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Posted by Ray  |  17 Oct 2014  |  Comments (0)

AerialBold-NOAA.jpgL: 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.

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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.

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Posted by Kat Bauman  |  16 Oct 2014  |  Comments (0)

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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.

Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  14 Oct 2014  |  Comments (14)

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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).

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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:

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Posted by Moa Dickmark  |  14 Oct 2014  |  Comments (1)

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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.

The Beginning

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."

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"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.

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Posted by Ray  |   8 Oct 2014  |  Comments (4)

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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:

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Posted by Ray  |   1 Oct 2014  |  Comments (1)

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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."

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  25 Sep 2014  |  Comments (10)

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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.

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[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.

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Posted by Kat Bauman  |  22 Sep 2014  |  Comments (1)

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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.

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Posted by Ray  |  10 Sep 2014  |  Comments (0)

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The new Apple Watch may offer navigation via a paired iPhone's GPS system, but (Maps bugs notwithstanding) wayfinding used to be a skill, especially here in New York City. While the grid of streets and avenues bears a semblance of intuitive legibility, the sinuously criss-crossing subway lines has long been rather less forgiving. The city-wide system itself originated with the merger of the privately operated IRT, BMT and IND in 1939, but each line continued to publish its own maps (sans the other two) and signage until the late 50's; the major turning point came a decade later, when the NYCTA commissioned a comprehensive overhaul of the signage and wayfinding system in 1967. Some four years in the making, Unimark International's codified design language is far more profound than the empirical typography and glyphs that characterize the subway system today; rather it captures the essence of visual communication qua user experience. Sure, any poseur can get ahold of a 1972 Subway map, but true aficionados will go for the real deal, available now on Kickstarter for the first (and last) time: the 1970 New York City Transit Authority Graphic Standards Manual, meticulously authored by the late designers Massimo Vignelli and Bob Noorda of Unimark.

Known simply as the Standards Manual, the original ring-bound text is something like the contemporary equivalent of the Rosetta Stone: a dictionary, encyclopedia case study and veritable holy text rolled (or rather Smyth-sewn) into one. As a canonical document of high modernism, it's right up there with the Gutenberg bible—a beautiful object in and of itself—and Pentagram's Jesse Reed and Hamish Smith are offering a faithful reproduction with the blessing of the Metropolitan Transit Authority itself.

In 2012—42 years after the Standards Manual was released—we discovered a rare copy in the basement of design firm Pentagram.
Now, under an exclusive agreement with the MTA, we are scanning and printing every page in a full-size hardcover book.
The MTA agreed on the reissue with one condition: it will only be available during this 30-day Kickstarter campaign.
After this campaign, the book will never be reissued again.

StandardsManual-2.jpgIs it just me, or does Standard Medium (later changed to Helvetica, of course) look kind of like a heavier version of Apple's new typeface?

Upon their initial discovery, Reed and Hamish simply published the Standards Manual digitally but have since seen fit to publish a scale reproduction of the 364-page omnibus for posterity's sake, a felicitous tribute to the recently deceased Vignelli and his unsung colleague Noorda (who passed in 2010). Narrated by Pentagram partner Michael Bierut, the reverential video is also on point; drool on your keyboard now because you won't want to ruin your copy of it:

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |   4 Sep 2014  |  Comments (0)

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The phrase "First World problems" was trenchant the first time I heard it. Now five years later, with everyone braying it and hashtagging it as the laziest of punchlines, it irritates me. But I guess it won't go away, and that's partially because of objects like the Hapifork and the people who patronize it.

That ridiculous piece of silverware is supposed to help you "eat healthier, eat slower and lose weight by eating at the right time and at the right speed." The freaking thing senses when it's in your mouth, then silently counts off the seconds until it's in your mouth again; eat too fast, and it vibrates to remind you to slow down. It was successfully Kickstarted last year and is now in production. (You can read a New York Magazine article here from a writer test-driving one.)

Meanwhile, Glasgow-based ID firm 4c Design is working on an actually useful eating utensil. Working closely with a gent named Grant Douglas, who has "a combination of ataxic and athetoid cerebral palsy [that] has affected my hand control, speech and walking pattern since birth," 4c designed the S'up Spoon, whose particularly ergonomic handle and deeper bowl are meant to ease mealtimes for those with hand tremors.

