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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 product design (36)


Product design is in me

I've just finished and uploaded my youtube channel trailer, that shows via plasticine model (so its not conclusive) that once cut in half, product design is in me.  Funnily enough it was almost curtains for me whilst making this trailer, because the red paint I'd mixed up to replicate blood sprayed everywhere, miraculously missing the brand new carpet that had just been laid.  Had it hit the carpet, I might not be here to blog again, or would definitely have seen if my innards spelt product design.  Fortunately, no guts need to be spilled, it was a remarkable escape.

I haven't posted for a while, because I've had bad computer problems that I am pleased to say (touch wood) have now been fixed.  So I'd like to say a lot more stuff is on it's way, but as I've posted before, good things take time and even then, they may not be that good.  


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.


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!

prototyping and model making for product design - book review

I was given the book 'Prototyping and Modelmaking for Product Design' for Christmas.  Since then I've been referring to it.  Many of the processes and techniques I already use on many of my projects, but it is a great resource especially for students or those new to making models for product design. It covers lots of processes many of which i didnt know much about.  I suppose in some respects I wanted to check if the techniques that I've been using could be improved or were out of date as I am quite a traditional model maker, due to the availability of materials and resources, (we'd all like a rapid prototype machine, but one is currently out of my price range).  I have developed lots of techniques to get around not having the right tools, or to do things more cheaply or reuse what I've got.  But for the whole overview, from the professionals, this book is really good.


watch - sneak peek

So as I may have mentioned, here is the first sneak peek at a series of watches I am currently working on.  I'm a great believer in balancing details when designing a product, so if one area is complicated, another should be clean etc.  With this watch, as the body is very plain, I thought the strap should be interesting.  As a quick concept model it's ok.  I'm a great collector of stuff for model making, so the watch strap is made from the packaging you get when you buy a supermarket chicken (in the Uk) for the Sunday roast - it looks quite good on the wrist and the chook was delicious!


Universal design process Q and A with Maren Fiorelli

A while ago I responded to a series of questions about my design process with Maren Fiorelli,
a design student at Columbia College, a slightly edited version of some of my responses is here:

1. What is the first thing you think about when beginning a project?

Once I have identified something I’d like to tackle – a product that I think I can improve on or an area that needs improving, I research to see if this hasn’t already been done, as something better may already exist, but it just hasn’t become mainstream enough to hit my radar and there are few things worse than spending lots of time on something only to have someone tell you that they saw the same design idea or product 4 years ago. 

As an example, my Nan struggles to chop vegetables because of weak wrists, as a designer, should I design a better chopping gadget, or order packets of pre-chopped vegetables from the supermarket?  There is always another way around a problem, sometimes this is an advantage as it allows you to break away from the norm, other times it is a disadvantage as it means the problem doesn’t really exist.  So I have to carefully consider if something is worth tackling as it’s quite an investment of time.  I don’t get it right every time either and I do come up with a lot of dead ends. As the image in this post and  this video demonstrates:

2. What are some key elements that you try to emphasize in your products?

It’s all about functionality.  I have my own design style, but looks are not really important to me, which is weird coming from a product designer as of course I don’t want it to look butt ugly, but one man’s duck is another man’s swan – aesthetics are down to individual taste.  If I had to choose between sacrificing looks or functionality, looks would get the chop every time – although I do think the role of the product designer is to balance both.  What I am really looking for is an elegant solution, the solution which performs best in the most economical/simple way in terms of materials, functionality etc.  It’s hard to describe but you know it when you see it.  I will also always try to first solve the problem without using any (electronic) technology as I feel it’s always the most obvious path, too often designers will just stick a motor in something or a bunch of electronics. 

For example, recently my mother was moaning because the battery had died in her electronic weighing scales, so she had to go back to her mechanical ones – they work perfectly and will continue to do so long after the battery in the electronic ones has died – if electronics provide a tangible benefit, then they should be included, but often I feel it’s an example of laziness on the part of the designer/marketing department and a needless use of resources to try and get a sale from a public that have been tricked into thinking they need something new – new is not necessarily better.

3. How do you create your master check list for these key elements?

I always create a list of things that I’d like to include, there’s the ‘nice to haves’ and the ‘must be able to do’s’.  I (sort of) imagine everything it would be good to have, even if they may be currently impossible, but I think through as many scenarios as I can.  Some ideas I put back on the shelf for next time, but all the things that will make the object better, I try to keep.  It’s difficult to put into words quite how it works, but I try to include as much common sense as possible.

I also use a rule of thumb for the size of product I’m designing to try and include as many innovations/USP’s (unique selling points) as possible.  If what I’m designing is simple (1 part) like a bread board, I’m looking for at least 1 USP.  If it’s a complex product then I’m trying to find at least 7 USP’s to make it stand out.  These USP’s should not be bolt-ons, so the thing looks like an extra out of the transformers movies, but must be incorporated into the design to add to the functionality as I believe there is no point in being different just for the sake of it when you can be different to the benefit of the product and the consumer.

4. What do you feel about universal design in relation to products for someone with a disability?

There are certain disabilities that require unique and adapted designs tailor made to the individual.  What I like most about the principles of universal design is that by making an object as easy as possible to use for the people who would find it the hardest, you improve it for everyone, which has to be a good thing.  If everyone is using the same equipment, then it’s one less barrier to being disabled.

5. I see that function is the most important aspect in your designs. How important is it to you to stay within the social norm for products that you create?

