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A product design blog containing unique observations, advice and ideas to improve objects from the mind of Product Tank.

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Camera slider

Christmas and New Year have gone and whilst I had a lot of fun, it's now back to the (literal) drawing board. I've been pottering about on a few projects for friends and I've also had one eye on the future. So to the future:
One of my latest jobs was to make myself a camera slider to (hopefully) improve the professionalism of my video's. I decided to drive my slider with an electric screwdriver, which currently are rediculously cheap, the one shown was £10. The rails are made from square aluminium tube from the local hardware store.  Professionally made ones are very expensive, but its such a simple device and there are lots of Youtube tutorials, so if you are into your film making, I recommend you have a go at making one and save a lot of money. 
I've also been working on a range of tables, but I'm not sure whether they will see the light of day as currently they won't work unless I find a way of defying physics and gravity.   I'm also working on another lamp and I have to finish of my wheelbarrow!
If anyone asks me 'What's the future?' It's Momo's, little indian snacks that are absolutely magic with a cold beer.  You can find the recipe in Rick Steins Indian book.  They must be made with the hot chilli dip he also recommends.  One of the best things I ate over Christmas - and I ate a lot!

make models

I see lots of student work which looks amazing, but I know cannot be manufactured.  The problem is a lack of time or care, where the designer has not made a model to test their idea (maybe a model is not part of the grade criteria).  I want to address this, because I am noticing this trend increasing.  So I thought about making an instructional video for students.  Then I heard the Baz Luhrmann sunscreen song and wanted to use it as the inspiration and the idea went from there. Please watch the video.

The narration:

> Students of product design - make models.
> I have seen hundreds of portfolios, where students have been too quick to use CAD without first testing their ideas to see if they will work.
> The long term benefits of making models to quickly identify and solve problems has been proven by product designers over and over again. The rest of my advice is purely opinion. I will deliver this advice with a large nod to Baz Luhrmann, now.
> Design is a journey, when you begin a project you should not know what the end destination looks like. Do not be in a rush to get to the final solution. Get lost, go down many paths and enjoy what you discover.
> Always go too far and then come back.
> Research, know your audience, walk a mile in their shoes and if you can't, try to understand all the nuances surrounding who you are designing for and what you are designing.
> Never stop asking why.
> What ever you design, always try to make it new in some way.
> The brief is king, challenge it, exceed it, but you must answer it.
> CAD is only one tool, currently it cannot tell you how something feels or behaves in your hand or how heavy or uncomfortable it is in use.
> A pretty picture of a design is not a product.
> Take things apart, you cannot hope to improve anything if you don't know how it works. 
> If you take a found object and put a light bulb in it, you are just up-cycling.
> People say you are only as good as your last project, rubbish! You are only as good as your next project because of everything you have learnt. Make lots of mistakes and learn from them.
> No real good has come from forcing anything, take regular breaks. Never think, 'that will do'.
> Don't design to make money, design because you care and trust me about making models.


chopping board video

I've finally managed to upload the video of my improved chopping board/bowl design.  Its interesting how one idea can spurr another, the design can easily be adapted to become numerous other objects, such as a dust pan or a wheel barrow.  I chose to have a crack at the wheel barrow for my next project, with a sneak peek at the end of the video on progress so far.  Please have a look, I hope you enjoy it.



Where would I be without carpet tape?

Oh, where would I be without carpet tape.  If you want to make quick models without having to wait for glue to dry, the double sided sticky stuff is invaluable.  I use it on practically every product design project, even if it's just to hold two pieces of wood together whilst I'm cutting them, so I get two of the same shape without having to draw and cut it out twice.  To hold things in place whilst you screw them together or assemble a model, its invaluable.  Easy to use and apply, it sticks like the brown stuff to a bed sheet! I should have shares in it, it's my top model making cheat.  


sneak peek - chopping board

I've been a bit quiet of late and soon you will see why as the latest project is almost finished and ready for launch.  No prizes for guessing its a chopping board, but there's a bit more too it than that.


