhaps as a result of Kickstarter overexposure—my heart sank under the weight of my tumbling faith in humanity and fear for its future. Fortunately, on closer inspection, I found sweet salvation in the realization this was, of course, a product conceived with an eyebrow raised and a tongue in cheek (see also).
Whilst, of course, nobody in their right mind is going to dedicate one of their ever decreasing number of USB ports to such a device, the HashKey makes an amusing observation of the low prioritization of the hashtag key on traditional Qwerty keyboards, especially in contrast to their mobile equivalents—I dread to think of the number of fledgling Twitter adopters copying and pasting the symbol. Whether the (overhyped?) hashtag will ever be promoted to a higher prominence in keyboard culture is yet to be seen, but I can already hear the cogs in the brains of Microsoft's and Samsung's innovation teams turning.
One could argue that luggage design hasn't kept pace with modern-day travel needs. Thus entrepreneurs Gaston Blanchet and Jesse Potash, both of whom travel a lot and were dissatisfied with current luggage offerings, set out to produce a contemporary, aluminum-and-polycarbonate carry-on and full-sized suitcase called the Trunkster line. Here's how they approached it:
Problem: Your phone battery's dying, leading you on one of those where's-a-free-power-outlet search across the airport.
Solution: On-board battery with enough juice to charge your phone nine times over.
Problem: You packed too much weight and got hit with overage fees by the airline.
Solution: Digital scale (both Imperial and Metric) embedded in the handle. Pick it up and the readout tells you the exact weight.
Problem: The airline lost your bag. They're not sure where it is.
Solution: Built-in GPS means you can see whether your bag is somewhere in the terminal and worth waiting for, or if it's back at Dallas-Fort-Worth and you should just expect it later.
Problem: Unzipping both sides of the front flap on the typical carry-on, then swinging the flap open, can be an awkward operation in tight spaces.
Solution: The Trunkster has a roll-top front that opens like a secretary desk.
I'm not totally sold on that last one, as the flap on a carry-on provides me with useful storage space, both on the inside and out of it. The outside pockets on the flap are where I dump the contents of my pockets during the TSA screening, and the inside pockets are where I sort my toiletries.
Another Trunkster feature I'm not 100% on is that they've moved the handle supports to the side of the suitcase, citing the following:
We can think of few worse elements of luggage than flimsy telescopic handles. They break, get in the way of packing, and are nearly useless when moving heavy bags. Trunkster features a robust, side-to-side handle that gives you absolute control and enhanced balance through many grip positions. Plus, the handle's special design allows for an uninterrupted cargo space for optimum packing capacity.
In my eyes, the channel for the handle supports take up the same amount of interior volume on the sides as they do on the rear.
Posted by Kat Bauman
| 17 Nov 2014
Forgive me, actual bike mechanics of the world, for what I am about to share. But if you, the common bike fancier, have ever thought bamboo bikes looked really cool, or read about their enjoyable ride qualities, or dreamed of someday making your own, check this out. Bamboobee is a DIY bamboo bike building kit. Pony up for the kit in the next nine days, and you'll receive seven precut and mitered pieces of bamboo, the necessary frame hardware (aluminum headset and bottom bracket sleeves, cable guides, dropouts...), a couple simple tools, and an interesting flat-pack snap together frame jig. Just supply the epoxy for wrapping joints, the basic ability to follow directions, and virtually every component, and you could be zipping around town and country on a distinctive stiff-yet-compliant bamboo bike of your own making. The campaign was created by a seemingly experienced bamboo builder and it's already 300% funded, so you're at risk for very little except impatience.
Posted by Ray
| 7 Nov 2014
Premium coffee is kind of a thing these days, thanks largely to the likes of Stumptown and Blue Bottle, and the nuances of brewing a perfect cup hits a sweet spot of quasi-gastronomical experimentation... not least because it's something that many of us do on a daily basis. Now, as you sip your java juice this morning, I invite you to consider what is quite possibly the most high-tech consumer-level coffeemaker ever (it's only feature creep if it tells you the weather forecast, amirite?).
The Bruvelo is a veritable counterpoint to another Kickstarted take on pourover that we saw earlier this year. Sure, the user needs to measure the beans and mind the water temperature—as is true of any decent brew—but Craighton Berman's "Manual" coffeemaker (that is literally what it's called) is intended to be a sculptural showpiece as much as it is a pourover apparatus. Slated to ship this month, the bell-jar-like coffeemaker may well leapfrog the chemex as a coffee-nerd conversation piece—though it's certainly more practical than, say, a Juicy Salif, the holy grail of mantle-worthy kitchenware.
