This project takes place over both semesters, and will be showcased in the 2015 Product Design Engineering Degree Show at the Glasgow School of Art. Check out the 2014 Degree Show.
Armed with some advice from previous generations of PDE’ers, the evaluation points that I am bearing in mind before choosing my project are the following:
Fun-ness. Happy Harry = better designer.
Collaboration Interest. Would user groups, clients, industry professionals, organisations, research or technical bodies be interested in the project?
Scope. What stage can the project be at the degree show? A concept on a poster? Visual or working prototypes? Working with a company to manufacture the product? Actually having a product in a box ready to sell? The further the merrier.
Technical Stretch. A Technical Report makes up 25% of the final project mark. Must be sufficient technical content in the project. It would be ideal if the project required learning new technical skills or tools.
Uniqueness. Not so much “Has the idea been done before?” but more “Is there an opportunity for me to uniquely define this in my own way?”
User Benefit. Will it change people’s lives? How will people feel about the product?
Design Stretch. Level of human factors to be considered
Business and Market Potential. Is the product viable? How profitable is it? How would the designer go about commercialising it - sell it to a company, or crowdfund production through Kickstarter for example
FEATURES: Printers have too many features. Most people in my generation don’t actually know what a Fax is. Pare that right down.
INTERFACE: Astounding error messages like “Error: You are out of magenta ink”, when trying to print black and white documents. Let’s get rid of those.
HARDWARE: Jams and plasticky build quality. How about something well made that looks nice on a desk?
SETUP: Setting up a wireless printer for the first time can be frustrating and time consuming. Simplify. Really simple connection (Bluetooth?), automatic background driver installation, and will accept prints from laptops, smartphones, tablets etc with minimal to zero setup - just search for bluetooth devices, pair, and print.
REFILLS: Printer companies make most of their money off proprietary chipped cartridges. Power to the people with open standardised cartridges that are designed to be refillable?
The scope for this project would be firmly conceptual - perhaps leading to working with a company that has experience manufacturing printers.
IDEA 2: ALARM CLOCK
The average person hits the snooze button 3 times before getting up. This is how most of society starts every day. Numerous studies have delved into the brain chemistry of the effects of the snooze button. It certainly isn’t helping us get any more rest. At worst, its throwing us off for the rest of the day.
Why do we want to fall back asleep after we’ve woken up? During the onset of sleep, the body releases serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of happiness and contentment.
Throughout the night, the chemicals released in your bloodstream change. The optimal amount of sleep is usually 7-9 hours, and while this varies from person to person, your body knows when you’ve had enough, and releases dopamine into your system to suppress feelings of sleepiness and prepare you for waking.
As you hit the snooze button and return to sleep and re-start that dopamine drip, your body become a chemical cocktail shaker, as neurotransmitters rattle around providing conflicting influences. The snooze might release some feel-good chemicals, but ultimately it’s pulling your body in different directions. That chemical confusion leaves you feeling disoriented, and makes it difficult to get going.
Furthermore, during the hour or two before you wake, you primarily have REM sleep. You dream a lot during this period, and consolidate recent memories. Weirdly, this means that your body does most of the processing of the preceding day’s events just before you wake naturally. The earlier you interrupt that process—by, say, setting an alarm earlier than you need so you can snooze away for a half hour—the less time you give yourself to process those experiences. Research shows that cutting into REM sleep like that can blunt your mental function during the day.
A fundamental belief about the snooze button is that the short snatches of sleep still help the body rest. Studies into sleep fragmentation suggest otherwise—sleep which is interrupted every minute or every ten can lead to “sleepiness-related daytime impairment” when compared to the equivalent amount of uninterrupted sleep. In other words, there is less value in snooze sleep and, if too much of your bed time is spent snoozing, you can expect impairments in your memory, reaction time, comprehension and attention.
There is a lot of evidence to suggest that we as a society are waking up badly, and this is primarily to do with the snooze habit in alarm clocks. It would be very interesting to explore ways to redesign an alarm clock in a way that does not incorporate a snooze button. This would have to be done in a way that was not annoying for the user, but a pleasant experience. There are a lot of gimmicky alarm clocks in the market, such as an alarm clock that runs about on wheels, flying alarm clocks, or apps that require puzzle solving before they stop beeping. These tend to irritate people more than help them. We don’t need louder & more annoying alarms, we need a revolution in how we wake.