Spray booth

Lots of people assume they need a lot of equipment when model making, but actually you can get by with very little equipment (good power tools are a great help).  When I was in university there was a fantastic spray booth with water wall, turn table and fan system.  But despite the fact that it was a joy to use, the spray results that I acheived are no different to my current high tech system, which is newspaper, two strips of wood to counter wind and an empty bit of space.  A few things to consider though...Try not to spray below about 8 degrees C and ideally spray over 10 degrees C.  Make sure humidity is as low as possible and what you are spraying is dry and even though outdoors, always wear a mask and work out wind direction before you spray to avoid accidents!


Over used word of the week - revolutionary

I have previously lamented the use of the word 'Genius' being bandied about far too often and used to describe things that are about as far away from Genius as I think it's possible to get.  This week I feels I cannot read through a product description in a catalogue without encountering the word 'Revolutionary'. Whilst I accept that products have to be described to help them to be sold and positive words are far more likely to aid this goal, very few of the products I have recently seen described by this term get close to being revolutionary.  Just drop the 'R' and you will get what most products actually are, evolutionary.  Taking a product that has existed in various guises for over 100 years, making a change to the material or tweaking one design element is not revolutionary.  The products are too numerous to mention here, but you know who you are!


How to prototype live hinges

Many times I have a design that I want to have a live hinge. The easiest way I have found to prototype live hinges when making working models is to slot thin strips of polypropylene into slots cut into my model.  By drilling holes first, then cutting a slot leading into the hole, I can easily control the depth of the slot and also have a means of pushing the polyprop hinge out if you want to make adjustments. Its important to select the right saw blade thickness to polyprop thickness (I find a junior hacksaw blade works best) and then double the polyprop up.  For added security you can also push pegs into the holes.  In the images of a pan lid locking handle (above) and clothes peg (below) the main material used is beech wood, with pieces of bamboo skewers used to lock the polyprop in place and pull the hinge taught on the clothes peg.


good things take time

I bemaon the ammount of time it takes to do anything good or worthwhile.  Everybody wants everything faster and I'm no different to the next person.  I guess its because what ever it is, human nature is to want more of it, for me at the moment it's more views on youtube, better ideas, to build more designs faster. For good and bad reasons, I'm glad that this is not possible, I have 1000's (well, definitely 100's) of ideas, just sat in sketchbooks waiting to be realised. But I know they would only be considered half the idea and that I would be doing them a disservice if I didn't spend lots of time developing the design, making the model as well as I can, presenting it properly, telling a good story to go along with it, showing the thought and the implimentation.  Like all good things, this take time.

I design when I get a chance on weekends and evenings as during the week I have a full time job. Currently I am trying to not rush to finish: a set of kitchen utensils, a fridge, a bicycle lock, and a wheel barrow, whilst trying to learn to be more patient.


Product Design, equals watch project is finished

I have finished the last piece of work I will do on the series of watch concepts I've been working on.  It's been an interesting project, I could go on, but I feel I have pushed the project far enough.  Using my check list, I've taken the materials I have as far as I currently can although with the aesthetics, I could go on forever.  The innovative closing mechanism still needs tweaks, but I think I have proven it can work.  The last prototype was made in wood with plastic and metal work and sprayed with car body paint.  To watch (ha ha) the whole story, please go here

This week Samsung released their first smart watch, the Galaxy Gear.  I still think watch screens are too small for surfing the internet and reading emails.  It even has a camera and can be used as a phone. I think it's trying to do too much, but what do I know.  These days everything is decided by sales figures, so we shall wait and see.

One thing I have though about with smart watches is if they would be to help people with alzhimers. Could family members set a calendar that is displayed on the watch to help remind sufferers about comon tasks they need to do? 


The office cup

One of my colleagues has bought a new mug that has a spoon that slots into the handle. I thought the mug was a bad design, but she and everyone else in the office loves it (they are all ladies who are not from a product design background).  So numerous discussions have been had; I have tried to convince them why this is a bad design and they have defended it, not surprisingly, Product Tank has been outdone by lady logic.

1. The handle could be weaker than a standard design.

Response: I'm not swinging it around the room, it will be fine and if not, I can just buy another one.

2. The spoon when used and returned to the handle will drip liquid down the handle and over your hands.

Response: Just lick the spoon or preferably, wash and dry it.

3. When you drain the cup, by tipping it back, the spoon will fall out.

Response: This hasn't happened so far.