Posted by Ray
| 4 Nov 2014
Surely some of you remember the toy called Shrinky Dinks, the polystyrene toy that allows users to turn pieces of plastic into smaller pieces of plastic. (According to Wikipedia, 90's alt-rockers Sugar Ray were originally known as 'Shrinky Dinx' until Milton Bradley threatened a lawsuit—more nostalgia than you asked for on a Tuesday morning, I know.) If it's a somewhat dated reference, I must say that I envy the children of the future, who may well grow up with the parentally supervised fun of the 3D printing thanks to iBox Printers. The Melbourne, FL-based company's flagship Nano model is available for pre-order for under $300 on Kickstarter.
We've previously seen a similarly diminutive CNC machine, but the iBox is rather more impressive, considering that 3D printing adds a veritable dimension of complexity. Moreover, the portable device is quiet, lightweight and can run on batteries, all thanks to the use of ultra-efficient LCD lamps to UV-cure the resin. Made from a series of stacked acrylic plates, the housing looks something like a tissue box, with an overhead-projector-style print head; on the UI end, the Nano is controlled primarily via mobile/web app over WiFi.
A professional photographer whom I know told me he'd never own any car that wasn't a van. When shooting guerilla-style on the streets of NYC, he explained, it's crucial to have a mobile changing room for the models to switch outfits in.
The desire to not be seen naked in public is not the sole domain of fashion models. For women who exercise outdoors, absent the facilities of a gym, they run into the issue of where to change out of their sweaty workout clothes. (We guys are less picky about who sees us in our boxer shorts in a parking lot.)
Thus endurance athletes and business partners Dennis Caco and April Estrada invented the Undress, a clever assemblage of fabric that allows females to change outfits in broad daylight, all without exposing themselves:
Some of you might underestimate demand for something like the Undress. But take note that Caco and Estrada were looking for a measly $22,000 to get it of the ground, and by the time the project was successfully Kickstarted yesterday, they found $615,663 in the pledge coffer.
For those who missed the Kickstarter, the Undress can still be pre-ordered on its own website.
Posted by Jeri Dansky
| 30 Oct 2014
What kind of organizing products get funded (or try to get funded) on Kickstarter? Having written about the HYVE system, I wondered what else I'd find there. When I went looking, I found designers offering a wide range of interesting stuff.
Anyone who carries keys and a smart phone in the same pocket might be interested in using the KeyDisk 2 to hold those keys. And even those who don't might be intrigued by the design. It can hold up to nine keys, and has a car fob attachment. Membership cards can fit inside, too. It's made from sandblasted and anodized aluminum and uses custom-made screws. People who funded the original KeyDisk are coming back to fund this updated version, which is slightly lighter and holds more keys. The one disadvantage is finding the right key quickly; you need to remember where each key is relative to the KeyDisk logo. This product has already met its funding goal, and will go live on Dec. 5.
For those who aren't happy with the multitude of cable organizers currently on offer, there's the Cablestop. Cablestop has a polycarbonate body and two stainless steel interior weights. The plans are to manufacture Cablestop in Portugal; this makes it more expensive than products made in lower-cost countries, but it also means it will be made with significantly lower pollution. The designer, Philippe Guichard, is both an industrial designer and a mechanical engineer and has over 20 years of experience. Cablestop has until Nov. 4 to meet its funding goal.
End users who want to make the most of their refrigerator space might be interested in bottleLoft, a magnetic bottle holder for the refrigerator. The plastic rail is held in place with a strip of 3M VHB (very high bond) tape, a special low temperature application grade suitable for a refrigerator. The bottleLoft can be removed using a plastic putty knife/scraper to shear the adhesive sideways, and replacement adhesive strips will be made available. The designer, Brian Conti, has had four other Kickstarters that funded, including one for Strong Like Bull magnets—and this Kickstarter has met its funding goal, too. It goes live on Nov. 9.