This project will require a lot of initial exploration and research. In terms of scope, I would aim to have a working prototype by the degree show, possibly at a pre-production stage.
IDEA 3: USB
Putting in a USB the wrong way round is arguably the most prevalent S.E.F. the world currently faces (Small Everyday Frustration).
Not redesigning the ports themselves (this is a long term solution - there is a new standard to be released in the next few years that WILL be reversible), but redesigning the connector so that it will fit no matter which way one puts it.
How? Forget the metal cage (many USB sticks already have done this), and put connections on both sides.
Scope of this project would include building a working prototype and bringing it to a pre-production stage.
3 ideas, all varying greatly in their scope, technical complexity and current conceptual state. I think they’d all be equally fun to do, looking forward to getting some feedback when the term begins.
After getting some feedback from The Internet, my thoughts are now along these lines
The way we print things can definitely be redesigned in interesting ways, however there are significant challenges in building and testing prototypes in terms of time, cost and expertise required - to the point where it may not be realistic as a one person operation.
Redesigning the alarm clock should not focus initially on any one path for a solution, but should rather examine the wider problem of “How do we wake up in the morning?”
The USB redesign is limited in design scope - the solution is evident before the project begins. Would still be interesting to try to develop - but not ideal as a PDE project.
In the meantime, I have been thinking that this could be interesting:
IDEA 4: READING ACADEMIC DOCUMENTS
Physical books are pretty heavy. For students and academics, they aren’t very practical to carry around, yet it is necessary to view these texts during the course of study.
Already we’re moving towards digital texts as a better, lightweight solution. The issue is is the medium on which we read digital texts, and how we navigate through a digital document compared to a physical one. Scrolling through text on a computer is not a great reading experience compared to having several relevant books out on a table.
An e-reader designed for academics?
It would probably be large - A4 sized - something the e-reader space has seen very little of. The interface should ideally make switching between texts and flicking through long documents very easy.
The process is always the same. It doesn’t matter what the object is.
People have always made stuff. To create is a fundamental human activity. Why is there now a phenomenon called the Maker Movement?
Unprecedented access to high tech tooling. Shared fabrication workshops. Fablabs, Techshops, Makerspaces, GE Garages, Makerspaces.
High speed sharing. The internet. A huge social web for sharing ideas. We see things and we get inspired. Things don’t even have to be explicitly shared under open licenses - it is human nature to simply see things, get inspired and build upon them.
Social making - The rise of Makerspaces and Hackerspaces. People coming together under one roof to do projects, exchange information and make things.
Crowdfunding - Previously if you needed money to make an idea come to life you’d have to go to your family if they were rich, or pitch to venture capitalists. To make a product viable it’d often need some sort of token patent. Not any more. Enter crowdfunding - Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Crowdrise etc
You don’t need a physical shop or any of the traditional trade or retail agreements. Sell stuff you’ve made from the comfort of your own home via online shops such as Etsy, Tindie and Shapeways.
Paraphrased from a talk by Sabrina Merlo “The Popularisation of Open Hardware” at Makerfaire UK 2014 Newcastle
Had great craic exhibiting some stuff at Makerfaire in Newcastle last weekend.
Our humble stand! We were there as Artschool I/O - a group for hackers and makers at the Glasgow School of Art. We exhibited some of our latest work - a motion controlled foosball goalkeeper by Roy Shearer, some flexible wooden ringbinders by myself, and a digital flute by Kyle McAslan.
(This is not a bong). Kyle McAslan with his digital flute. It uses a length of pipe, a ping pong ball, a DC motor from a CD player, an Arduino clone called a Teensy, and a few thumbtacks - and makes beautiful MIDI music when connected to a laptop. The proprietary equivalent of this by Yamaha costs around £500. Get involved here
Area C from the perspective of our stall. We had neighbours from Ultimaker 3D Printers, Hitchen Hackspace, and Cinehack (great guys to grab a pint with).
The place was huge, and had activities for all ages.
There was a robot wars arena. What more do you want!
Shapeways was there, with lots of cutting edge 3D printed objects in high resolution plastic, metal and ceramic.
This little rig takes your photo then draws your face in a matter of seconds. Robotic art - interesting!
Nearly everything at the Makerfaire was Open Source - meaning that anyone can use, modify, make or sell their own. This leads to high levels of friendly competition and innovation.