4. The inside of the cup is black, so you can't guage the strength of the tea you are brewing.

Response: She's using coffee sachets which are already pre-measured, or if you are making tea, you could just put the milk in first. (I did argue that putting the milk in first will reduce the temperature of water, which will effect the quality of the brew when putting a bag in the cup)

The killer blow was the argument that spoons go missing in the office, so having a unique spoon that you can keep with the cup is a really good idea. Shows what I know!

If I was designing another mug, I would have dismissed this idea very early on.  Its a useful reminder about how important it is to know and understand the needs of your customers prior to commencing a project.  It's also a reminder that no matter how bad something is, if someone loves it, they will not see or will adjust to cope with its faults (or they just like an argument!).  When making tea for my colleagues the other day, I used this spoon to stir the coffee, then placed it back into the handle and on picking up the mug, scolded myself on the spoon.  Ladies 2 product tank 0.


Product design checklist

I always use a mental checklist that I run through on each design project, but since the car, I have decided to create and use a written one to go over during and just before the release of each project. This is my initial list, that I will refine as time goes on.  Every project can be developed a little further and it's not until I have released a project and been given feedback that I can come up with new ways to improve, but this list is to help get each project as far as I can first.  Hopefully it will help you too.

Have I come up with a brief or idea for a solution to a problem that doesn't exist? 
Have I done enough research?
Is this a concept for the sake of it?
Can the problem be solved another way?

Does the design idea address the need/problem sufficiently?
Has it been designed not just engineered?
Have I pushed the design far enough?
Am I churning out the same things as everyone else? Or is it being different for difference sake?
Is the detailing good or refined enough for each individual area on the concept?
Is there a balance between simple and complex areas?
Have the materials been properly considered?
Can it be engineered to be more environmentally friendly? (this will require a sub checklist) 
Have textures, colours and finishes been properly considered and pushed far enough?
Packaging where applicable?
Does the solution provide real benefit?
Is it too gimmicky - Does it have a very low gimmick rating?
Is it innovative in its size to complexity ratio.
Have I made everything thin enough, light enough, have I pushed the materials to their limits.

Does it look cool in the images, is the quality as high as I can get it?
Does the presentation tell the story to someone not familiar with the project?



One reason its getting harder to find a product design position

We product designers (even though it's not what I do to earn my crust, I still have a product designers heart) are a relatively rare bunch, that is to say that compared to graphic designers etc we are in the minority, but we are still here.  So when searching for jobs, how irksome it is to look at lots of job listings that say 'designer wanted' to then visit the description to find the company want a graphic designer or a costume designer or any other designer other than a product designer.   The latest is jobs advertised for NPD. Not so long ago, NPD (New Product Development) seemed to be mainly focused on product design. Now NPD seems totally related to designing and working within the foods industry, creating the latest ready meal.  Since when did the food industry bag it and why can they not call it something like NPDF.  There are so many disciplines that have designer as their following word, costume, set, graphic, car, lighting, to name but a few.  Why can’t the people writing the job descriptions not be more specific.  Surely this would achieve a better hit rate in terms of applicants as people scanning the job listings would know exactly what the job advertised was for?  Ok rant over.


featured on core77

My watch design has been featured on the front page of, with a discussion in the project forums about if the method for fastening the watch strap to your wrist is innovative as I hope, or if it has been done before.


A watch to watch

I have finished my watch project.  I say finished, what I mean is released, because especially now, at launch, I can see lots of things I'd like to tweak, but for now it is done.  It was quite an enjoyable project, I think mainly because (after the car) I was working on something small, but I enjoyed making lots of models and getting back into the design process.  

Recently I've been musing about this.  As a product designer, I think you have to be in love with taking journeys, not necessarily worrying about the end destination.  If you enjoy the journey, where you eventually arrive will be good.  If you only focus on the end destination, not exploring all the avenues and pathways, where you end up will not be as strong, simply because you willl have not travelled as far (and probably taken a few short cuts to get there!).  I'm not saying my watch project is great or I'm at the end of the journey, but I like the analogy.