Posted by Ray
| 30 Oct 2014
Hot on the heel-plate-attachment-points of Noonee's "Chairless Chair," the team at Mono+Mono has launched the "Sitpack" on Kickstarter. The Copenhagen-based design consultancy has developed what they're calling "the world's most compact, foldable resting device," and they're looking to bring the pocketable monopod to market via a crowdfunding campaign. Designed in keeping with the seven universal design principles, the form factor looks like something made by, say, Beats, but the device itself is actually entirely mechanical: The canister splits laterally into wings (which serve as the seat), revealing a telescoping leg that extends to up to 85cm (33in). We know it's that time of year, but don't try this with your kid's lightsaber toy:
Originally known as "Rest"—hence the references in the video—the "Sitpack" is essentially a further reduced version of portable camp stools or those canes with a built-in tripod-stool (both of which I came across in the USPTO archive, after a commenter tipped me off about the original 'wearable chair'), as they indicate in a tabulated side-by-side comparison on their Kickstarter page. They're available for the discounted price of kr175 DKK (about $30 USD); retail will be in the kr270 DKK ($46 USD) range—not bad, considering that they're looking to manufacture it in Denmark—see more here.
Process sketches & renders
Messenger bags make you sore on one side. I can just about guarantee those of you that wear them have one shoulder that is constantly stiffer than the other. Backpacks provide more even pressure, but then you lose the key utility of a messenger bag: The ability to quickly slide it around from back-to-front. Years ago when I switched from messenger bag to backpack, I was surprised at how much I took that utility for granted.
On a crowded subway car you want your backpack in front, to prevent pickpocketing and because it's simply good manners; when walking down the street it's a hassle to shrug out of your backpack just to grab one thing, which is why you always see pairs of backpack-wearing tourists where one is fetching something out of the other's bag for them; likewise when you're waiting for a bus which may arrive in 30 seconds or fifteen minutes, you must decide whether to shrug out of the bag and sit, or keep it on and stand.
I always assumed this was just the design trade-off inherent in the choice of form factor, but the development team behind Wolffepack have proved me wrong. These clever gents have designed a backpack that quickly docks and undocks with the shoulder straps, giving you the best of both worlds:
Who else did a double take, thinking it was Scott Wilson?
Posted by Ray
| 28 Oct 2014
Just launched on Kickstarter, Fireside is bicoastal startup that promises to revolutionize digital photography—not in how we create images and videos but how we share and enjoy them for posterity.
"1,000 songs in your pocket."
So goes the tagline for the very first iPod, released 13 years ago (nearly to the day), a quaint conceit in hindsight. In fact, history has shown that the mp3 player and iTunes alike are merely incremental steps along the path to more versatile hardware and software: Smartphones are capable of fulfilling our listening needs beyond our wildest imaginations. With the concurrent advent of 3- and 4G networks, mobile devices can extract melodies from the ether, while streaming services offer unprecedented depth and breadth when it comes to choices and recommendations, neatly categorized with tags and filtered through metadata.
A database with millions upon millions of songs is one thing, but what about other media? Video is a younger cousin of audio to the extent that it too has exploded with the twofold emergence of online hosting platforms—viz. YouTube and Vimeo—and widely accessible hardware. GoPro is a case study in itself, but even our phones are powerful enough to capture everything from historic events and major occasions to random moments between those milestones.
But if it's easier than ever to document our lives, the friction occurs at a different point in the user experience. For one thing, having hundreds of thousands of photos and videos means that each one becomes a proverbial drop in the pond, and organizing/editing them can be a chore in itself. Then there's the incongruity between shooting—for which a small but powerful device is ideal—and actually viewing the results. A glass rectangle the size of the palm of your hand may be perfect for taking a call, accessing a music library and snapping a selfie, but it's hardly the best format for appreciating the visuals that inundate our screens these days.
More on this below...
Indeed, the latest generation of iPhones marks a slight concession to Apple's competitors. Tim, Jony & co. decided that screen could stand to be bigger after all, and the sales figures validate the hypothesis thus far. With a screen that is nearly 40% bigger than that of its predecessor, the iPhone 6 is certainly easier on the eyes, not to mention the obligatory improvements in camera technology.
But it turns out that the ability to take better photos and store them in one's pocket is only half of the equation. We've all been there: We want to show someone an older photo of that Halloween costume or that trip to Paris or that street art from a few years back, and despite
camera rolls' perfunctory affordance to sort images by location or date, the virtual 'shoebox' of chronological thumbnail images leaves a lot to be desired.