"Eating in a restaurant would just be unthinkable before," Douglas told Design Week UK. "[The S'up Spoon] is a major breakthrough. I can eat Chinese with two portions of rice as well as ice-cream totally independently and with very little spillage."

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Posted by Kat Bauman  |  19 Aug 2014  |  Comments (0)

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Second verse, better than the first. Alex Szabo-Haslam made delicate waves last year with elegant printed visualizations of his favorite electronic songs, and he's back at it with an even wider range of artists. The project was born when Szabo-Haslam, a designer with a background in music promotion, had the urge to turn the Aphex Twin song Windowlicker into something more physically tangible. Using waveform visualizations of frequencies in iconic songs, he bent and paired the resulting forms with bold colors and called it good. So did everybody who managed to grab one of those early editions. The first series of bold prints was a quick hit, and now he's widened the scope and deepened the beautiful options. Where last year there were 12 prints on offer with one special edition, this time around there are 28 limited edition options and a special edition—this time the gorgeous gold on bronze print for the LFO track We Are Back seen above.

While still heavy on the deep dance tracks, the breadth is awesome. He's featured Donna Summer to Daft Punk, Left Field to Jeff Mills, Cabaret Voltaire to Surgeon... And the stylized graphics, while conceptually limited, manage to stand out beautifully with the interesting waveforms and colors chosen. The silkscreened prints come on heavy paper from GF Smith, including some beautiful metallics and cool pebbled textures. I may be impressionable but each color does seem to fit its track. I'm also no dance music historian, so I'm particularly amused by the grouped sets of prints, stuck trying to decide exactly what makes each mini collection internally distinct. The project is just a couple days in and already funded, so get in quick if you want one of these sweet limited edition prints for music dorks. If nothing else, it's a great excuse to re-listen to some key classics.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  18 Aug 2014  |  Comments (1)

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From Australia comes this clever re-think of the common butter knife. Sydney-based industrial designers Sacha Pantschenko, Norman Oliveria and Craig Andrews put their heads together and came up with the ButterUp, which adds a row of precisely-shaped holes to the blunt edge of the blade. This enables one to "grate" a cold stick of butter, creating easier-to-spread ribbons:

It's not surprising that the ButterUp quickly reached (and tripled) its Kickstarter funding target, garnering AUD $126,213 at press time over a $38,000 goal; what is surprising is how badly, and quickly, people want this design. Rather than opt for the least-expensive, $12-per-unit buy-in with a March 2015 delivery date, nearly a hundred backers opted to pay $60 to have a single unit delivered by this September! These people take their toast seriously.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  15 Aug 2014  |  Comments (1)

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Price inflation doesn't usually make a physical noise, but it did in 2008, in Cam Woods' neck of the woods. As gas prices rose to $4.50 a gallon, California-based Woods noticed that less folks were driving and more folks were buzzing around town on mopeds and motorized bikes. "All of these bikes were using 2-stroke engines that sounded like chainsaws on steroids," he writes. "I thought the forest was being cut down."

Woods reasoned that there must be a quieter, cleaner alternative than whipping around on a smoke-billowing two-stroke engine, and as a bicycle/motorcycle prototype builder for nearly two decades, he was in a position to do something about it. His work background made him well aware of a certain ubiquitous and tiny (50cc) Honda motor with a very long history:

The Honda 4-stroke horizontal OHV motor is the most popular and most copied engine in the world. It was first introduced in the Honda Mini-Trail 50 in 1969 and is still being used today almost unchanged in the CRF50. Companies in China have been making copies of the Honda engine for years with all kinds of variations in design and displacement, but all have the same motor mounts as the Honda. The copies of the Honda XR50 spawned a whole group of minibikes called "pitbikes." The amount of aftermarket performance parts for the Honda XR50 and its pitbike clones is endless.

Woods figured that the ubiquity and affordability of the motor—you can buy them used and inexpensive on Craigslist and eBay, and a new Chinese-made 50cc Lifan clone can be had for a little over $200—made it the ideal DIY snap-in powerplant. He then Frankensteined together a bike using off-the-shelf mountain bike parts connected to a custom frame and swing arm of his own design, and mechanically solved the problem of having both a motor and pedals capable of driving the rear wheel.