Can product designers really change the world

Can designers really change the world?  Most of the time all we are doing is churning out the same old stuff with a different face on it (see my post about how many chairs there are, yet everyday there's a release about yet another one, 4 legs a seat and a back, it's slightly different from the last, but not by much).  So, I have been concerned with what actual value (not profit) I can add to my designs, how can designers really change the world? Or at least do their little bit whilst the scientists and engineers sweat the important stuff.
The problem is, it's very difficult to ascertain if what you're designing is good or not. Look at wind farms, they have to be better for the environment than burning fossil fuels, but how much better? They apparently kill quite a lot of birds each year.  They cost a lot in materials to manufacture and they are currently not that efficient.  On face value it all seems good, but delve in a bit and it gets murkier.
Recently we have been experiencing a heat wave in the UK and my car doesn't have any air con, by the end of a short drive, I have had to peel myself out of the seat.  So, a while ago I saw a post about making food coolers for poverty stricken areas in Africa.  Food is placed in a metal box, surrounded by wadding, (wool, or another absorbent material) held in place with wire mesh.  The wool is soaked in water and as the water evaporates in the hot sun, warmth is drawn out of the metal box, cooling the food inside.  The same thing happens when we get out of a swimming pool on holiday and feel cold as the water evaporates off our skin.  I know that it takes a lot of petrol to work air con, so air con is not environmentally friendly.  What if this low tech box cooler idea could be built into a car roof, so when it's hot, water from a bottle could be spread over the roof and as it evaporates it cools down the interior.  Is this environmentally better than air con and if so, by how much?  Does the amount of extra water carried and used on the roof, the extra material etc negate the savings on petrol?  
The problem is as far as I know there's no where to obtain the data.  What designers need is a really clever cost calculator app.  Our connectivity is now sophisticated enough to get real time updates on anything.  Why not an app that reads a CAD file, you state the products purpose and it recommends materials.  The best for friction, UV stability, hygiene, ease of reuse or recycling, longevity of the material, energy to process the material, energy to recycle the material etc.  Then based on your location, it recommends manufacturers.  If you have a supplier overseas, you input manufacturing source and distance to warehouse or shop, then the computer would generate a wealth of data, how many you can fit in a shipping container, or van and (based on weight) how much fuel it will consume on its journey from manufacturer to store, the best route, how many hills that involves, average time idling at traffic lights, material cost of product based on continually updating live market prices etc.    
This could shift the way things are designed.  Designers could tweak their designs and based on live data, get more accurate feedback on how a tweak here and there would really improve their design, to actually change the world!  At the moment the crux when designing is that you start out with the best intentions, but you really don't have a true picture of whether or not you are really doing any good and quite often the best intentions are misguided.   



learn from mistakes: a final review of my car design

When I started designing my car, I researched the market and what was already available and researched the functional problems elderly drivers experience with cars to inform my design.  I consciously chose not to address these problems using electronics, mainly because I believed that mechanical solutions could work as well with less chance of breaking and at a reduced cost. (In particular the wing mirrors).  I was wrong, the solutions to the problems already exist in a much better way, electronically, with parking sensors and cameras that give you a 360 degree view of the vehicle, they are currently only available in top of the range vehicles, but they are the ideal solution to the problem.  So, should I be designing  the best solution, or the most affordable one.  I suppose that depends on the brief, but who am I to say whether people can afford things or not, there are plenty of payment schemes available.  Why should I be diluting the strength of the design at answering the problems I've identified, based on my experience of how wealthy the elderly people I know who would benefit from such a design are.  The answer is I shouldn't, I should have used the latest technology, as long as it is of benefit and not gimmick, because it will surely come down in price but most importantly because it is the best solution.  That was lesson number 1.