Conversely—and arguably worse still—we often forget about older photos and videos as it gets buried under the figurative weight of new memories. As with ring-bound albums, one-hour-photo envelopes and dusty shoeboxes, we simply neglect to resurface bygone years despite the easy access of digital storage. Sure, there are Flickr and Facebook albums full of memories, but the former rarely occasions revisiting and the latter offers far too many distractions to offer a meaningful viewing experience.
Enter the Fireside Smartframe. As with the iPod, it's not the first device to do what it does—as you might have guessed, it's a digital picture frame—but it is intended to be the first to do it well. Co-founder Andy Jagoe introduces it as Pandora or SONOS for photos: the former reference point has far better name recognition and captures the data-as-genome element of the playlists, but the latter is slightly more accurate in that it is a source-agnostic hardware (and quasi-IoT) system. He and fellow co-founder Don Lehman acknowledged as much when they demo'd the Smartframe for me last week, in anticipation of the launch of their Kickstarter campaign this morning [disclosure: Lehman has contributed to Core77 in various capacities for over a decade].
With a lot of folks buying the Back to the Future 2 hoverboard prank earlier this year, it's no surprise that a purportedly real hoverboard just got funded on Kickstarter. (Or so we assume—at press time it was at $234,708 of a $250,000 goal, with 53 days left to pledge.) "We aim to get this technology into everyone's hands (and under everyone's feet)!" writes Hendo Hover, the California-based company behind the Hoverboard.
Yes, you can really stand on the thing and yes, it really floats, but there is a bit of a catch:
Our patented technology transmits electromagnetic energy more efficiently than previously possible, enabling platforms to hover over non-ferrous metals with payloads. It is scalable to any size and any weight.
The limitation of needing a non-ferromagnetic metal surface to float over aside, the technology still looks pretty cool.
Amazingly, only a handful of the actual backers will receive a working hoverboard; the ten units have all been snapped up at a buy-in of ten large. The sub-$10,000 tier of funding is for developer kits and short hoverboard rides at Hendo's facility.
These are exciting times for those looking to get into digital fabrication, as the technology really is starting to trickle down. With MakerBot the go-to for desktop 3D printing and ShopBot cornering the shop-based prototyping and production market, Inventables reckons there's room for something in-between: A machine it's calling Carvey, designed by Scott Wilson and MNML.
Billed as a "3D carving machine," what Carvey has in common with MakerBot's Replicator line is the fully-enclosed, desktop form factor; these are machines that could be placed in the office portion of a design firm, as opposed to the heavy-duty machines in the modelmaking shop area.
Where it differs from the MakerBot is in what it has in common with the ShopBot line: Carvey is subtractive, not additive. It's essentially a CNC mill, albeit it a miniature one. With a work area of just 12" x 8" and a Z-axis of under three inches, it's no competitor for a ShopBot (whose entry-level Desktop roughly doubles the work area in all axes), but it's not meant to be; while you won't be using Carvey to produce furniture, it's meant to be good enough to produce smaller items like sunglasses, jewelry, small signage, electronics enclosures, et cetera, out of wood, plastic or metal.
Posted by Ray
| 17 Oct 2014
L: ABC Dataset Samples; R: Photo credit: NOAA, Vancouver Aquarium.
We've long been enamored with the Eames' Powers of Ten short film, which is as much an introduction to aerial photography as it is to the math behind astronomy and biology. Just as everyone now takes beautiful images (and the retina displays to view them on) for granted, there is also a sense in which we are collectively GPS-enabled: After all, digital cartography is perhaps the most practical application of constant connectivity, and we can thank one company for the ability to zoom out to god's-(or satellites'-)eye view with a pinch of the fingers.
Benedikt Groß & Joey Lee take it even further with Aerial Bold, the "first map and typeface of the earth."
The project is literally about "reading" the earth for letterforms, or alphabet shapes, "written" into the topology of buildings, roads, rivers, trees, and lakes. To do this, we will traverse the entire planet's worth of satellite imagery and develop the tools and methods necessary to map these features hiding in plain sight.
The entire letterform database will be made available as a "usable" dataset for any of your art/design/science/textual projects and selected letterforms will be made into a truetype/opentype font format that can be imported to your favorite word processor.
Posted by Kat Bauman
| 16 Oct 2014
Do you like feeling you're on the right side of history? Do you value the true craft of storytelling (not just designers and advertisers telling you their products tell stories)? Do you love unexpected views into the lives and histories and work of others? Shh. Just click here.