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Woods dubbed his invention the Motoped Motorized Bicycle. It was reliable, lightweight compared to a motorcycle, and slightly heavier than a two-stroke but a lot cleaner and quieter. It was also pretty efficient, delivering 120 miles of travel on a single gallon of gas. And swapping in larger motors was also possible; popping in something closer to a 150cc meant you could go as fast as 65 m.p.h, though the mileage dropped down to closer to 90 miles per gallon.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  12 Aug 2014  |  Comments (3)

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David Yamnitsky and Isabella Tromba are grad students at MIT, with degrees and degrees-to-be in the unchallenging, trifling fields of Cryptography, Math, Electrical Engineering, Computer Science and Computer Security--or as we ID'ers refer to these fields collectively, Meh.

The duo were seeking to purchase standing desks for themselves, but balked at the going rates. They then disrespectfully decided to design their own, despite being too lazy to apply to a four-year design program. With access to a CNC router, and under the assumption that their math and computer skills would enable them to calculate a balance between light weight and structural support, the pair produced what they're calling the Press Fit Standing Desk, which sells for less than $200.

In an effort to poison our foreign relations, the duo opted not to use formaldehyde-based plywood from overseas, but instead located a local supplier of 100%-formaldehyde-free maple plywood. Their cynical choice to design something fastener-free is an obvious attempt to undermine the hardware industry. And in what amounts to an attack on the printing and paper industries, Yamnitsky and Tromba opted not to include assembly instructions with their design, leaving befuddled consumers that don't have degrees in Rocket Science to try to puzzle out how this thing could possibly come together.

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Placed on Kickstarter, the Press Fit Standing Desk hit its $10,000 funding target in a matter of days, probably because confused consumers were trying to fund a different project and don't understand how the website works. Anyways, at press time, the Press Fit hadn't even quadrupled it, with $37,000 in funding and 13 days left to pledge, indicating that the confusion is growing.

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Posted by Kat Bauman  |  11 Aug 2014  |  Comments (2)

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Do your off-the-shelf earbuds fall out during javelin practice? Did the wings you taped to your bluetooth headset rip off once you started working on the pottery wheel? Do you struggle to find tasteful, elegant earrings to comfortably cram inside your ear canals? Let OwnPhones take the pain away, and make you look super glam while they're at it, with wireless 3D printed headphones modeled to your own ears. And there's no mail-in ear putty involved. You gather your ears' data points using nothing but your smartphone, their app, and an object used for size-reference.

Much like our musical tastes, our ears vary wildly in multiple dimensions. As pointed out in their flashy project video, offering just a couple sizes to meet the needs of such dramatically different users leaves a lot of room for improvement. And that's just fit! Most earbuds range from nondescript to pretty ugly. These wireless headphones offer good sound quality and fit, but are also customizable in intense ways. There are four types available: Fit, Designer Fit, Smart Fit and Jewelry. Those correspond with basic 3D-printed plastic blob looks, more complex printed shapes, super-futuristic glowing cyborg styles with added processing power, and bold stately jewelry in precious metals.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |   7 Aug 2014  |  Comments (19)

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When a product design asks for $7,000 on Kickstarter but nets $228,000, it's worthy of study, particularly when the design is not an obvious home run. Any product designer should be asking themselves: What is it that these guys tapped into, in the backers' consciousness, that made it such a hit?

First let's look at the product in question. The mininch Tool Pen is a hollow, magic-marker sized hexagonal rod that holds six driver bits, with the frontmost ready to use. It's essentially a bit-storing screwdriver in a more compact form, and with a pen-like cap to prevent the front bit from spearing the inside of your pocket or bag.

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Posted by erika rae  |  23 Jul 2014  |  Comments (3)

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If you could combine a cooler with another product, what would it be? A built-in ice crushing blender, a USB charging station, a waterproof bluetooth speaker, or a hidden cutting board? How about all of the above? These are only a few features of the portable icebox that raised close to six million dollars in the first week of its crowdfunding campaign. Now, I don't have a problem with the classic cooler, as inferior as it may seem next to the 'Coolest' cooler—I have many fond memories of get-togethers on the deck of my childhood house sprinkled with a rainbow of coolers filled with frozen treats for the kids and beer for the adults. But you would have to be a little out of your mind to argue that this isn't a significant upgrade to the original design (which dates back to 1954, history buffs).

