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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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Entries in idea (8)


fence panels

The weather in the Uk has been terrible of late with strong winds causing a lot of damage.  A lot of UK properties are fenced with wooden panel fencing for privacy.  This is a problem with the current gusts of wind, as even the strongest fence posts and panels are being severely tested.  

So I've been thinking about solutions for fence designs that keep privacy, but in strong gusts, can adapt to let air through.  The first idea was too similar to a hit and miss panel already in existence.  Idea number 2 has panels mounted on pivots, so in strong gusts they will lift up, but this would require metal work, which would be a more expensive solution.  Idea number 3 is a normal slatted fence with holes drilled in the panels and strips of poly propylene or other suitable plastic covering the holes like cat flaps. When strong winds blow, they will lift allowing air to pass through, but when the wind speed is low, the flaps will remain down. The strips could be offered in a variety of colours and would hopefully be a lowcost and interesting aesthetic solution to an increasing problem. With development, the slats could be replaced with wooden bars to which the strips are attached, allowing even more air movement and cutting down on manufacturing times. 


Bike Lock

A while ago I had a request to design a bike lock, which I have been musing about for a while and now I've reached a point where I'm willing to admit defeat.  It's not that I can't design a good bike lock, but what I can't really do is improve upon existing designs.  So, I started thinking about making the bike become the lock, something that I also think has been done, by turning the frame into a carribena.  But again, maybe I'm asking the wrong question.  All too often people approach designers and ask them to design them an object, not a solution to a problem.  It should not be about designing another bike lock or anything else that already exists, but addressing a problem, which in this instance is stopping a bike from being stolen. Maybe the idea would be to design a bike so light and foldable or compact, that you wouldn't need to lock it up.  You could just carry it into the office and store in under the desk, or put it in your bag and carry it in to the classroom.  Can it currently be done in a staisfactory way? Who knows, but asking different questions and addressing problems, not redesigning current solutions, is the best way to innovate and come up with something (hopefully) better - time to start musing again. 


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.   



Design Ideas - clamp

Recently I have been struggling to glue awkwardly shaped objects together using the clamps that I have.  It struck me that it would be very useful to have clamps with various clamping faces that could be rotated to best select the size and shape of the grip for the job in hand.  I haven't seen anything like this available in the DIY store.


design ideas - don't dredge...Sledge!

Last year I had an idea for modifying trawl doors so that they fished just above the sea bed, reducing destruction to the sea floor, so I made this short video:


Then recently I watched the fantastic Hugh's Fish Fight.  One thing the documentary focuses on is how scallop dredging is destroying habitat and sea life (see video on the fish fight website).  The best way to catch scallops is to hand dive for them, so being a designer and having also recently seen programmes about advances to artificial limbs and computer controlled drones, I started to put things together and came up with the idea of drones with artificial limbs being piloted by computer whiz kids either from the boat or from the shore to harvest scallops.

Is this the future?

But also (thinking around the problem) very few areas are currently zoned off for hand diving only, so better commercial solutions need to be sought for areas where dredging is still allowed.  One piece of behaviour I have seen, is that when the scallop is touched, it's response is to try and flee by propelling itself away:


I wonder if this behaviour can be exploited so by slowly pulling a sledge over a bed of scallops, with dangling ropes at the front of the sledge, they can be tickled/nudged into fleeing and then be collected in the back of the sledge?  This would greatly reduce the damage caused by dredging.


model making - Bandsaw blues

I have found that whilst making prototypes and testing concepts in my workshop (shed) in certain light conditions with a thin saw blade, it becomes really difficult to see my bandsaw blade accurately.  So in fear of loosing the odd finger I recently, as a simple and very cheap fix, taped a piece of paper to the guard.  I'm also contemplating spraying the circular cover white.  I'm surprized manufacturers don't supply a white version when you buy the saw?  This simple solution appears to do the trick for now.



design ideas - newt rescue

image: a newt from my own pond

One of my mates (Andy) works in wildlife conservation, tracking UK populations of amphibians.  On reading my blog post about drains during the flooding, he told me that a big problem our amphibians suffer when migrating to ponds along roads, is falling into drains - they cannot escape and eventually perish.  I came up with some quick ideas to solve this problem that are retrofittable, can be made cheaply and either installed just for the migration seasons or left in place year round.  Concepts focus on either stopping amphibians falling into drains in the first place or providing them with a means of escape when they do (No.5 isn't serious, but if copper dissuades slugs from veg patches will it work on frogs?)....


design ideas - Pepper fox

I'm working on a series of designs that use animal iconography.  The pepper fox model above was a very quick exploration of form using a cheap bit of pine.  It needs a lot of refinement, but I've designed a nice grinding mechanism driven by squeezing the tail to the body that allows it to be used one handed and the ears allow you to unscrew a lid for re-filling. I'm also working on a rabbit jug and swan decanter.