The Autodesk Sustainability Workshop is a free and vast online resource that aims to teach sustainability strategies, from micro to macro. The simple, easily-digestible series of strategy videos, tutorials and case studies can help students, educators, designers, engineers and architects not only learn about sustainability, but how to directly apply it.
Core77 asked 5 students to take it for a test spin, investigating the workshop and using Autodesk software to incorporate what they'd learned in a re-design of a commonplace object. We start with California-based Erin Fong (California College of the Arts, BFA in Industrial Design, May 2011) and her update to the DSLR.
Core77: Erin, tell us about yourself.
Erin Fong: I am 24 and I was born in Oakland, but am currently living in Castro Valley. I love to travel, find new experiences, and read—classic literature, historical fiction and even rereading some favorite childhood books. I also like running, that's when I get a lot of my design thinking done.
What made you decide to study industrial design?
I grew up in a family that encouraged creativity and was exposed to the arts at a very young age. I always loved hands-on projects and received my first glue gun in elementary school. I felt like the glue gun allowed me to create almost anything, and that was my introduction to creating 3D objects. I've carried that interest with me and always feel the urge to make products work better to my own lifestyle.
What areas of industrial design are you interested in focusing on?
My natural tendencies have been toward consumer products and electronics, but I am always open to learning and experiencing different things.
Tell us about your project.
My goal is to challenge the form of the SLR camera. From my experience and from watching other people take pictures, there are so many different ways people position themselves in order to get the perfect picture: Lying on the ground, standing on top of chairs, crouching behind a tree, etc. Depending on the environment and situation, the demands on a photographer are different. However, the form of the camera has always remained the same: a static box. As a result, I wanted to try to create a new form that allowed users to gain a better grip on the camera when they're shooting from any angle. In addition, I wanted to make it friendly for both right and left-handed users because especially when using only one hand to hold the camera, people prefer to use their dominant hand, but when the shutter button is only on one side, some people are forced to use their non-dominant hand, making it more difficult to get the picture they want.
I also wanted to make the flow of taking pictures more seamless. Currently, a lot of the camera buttons are located on the back of the camera, so when making adjustments to the camera settings, sometimes people have to take the camera away from their face and look at the camera. By moving the buttons to the front of the camera handle where it is easily accessible to the fingers, I wanted it to be like a musical instrument—just like how a pianist can create a variety of beautiful music without looking down at the keys, I wanted photographers to have an uninterrupted time focusing on the picture they're taking without have to take their eyes off of the subject to look at the camera buttons.
From a sustainability viewpoint, DSLR cameras have a pretty good lifetime, but what do you do when it's obsolete? Another idea I'm going after is how to recycle and reuse a good portion of the camera body immediately after the actual camera stops working or becomes replaced by better models. Therefore, the key change I made to the original design was eliminating one of the camera handles, because simply having one handle maintains my original intent of making the camera friendly for both left and right handed users (as well as the single-handed function). Now the single handle breaks into a tripod. As a result, when the camera fails to take pictures, the camera handle/tripod can be removed from the rest of the camera body and be reused, maintaining its function as a tripod for other cameras without having to be collected and going through the recycling process.
I knew the camera project would be a good challenge for me, and I wanted to prompt an interesting way of thinking about sustainability.
What background do you have with Autodesk products?
I didn't have any prior experience with Autodesk products. Doing this project has been my introduction to it, using Inventor Publisher. Since I have never worked with Autodesk products before, I was impressed with how well it worked with CAD software and it was easy to understand.
What things did you learn from the Sustainability Workshop that you didn't know before?
Previously, my notion of sustainability was "Use recyclable materials, and less of them." But the Sustainability Workshop helped open my mind to other ways that sustainability can be achieved. After watching the tutorials, I began to better understand that while the conventional notion I mentioned above might be good options for making a product sustainable, they may not be the right way for some projects where you do not want to compromise other important aspects, such as durability and functionality.
In addition, I liked the way the tutorials were organized. It simplified the idea of sustainability for me, making it easier to digest and easier for me to see how the things I learned can apply to my projects.
Please describe your design process and any difficulties you encountered along the way.
I typically start projects by thinking through what my experience with that object/situation is and identify what my own assumptions are. Then I try to challenge and question what I know/assume through research and trial and error. This is usually followed by a lot of sketching and prototyping of ideas based off of what I learn from research and experimentations.
Usually, somewhere in the sketching and prototyping phase is where I will "hit a wall" because when striving to make a product the best that it can be from my understanding, there often comes a point when I need to decide what is the most important aspect that I need to focus on. Getting past this part usually gives me a firmer grasp and a clear vision for the product I am creating. Depending on the project, I will start to focus more on the details of the form of the product earlier or later, but it usually comes after I completely understand the function I want out of the product.
Which of the "Improving Product Lifetime" elements from the Sustainability Workshop did you use?
I was focusing on durability and recycling. Remembering my initial goals of creating a camera that gives users more flexibility in the photos they are taking, and keeping it adjustable for both left- and right-handed users, I realized that this could be done with just one camera arm instead of the original two. With this change, the design is simplified and made more durable because there are less complicated moving parts. In addition, to reinforce the connecting point of where the handle meets the body of the camera, I decided to add a surrounding structure instead of placing more material surrounding the top of the camera.
In terms of recycling, the DSLR cameras have a pretty good lifetime, but the question is often what to do with a camera once it is replaced by an updated version. When the Autodesk tutorials emphasized thinking about the whole system, I started thinking about the resources it takes to recycle a camera and how to cut that down. As a result, I tried to think if there is a function in my camera design that can be reused immediately once the camera is no longer used as a camera. This is when I decided to build in the tripod to the camera. Basically, the workshop opened my mind to the possibilities in how a product can be constructed and how the Autodesk software can help with those decisions. This was a class assignment that is technically complete, but now that I've been made aware of how much more I can do with it, I'm planning on spending more time with it.