Some of the exhibits from Ultimaker! The multicoloured parts caught my eye, as well as the ability to print a roller chain all in a single print, without requiring assembly.
A special project from the BBC R&D department - an open source radio
One of my personal favourites - a stall by MSRaynford and Just Add Sharks - lots of cool laser cutting stuff.
Sabrina Merlo, the Program Director of Makerfaire, talking about the popularisation of Open Hardware.
Everything you do has to be better than it was yesterday
Working prototype for an A3 filing box. I tend to have a lot of projects and sketches, needed to organise them somehow. This fits really nicely under my desk.
Hopefully I can draw up some plans for a CNC router to be able to cut this out for a mass manufacture design, IKEA flat pack style. I might lose the metal handle in favour of a simple slot in the wood.
The folders themselves are cardboard, which could be laser cut. They are supported by wooden dowels.
Marc Newson has designed a myriad of products, from watches to cars, dish racks to spaceship interiors.
He is somewhat controversial, in that some of his most well known pieces of work are more sculptural than functional.
"With great power comes great responsibility"
So does a great designer that spends his time designing “arty” products demonstrate a lack of responsibility?
For the Lockheed Lounge functionality was never the purpose - it was always intended to be sculptural. Whilst I think artistic product design can sometimes get carried away (especially with regard to the price tag), it is always valuable. Products like these can advance society forward just as much as strictly functional ones - by inspiring people, and by getting people to think about things in different and deeper ways.
There is also the ethical issue that the workers manufacturing some of his products are unlikely to be able to afford them. I think this is pretty unfair. It also puts Newson on a pedestal and plays down the importance of the team around him that has enabled the products to be successful. Product design is always a team effort and should be treated as such by the media.
Yet we have similar issues everywhere. People making Nike shoes or iPhones in factories are unlikely to be able to afford the product they are manufacturing. This is a societal norm - something that is widely accepted. But just because an issue is widespread, does not mean it is right.
Despite this, there are many aspects to Newson’s process that are admirable. Here is a list of things that I really liked:
He likes taking shit apart. A habit shared by many designers and engineers. Aside from gaining knowledge of how things work, which can then be usefully applied when designing products, it also encourages repair rather than disposal.
He will tackle any problem or redesign large or small.
"Design is the language. The object and scale do not matter"
Newson doesn’t sit around. “I’m not happy with the way things are. A lot of it is driven by anger and frustration.” He uses his frustration with the world the way it is to power meaningful and corrective action. He doesn’t just sit there.
Doesn’t read instruction manuals.
You shouldn’t have to. Things should imply their use.
Designs without prior conceptions.
Newson keeps his ideas fresh by ignoring the self imposed boundaries that the industry has set themselves. Whether its that car seats are fixed in place (Ford car redesign) or that windows are dependent on gravity (spaceship interior featuring portholes on the floor, walls and ceiling - because in zero G the floor, wall and ceiling are the same thing).
Anti-consumerism. Although he designs material goods, Newson believes that people should focus on gaining knowledge, rather than objects.
Believes that good designers need to be geeks.
To get something just right designers often need to be slightly obsessive enough to pay attention to the little details. And it actually really helps to have a lot of geeky peripheral knowledge - it enables the mind to form links and be more creative.
"Good designers are geeks. Bad designers are not. Geeks are interested with the minutae of how things work. If you’re not, then how can you really know what you’re doing?"
They butt into your life, take a cheap shot at you and then disappear. They leer at you from tall buildings and make you feel small. They make flippant comments from buses that imply you’re not sexy enough and that all the fun is happening somewhere else. They are on TV making your girlfriend feel inadequate. They have access to the most sophisticated technology the world has ever seen and they bully you with it. They are “The Advertisers” and they are laughing at you.
You, however, are forbidden to touch them. Trademarks, intellectual property rights and copyright law mean advertisers can say what they like wherever they like with total impunity.
Fuck that. Any advert in a public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours. It’s yours to take, re-arrange and re-use. You can do whatever you like with it. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head.
You owe the companies nothing. Less than nothing, you especially don’t owe them any courtesy. They owe you. They have re-arranged the world to put themselves in front of you. They never asked for your permission, don’t even start asking for theirs.
A few sketches and a paper prototype for a desk pomodoro clock. The idea is that you do 25 minutes of work, then a 5 minute break.
There’s loads of web timers like Tomatoi.st but I’d rather have something physical on my desk.