The Radiotopia network kicked off last November with a super successful KS campaign spearheaded by Roman Mars and Radio PRX, who proposed banding creative indie podcasts together in a "new kind of radio." Their early efforts have paid off, with more amazing work coming out all the time. The networked shows include (my unabashed favorite) 99% Invisible, Fugitive Waves, Love + Radio, Radio Diaries, Strangers, Theory of Everything, and The Truth. They're very different, but each features a well-developed voice, interesting subject matter, and interesting production. There's fiction, history, design, sound art... Tuning in feels like stumbling on that special driveway moment more times than not. They've all expanded a ton in the first year, now they're moving into a second year of programming with the aim of bolstering the original member shows and bringing more into the fold.
Unsurprisingly (the founding podcast is entirely about design) the campaign has some good looking perks to offer. There are the standard attractive shirts and mugs, but there are also interesting prints, beautiful headphones, a chance at guest producing episodes, storytelling workshops, and the chance to get a stranger as a pen pal, among several others. That's awesome.
If you ever find yourself enjoying (or craving more) podcasts as you stoop over your work for hours, do yourself a favor and give Radiotopia a little love.
Industrial design student Quentin Debaene's Dyson-Powered Invisible Umbrella concept generated strong interest when we showed it to you last year. Created as submission for the James Dyson Award, Debaene estimated that his fabric-less umbrella design, which would blow air so forcefully that falling water would be repelled, could be built in the year 2050. Now, however, a self-described research team in China is claiming they can produce an air-blowing, no-fabric umbrella by next year.
As of yesterday, the anonymous development team has successfully Kickstarted their Air Umbrella project (with a shockingly low US $10,000 target).
But before you get too excited, a couple of caveats. One is that the development team's identity and credentials are murky. While they say "We are a R&D team from China. Most of our members hold Ph.D/Master degree of Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics or Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics," the only person listed by name on the campaign, a Chuan Wang, has a Facebook profile that does not list a college degree, indicating only that s/he "studied at" Southeast University in Nanjing.
Caveat number two is that the error-riddled presentation is a bit underwhelming. But we'll let you be the judge:
Posted by Moa Dickmark
| 14 Oct 2014
When I write about projects and people that I find interesting, I often wonder "Why the heck don't more people know about these projects/people?" You can say that I see it as my duty to spread the word, to inform people about the things going on out there, and make sure that you don't miss out on all the awesomeness that is to be found in various places, and within people... which is a long way of introducing Communitere.
When disaster hit Haiti back in 2010, Sam Bloch was working on a custom-made lighting system for a weekend cabin up in the mountains. He had finished work for the day and was sitting in a bar, drinking a well-deserved beer, when he saw the news about the earthquake. Right then and there (because it sounds more dramatic that way), he decided that he needed to be there. He packed his big backpack with as few private things as possible and filled the rest up with tools. About a week later, he was standing in the middle of the disaster area with the feeling that he had made the right choice and was in the exact place that he needed to be. And although that moment marked the beginning of Communitere, Sam had already been working in disaster relief for about six years.
The name itself, Communitere—which I first thought was French—stands for Communities United In Response, Relief & Renewal.
What works, and what doesn't
With quite a few years within the field, Sam had gathered a fair share of insight into what worked and what didn't work. One of the problems he had identified was the lack of innovation within the global aid industry. Where there's no margin to fail, there's no margin for innovation, at the same time as it's easy to argue that this lack of innovation is failure in itself.
This lack of innovation is the problem that Communitere took to heart and decided to make into its main focus. By creating Resource Centers, spaces that also know as "Spaces of Safe Failure," they have established big workshops where the locals inhabitants can learn how to build their own homes; use the tools provided in the workshops; use the space to work on new ideas; and collaborae with visitors on prototypes and projects to solve a specific problem.
As Bloch says, "You can't empower people, the only thing you can do is give them the tools to empower themselves."
"Focus on solving the problems that others are not"
It's one thing to think that you know what the people you want to help want, but actually knowing what they want may be a whole 'nother thing. There's also a difference between knowing what they want and what they truly need. Needs can be tricky in the sense that sometimes what you need the most is something that you didn't even know existed—a problem that might be so ingrained in your day-to-day life to that you don't even see it as a problem, but rather you take it for granted.