Check out the video for more information on the frippery and flounce that the Coolest has to offer:

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Posted by core jr  |  17 Jul 2014  |  Comments (1)

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Two, as logic and cliché suggest, is better than one. Hence, the Y-splitter, a not-quite-indispensable dongle that doubles any connection point. Long a tool for A/V-savvy folks, the 3.5mm (2F-1M) version often sits alongside earbuds and cases in the shelf of your local Apple store. Now comes a Kickstarter project for a product that is intended to join those ranks: the Why? cable turns one USB port into a pair of Lightning connectors (given the titular pun, we'll spare you a terrible joke about striking twice).

There are mixed reports regarding how many people/households have more than one Apple mobile device (for one thing, metrics typically include other hardware, including desktops and laptops), but it's something of a self-selecting market in the first place: Anyone who owns both an iPhone and an iPad is anecdotally more likely to buy additional accessories anyhow.

Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  16 Jul 2014  |  Comments (3)

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Coffee drinkers: How many disposable coffee cups do you go through a year? Some of you might carry a travel mug on your commute, but the bulk of you probably get your caffeine hits out of paper or plastic cups, which then go into the trash or recycling. Ben Melinger, the founder of NYC-based Smash Cup, claims that you worker drones each throw away some 500 cups per year.

Melinger, by the way, is essentially a self-taught industrial designer who quit his corporate job to make stuff. "A few years ago, I went on an adventure off the corporate track," he writes. "I had always loved the idea of making physical products, so with a product in mind... and some expert mentors, I learned 3D CAD modeling, protoyping, manufacturing sourcing, IP drafting, and so much more—all the ins and outs of making a great product."

And now he's got his first successful Kickstarter. Melinger came up with the Smash Cup, a collapsible travel mug that "smashes" from five inches to less than two, so it doesn't take up much space in your bag when it's not in use.

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Here's the pitch video:

Since going live last week, Smash Cup has easily blown past its $10,000 target, with nearly five times the funding at press time. While the $12 buy-in units are all gone, there's still 23 days left to get yourself a Smash Cup at $15 or more.

Posted by Teshia Treuhaft  |  15 Jul 2014  |  Comments (0)

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It should come as no surprise that the marriage of art and technology has had some difficulty finding a place in the institutional white cube exhibition spaces of most contemporary galleries and museums—after all, many practitioners reject the traditional art-object format on principle. Indeed, the incorporation of technology in art has vastly expanded the realm of creative possibilities, both aesthetically and with respect to distribution—auction house Phillips recently held the second edition of its forward-looking "Paddles On!" digital art auction—yet the modes by which it is bought, sold or displayed continue to shift and evolve.

The recent Kickstarter campaign for Electric Objects marks a noteworthy attempt to streamline the presentation of Internet and digital art into more conventional means. Electric Object's first major product run, the EO1, is essentially a wall-mountable, high-definition screen with Wifi connection for control from their handy mobile app. The EO1, framed in your choice of white, black or wood, displays your collection of Internet art without drawing away your attention from daily activities. The EO1 supports static images, animated GIFs and javascript-based visualizations.

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Posted by core jr  |  14 Jul 2014  |  Comments (0)

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Industrial designer and professor Lance Gordon Rake previously shared the story behind the Semester bamboo bicycle, developed with Pamela Dorr and various collaborators in Hale County, Alabama. Now, less than a year later, HERObike is pleased to present its second project on Kickstarter, the Beacon Alley Skateboard, which represents Rake's further research into bamboo as a versatile, renewable raw material for the socially conscious organization. Once again, he was willing to share the story and process behind the project.

Since the beginning, I have been working with John Bielenberg at Future Partners and the graphic design partnership Public Library to develop the products and the business. Ultimately, all we ever wanted to do was create some nice jobs making well-designed products using the resources and people of rural Alabama. The bamboo was there. Traditional craft skills were there. We used design to put these things together in a way that could make a sustainable small enterprise that might serve as a model for developing rural communities all over the world.

The MakeLab shop in Greensboro Alabama has become a kind of research center for bamboo fiber composites. Many of the materials that are in a Semester bike—bamboo, fiberglass, carbon fiber—are also in a Beacon Alley Skateboard. The skateboard is a product with a very demanding user group who expect incredibly high performance at a fair price. The Semester bike is in a demanding, competitive category as well. And if your product doesn't look good, it's a non-starter.