Lesson number 2, I don't mind the exterior, I think it's different to what everyone else is doing, but its not going to blow minds, it's not pushing the boundaries enough and the interior totally sucks.  The seats could have been really beautiful and the whole dash area should be redesigned to be really fluid, in contrast to the exterior.  It could have been amazing, except it isn't, why?  There are two main problems, one is that when I'm too close to a project I can't step back an analyse it properly, the second is the danger of becoming complacent.  There were times during this project, when I thought that will do.  It's not a great detail that has been well resolved, but its ok and it's not one of the things that I wish to focus on in my video, so it will do.  I may also have subconsciously done things because I knew I could make them quickly.  Do that enough times, accepting ok details and soon the whole design will become diluted.  This is a huge problem.  It's funny how sometimes I know all this, I may even realise it at the time, but there's nothing I seem to be able do about it.  I'm a big advocate of taking the right amount of time with the design, not rushing things but also not taking too long, so things can and did go stale. I have seriously thought about how to avoid this, how to not get too involved in the design, so that I am able to step back and analyse effectively. But as I design on my own and don't work in a team, I don't think it's possible, maybe I should start publishing work in progress on websites like Behance, but I believe there are drawbacks to this approach.  The whole point about design for me, is that I get caught up in it, otherwise the design lacks passion. But it is also about iterations, this was the first car I designed.  What I should have done is not published it, taken it apart and built it up again..  You cannot imagine what I can see in my head and how much better version 2 would be.  This has happened with many other designs.  I have said it before, its better to go too far, becuase you can always come back a few steps, than not go far enough.  I know I didn't go far enough.
I'd like to say that this design was a step shift, a game changer.  Not because of what it did, but for this designer, what it didn't do and what he learnt or was again reminded.  It is never enough.  Product tank is changing, the quality is about to go up a gear.  Forever learning, never satisfied,  trapped but comfortable in the constant state of being fleetingly happy when a project is finished, but then unhappy when I realise how much further I could have pushed it. 

is product design dead?

Surf Board shaper Neil Randall (if6was9) at work
Recently I keep stumbling upon debate about the death of product design, not in terms of definition, a change of name or description, but in terms of people,  it is claimed that product designers will be replaced by computers and machines.  This is not a new debate, but it has got me thinking.  If a computer can generate randomly or selectively, a thousand different skins for a product in a matter of seconds, what need for a designer?  I always took comfort in the slim hope that computers would not be able to understand or incorporate into the design the human aspect we currently take for granted.  For example, I recently watched a program about women designing products for women, with greater understanding than any male could bring to the table.  Could a computer grasp the subtlety that potentially a male designer may not?  Yes a computer could generate aesthetically pleasing exteriors to products, but will it ever be able to link in the human centred design elements that demonstrate the deeper, intangible aspects that humans intuitively bring to their designs.  
A few years ago I visited an old University amigo who was shaping surf boards in Australia.  I spent a few days in his work shop and had a go at shaping a mini board.  Whilst I was able to replicate the shape of a surfboard what i didn't understand was why, because I wasn't a surfer.  He was an excellent surfer and would feel the board and know what an extra millimetre off the thickness would do to the handling, how altering the curve would subtly affect the way the board carves through the water allowing him to tailor the board to an individual or making each board subtly unique.  Having hardly ever surfed, these are things I could not appreciate and thats the thing, products are designed by humans to be used by humans.  
A computer will be able to do subtle things to shapes that I can only imagine, but will it understand the humanity of the reasons why?  Probably not, but I don't think it will need to?  Due to advances in scanners etc in the future a human could walk into a booth (or through an airport) and within seconds the machine would know everything it would need to about that person, their grip strength, how much arthritis they have in their hands, underlying medical problems, their balance etc, then it could print products specifically tailored to their needs and they'd be ready for them to collect on the way home.  It could also monitor sales to work out which objects are aesthetically pleasing to each geographic area, age, sex etc, so that it can produce designs that will have a much higher chance of appealing.  A few years of statistical data build up and advancement in this area and it will probably have us all figured out. Maybe if/when this happens, product design as we know it will be dead, but by that time, based on the teachings of many science fiction films (Terminator, Matrix, I-robot etc) the death of product design and industrial design, will be the least of our problems!

product design ideas - pond filter

I have a small pond that is currently the colour of pea soup and i'd like it to be clear.  I have a UV Light on the pump outlet, but it doesn't seem to be reducing the green (yes I've checked the bulb).  So, this weekend, I decided to go all Heath Robinson on it.  I have a load of stainless steel mesh, left over from other projects (originally my kettle design).  I've used it before to filter bits out of wine, so I thought I'd make a set up to try and take some of the sediment out of the water.  The rig I built works really well for a while, tiny bits ofsediment build up as they hit the mesh and are pushed to the sides by the pressure of the water, but aftter about an hour or so, the build up gets too great and rather than go through the mesh, the water spills over the sides.  So, I've been thinking of improving the design to incorporate a water wheel, driven by the fall of the water to brush the sediment that builds up into a collection area.  This is only the first stage, this is the product design process in action.  I have identified the problem, almost have a working solution, but it still needs the design process to make it into a realistic object.