One of the problems you encounter in the world of aid is oftentimes many organizations focusing on solving the same problem without communicating with one another what they are up to, at what time, where, and so on and so forth. This results in redundant efforts, resources going to waste, as well as other areas being neglected when it comes to support, products or medicine.
Posted by Ray
| 8 Oct 2014
TIL, in a 2008 New Yorker article (via Wikipedia of course), that "There are so many people with ideas about umbrellas that the Patent Office has four full-time examiners assessing their claims." Author Susan Orlean continues:
One of the problems, according to Ann Headley, the director of rain-product development for Totes [the largest umbrella company in the country], is that umbrellas are so ordinary that everyone thinks about them, and, because they're relatively simple, you don't need an advanced degree to imagine a way to redesign them, but it's difficult to come up with an umbrella idea that hasn't already been done.
Although I stopped short of diving into Class 135 of the ol' USPTO archive, the well-told product development saga served as a nice backgrounder on the umbrella in relation to a purportedly novel take on the very same. While Orlean's subject, artist/inventor Steve Hollinger, ended up licensing his umbrella to a toy company—patented in 2006, it doesn't seem to have made it into production—the "SA" has just launched on Kickstarter:
Posted by Ray
| 1 Oct 2014
Having just spent a week in China, my circadian rhythm is pretty much entirely out of sync at this point. Traveling 12 hours into the future was rougher than it had ever been, and now that I'm back, I expect that my usual sleep deprivation will be further compounded by jetlag. Well, Studio Banana Things is looking to put sleepnessness to rest, so to speak, by putting the powernap literally within arm's length away with the new "Ostrich Pillow Mini."
If only all industrial designers paid as much attention to ergonomics as this engineer.
Michigan-based Michael Chou is a dad who loves ice cream, and has scooped a lot of it out for his kids. Here's the thing: He likes the ice cream when it's frozen solid, not partially melted, and found that he couldn't effectively get it out of the container using a conventional ice cream scoop.
An aerospace engineer by training, Chou examined the problem and found the standard ice cream scoop was at fault. "Current ice cream scoops are designed in a way that forces you to use weak wrist joints to scoop ice cream," he writes. "When you are scooping ice cream with standard ice cream scoops, you are doing a prying motion. This prying motion puts tremendous amounts of stress on your weak wrist joints. Your brain then tries to save your wrists by not letting you pry very hard—thus making scooping ice cream very difficult."
Using his "engineer's understanding of ergonomic design and mechanical force," Chou hit the drawing board to create a better scoop. Give it up to the man--it took him three years and some 38 prototypes before he perfected his design, and as most of it was worked on after-hours, he calls it the Midnight Scoop.
[With the Midnight Scoop], you're not using the small weak muscles located inside the wrist. Instead, you hold the curved end with the palm of your hand and "push" into the ice cream. This allows you to keep your wrists straight and protected while you use large muscles like your arms and chest—which are significantly stronger than your wrist.
...The handle is also long enough to help you reach all parts of a giant container of ice cream yet narrow enough to fit inside small pint size containers just as well.
...The front scoop section is thin enough to cut through ice cream like butter, and thick enough to last. The base of the scoop design forces ice cream to curl into that appealing ice-cream-advertisement look, every time.
Posted by Kat Bauman
| 22 Sep 2014
Weird Crap On Kickstarter can be a pretty depressing beat, but sometimes the odd and terrible offerings can give us opportunities to reflect, to learn, and to better ourselves. Today I present the case of Seatylock: yet another bike lock/bike seat hybrid. This thing addresses a few common complaints about riding in urban areas, namely that it's important to use a strong lock yet irritating to have to bring a strong lock around with you. Additionally, seats are easy to steal with nothing but a crescent or allen wrench. And so, in the age-old tradition of trying to solve too many problems with too little innovation, we get Seatylock. It's a chunky, quick-releasing seat where the attachment rails fold out as a 3-foot folding bar lock.
Yes, it's a neat package. But, obviously, your humble hate-filled author takes issue with several of these "features":
- Two-sizes-fits all approach to ergonomics? Check.
- Dubious attachment mechanism? Check.
- Proprietary parts? Check.
- Questionably tested claims about security? Check.
- Seat that bolts on and off with an allen wrench anyway? Check!
- And colors? Ch-ch-check.