The past 11 months have been a bit crazy: We had a successful Kickstarter campaign that finished last August and we managed to deliver all 45 bikes and frames by our promised date in February. Since then, our little shop has been building about ten Semesters per month, in addition to our standard "Gilligan" bamboo bike and our Gilligan kits for the DIY crowd. We are developing international markets for Semester—we've already shipped them to seven countries and this seems to be an area of rapid expansion. Right now, I am working on ways to dramatically lower costs so we can make a bike that delivers the look and ride quality of bamboo for less than half of the current price.

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Posted by Jeri Dansky  |  20 Jun 2014  |  Comments (2)

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Herbst Produkt has designed a new product called HYVE: a polypropylene container that can be clipped to other HYVEs, creating a modular storage system. It's available via Kickstarter.

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I recently spent some time talking to Scot Herbst about HYVE and seeing the product first-hand. HYVE can be used to store a wide range of things: pens and pencils on the desktop, craft supplies in the classroom or playroom, flatware in the kitchen (for those without enough drawers), all sorts of things on a workbench, and much more. Because the HYVEs can be continually reconfigured, they might serve one use now, and another in later years. The HYVEs are about 3.5 inches tall, and a bit under 4 inches wide.

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The concerns I had looking at the HYVEs online vanished when I saw them in person. I was afraid a HYVE might tip over easily, but it seems quite stable. The polypropylene means it's easy to clean and hard to damage—important factors in anything that young children might use. The hexagon shape helps to make it strong. For most people, it will be pretty easy to clip the units together, and easy to take them apart. The clips seem very sturdy, too; they're not something that's going to break after a few uses.

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Posted by erika rae  |  17 Jun 2014  |  Comments (0)

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It's pretty easy to get overwhelmed by all of the stylus options out there. But just as a chef might search for that perfect knife year after year, a designer might undertake a similar quest to find the smoothest / best-weighted / most ergonomic digital drafting instrument. Dominic Peralta, the lead industrial designer at Speck Products, and Jon Corpuz, Lead Industrial Designer at Nook Media/Barnes & Noble, have entered the fray with Timbrr, a new stylus based on the iconic pencil silhouette and designed to be produced locally.

But before we get to all of that pencil-making and local sourcing, let's start from the beginning. "Timbrr's story actually started with a simple game app that took over all the iPhones at one point of time," Peralta says. "We were absolutely obsessed with Draw Something and wanted to have a stylus that said 'I'm playing!' So, we ran to the shop, grabbed some dowels, drilled holes through them (don't try this at home!), inserted a thin stylus, sanded it and painted it pencil yellow."

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While the inspiration remained the same, it was obvious the duo pair needed to rethink their materials if they were going to be making these for more than just themselves. After testing about a dozen different wood varieties, Peralta and Corpuz decided to go with an incensed Western Cedar. While many designers turn to wood for its aesthetic or trendiness, a functional criterion informed the Timbrr team's material selection: "It has a high resin content, meaning that a natural resin that grows along with the tree is impregnated into the wood," Peralta says. "This resin helps to transmit static electricity from your hand, through the cedar wood, into the copper core and down to the touch screen device." Other wood varieties with a lower resin content don't hold work as well with touch screen capabilities. Luckily, it turns out that one of the largest cedar mills in the United States is located a mere three hours from their studio in California, anchoring their local sourcing efforts.

While Timbrr 2.0 might have followed true pencil form by sporting a bright yellow coat, the duo chose to go with a more natural aesthetic for the production version. "It was when we machined our first husks of cedar that the realized how beautiful and unique the grain was and decided to ditch the yellow paint," Peralta says. "Keeping it natural also brought out the aroma of the cedar and most importantly encourages the wood to patina over time, so that each Timbrr is unique and special to its owner."

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The team used Shopbot to bring their design to life—which seems like a completely natural choice, except for the fact that neither of the designers had any experience using a CNC mill on their own before. Peralta and Corpuz had seen the machines in action at many a Maker Faire and wanted to find a way to forgo expensive classes or costly memberships to tech shops. Peralta shares more on the decision:

We learned lots of skills in a traditional woodworking style shop and had a little experience using a basic hand operated mill... but nothing like this. Early on in the process, we made it a goal to teach ourselves CNC'ing. We decided to go with a Shopbot because they are the tried and true company in that space. The team there has lots of working tribal knowledge of CNC'ing and after talking with them several times on the phone, it made me feel really confident that this was the right direction.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  16 Jun 2014  |  Comments (0)

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If you're designing a modular bag system, like the cool Mission Workshop Arkiv we looked at a few years ago, you need to figure out how the bags connect to each other. Chances are you'll go with the tried-and-true military route, i.e. the MOLLE system. But the guys over at Bowerbags didn't care for it:

In earlier prototypes we used MOLLE webbing and traditional button snaps to achieve modularity. We found the button snaps were cumbersome to move in and around the webbing. We also found there were no other clasping solutions on the market that made our modularity goal any easier.
We concluded that there was no hardware that was quite right, so we went to work making our own. We designed, prototyped and tested over 1000 different clip variations until landing on the Bowerbuckle you see today.

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Their now-perfected Bowerbuckle—essentially a sprung scissors-type clasp that seizes a peg—is now integrated into their Bowerbag, a customizable "5-in-1" bag system that they're trying to get Kickstarted. Check it out:

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Posted by Kat Bauman  |  10 Jun 2014  |  Comments (2)

beach_vault1.jpgA man and his bucket

Sometimes when you love two things very much it's easy to delude yourself into imagining an ideal pairing where you can enjoy them at the same time. This can be guiltily true for burger toppings (you're sticking okra where?), close friends (those arranged dates are only a favor to you), and very often design features. There is a dangerous zone of thinking that wantonly combines Feature A and Feature B, with slight regard for whether they truly do a better job together. Snuggies. Meat thermometer spatulas. We have all borne witness. Sometimes though... those weird pairings are pretty good.

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Today's test case is the Beach Vault, the screwy red security bin for your beach trips. While it sounds As-Seen-On-TVesque, this project serves a few real problems experienced by even casual beachgoers. First and foremost, the beach wants to mess up your gear. Wallets and keys love to scatter themselves, and your phone hates you for even thinking about wet, sandy, rambunctious environments. Meanwhile sunscreen, books and spare towels quickly become clutter. Second, your valuables do look awfully inviting tucked obviously under the corner of your blanket once you finally cave and take a quick dip. Third, billowing beach towels are a sand-flinging drag, and while you might visit the beach for recreation, tracking down your wet butt-printed blanket through other people's picnics is a bad look.

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Posted by erika rae  |  10 Jun 2014  |  Comments (2)

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Wonder, curiosity, exploration—all spot-on descriptors of a child on the verge of forming an opinion of the world. Yet these are the things that designer Christina Kazakia thinks kids are missing out on, thanks to technologies that keep us inside and constantly distracted. "There's less opportunity to learn more about yourself and the natural world that surrounds you," she says. "Lack of curiosity, lack of risk-taking, lack of wonder, lack of imagination. The outdoors is a wonderful stimulation and provides all of these things while giving children a sense of independence." Her solution? A new toy called Stick-Lets.

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Stick-Lets aren't a "tear open the packaging, turn on, tune out" kind of toy. Their function is simple: In order to use the system, kids have to scavenge a group of sticks to use the connectors with, the end result being a fort of some shape or form. The silicone connectors come in different sizes and can be stretched to fit larger sticks and other materials. And, of course, they come in a number of child-attracting colors with equally amusing names: Pardon My Purple, Huckleberry Blue, Birch Bark White, Grasshopper Green, Starfish Red and Kazakia's favorite, Monarch Orange. Kazakia has been working on the idea since it was conceived in her graduate studies at Rhode Island School of Design, but now she's taken to the crowdfunding world to help bring kids a dose of fresh air and creative inspiration. Why? The project's tagline says it all: "Because nature misses us."

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"Building forts was a common childhood memory for many adults and parents and sticks are found almost everywhere—so I thought designing a joint to connect sticks would be rather universal and understood by families," she says. "My research informed me of the fact that kids enjoy finding sticks and playing with them. Sticks trigger kids' imaginations! It seemed like the perfect material to work around." The hope is that after kids have had a few go-arounds with Stick-Lets, they'll gain a little more appreciation and engagement with the nature that fuels their fort-making.

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