There are no revolutions in product design; everything is an evolution on what has gone before.  I want my designs to be easily understood and used.  I do not want to design objects that require massive instruction manuals.  So to a certain extent I am designing things that I hope look familiar, but maybe have an element of surprize, like my pepper mill who’s lid turns into a funnel.  I am not looking for people to buy or use my product designs because they are by me (otherwise I would show my face on my site etc which I never do), I would like what I create to be invisible, which means, I want my products to work so well that people don’t notice them.  The majority of products function to complete a task – I use a can-opener to open a tin of beans, not because I love opening tins, but because I am hungry.  When the can opener doesn’t work I get frustrated, because it becomes a barrier to achieving my goal.  I never want my designs to be barriers.  All products follow some form of social norm, they are styled for which-ever culture will most appeal to the consumer, which is why so many versions of a product exists.  Even something as mundane as a toaster comes in many forms and colours to fit with the styling of your home.

6. What direction do you think that designers tend to overlook when they are designing products?

Mainly I would surmise that most mistakes that are made are caused by aggressive time constraints. Time is money, so there can be extreme pressure to hit a deadline.

I have direct experience of this.  I once designed a garlic crush as part of a range of kitchen utensils.  I made a solid Bluefoam model that was then realised in CAD and a rapid prototyping model sent back. I, the client and the rest of the office had a look at it and everything seemed ok, but no one tried to crush garlic with it as we would have broken the part.  We pushed on with tooling, but on receiving the first off tool samples, I discovered (to my horror) that when crushing garlic the two handles just slightly pinched the skin in people’s hands when fully closed.  Changing the tool was costly and no one was very happy, but due to aggressive timescales it was a mistake that no one spotted.  I learnt a lot that week;-)


design advice - areas to innovate

When I am designing a product I often only focus on the products relationship with the end user, without realising all the other areas where I can innovate. Products are manufactured, stored, delivered to warehouses, shipped in containers, displayed on shelves, taken home, used and kept in cupboards, cleaned etc.  The life of a product does not begin when the customer opens the packaging.  If I can save weight, materials, number of parts, size (flat pack), storage, ease of part replacement, ease of dis-assembly, then I am making huge cost savings and environmental savings, etc.  There are loads of areas within product design where a designer can make a huge difference, a long time before it has reached the end user and a long time after and all too often I think this is overlooked.


what is industrial design?

There has recently been an interesting discussion on Core77 about trying to define what industrial design is.  Its clear, that at the time of writing, a whole bunch of Industrial designers cannot agree.  Design is such a personal thing and everyones reason for doing it is different.  Some people want to make existing designs look more stlish, some (like myself) want to improve their functionality.

'My industrial design is about identifying a product that doesn't work as well as it could and trying to make it work better.'

But I'm happy to admit, I'm not happy with that definition.


product design advice - test your idea first

The uncle of a friend of mine came up with an idea for a product; what the product was is not important, suffice to say, it was an idea so commercially bad, it was the chocolate tea pot of bad ideas.  He wanted to take the design to market and with no product design experience, conducted a brief internet search and found an experienced Product Design company offering design evaluation services.  From the website they had all the right bells and whistles and offered to evaluate the design free of charge.  He went along to meet them and they reviewed his idea and surprisingly told him it had legs.  The next step would be for their patent team of highly experienced patent experts to do a search to check if the idea had not already been patented.  My friends uncle, parted with the cash (a princely sum) to allow the initial search to be conducted.  The fee seemed steep, but they assured him that there would be a lot of hand holding along the way and their experts were, well… experts.  Unsurprisingly, the initial search came back with articles of a similar nature, but nothing that was close to his idea (with good reason, his idea was a howler).  For the next stage, the company would prepare various sketches to get rough tooling quotes and patent his idea.  The fees were starting to increase, so my friend heard about his uncles’ folly and put him into contact with me.  A few quick questions were enough.  I felt like Simon Cowell on X-Factor.  ‘Haven’t any of your friends or family told you, you can’t sing?’ 

‘No, they all say I have a beautiful voice’

It didn’t feel good. 

'What do your friends and family think of your idea? Have you made a rough model to see if your idea will work?' I asked, he replied he hadn’t made a model, he had never done any of this before and didn’t really have any DIY skills.  He also hadn’t told many people because he was worried about giving his idea away, but his wife thought he had a good idea, because she had experienced the problem.  The idea was a classic combination of two products that worked spectacularly well at the jobs they were intended for separately and would work spectacularly badly when forced together to make a new multi-purpose object.  ‘Go and buy these two items from a hardware store, cut a hole in one and stick the other through it, add a bit of gaffer tape and then go for a walk and try to use it,’ I advised – see what problems this creates and think around how to solve those problems.  He did so and realised that he was potentially being taken for a ride.

Every design consultancy has mouths to feed and there are a lot of people out there with money who are having bad ideas, so sometimes paths may cross.  I’m not condoning this, but there were faults on both sides.  The consultancy should have told him that the idea needed radical development or scrapping and addressing the problem in another way, before taking a fee for a patent search.  Also a few hours on the internet and in the shed would have solved many of his problems and highlighted many new ones.  With a lot of work the design company may have been able to completely change the idea to create a half decent design, but would it ever be marketable and would my friends uncle have enough to invest to not only get it to market, but also market it so that people would invest or buy it, I don’t think so.  With all my experience I could not see a way of making it work.  My friends uncle had identified a problem, it was just the way he went about analyzing and solving it.  You don’t have to be a designer or inventor to come up with good ideas, but there are a few things you have to do to test if they are any good.

Once you have identified the problem, you have to ask yourself does the problem really exist?  Has it been solved in another way?  In the space race, America spent 2 million dollars designing a ball point pen that would write in a zero gravity environment and the Russians just took a pencil (research suggest that this example maybe a myth but it does nicely illustrate a point).  If indeed you have found a problem without a satisfactory solution, then you have to research to see if it hasn’t already been done and you are just not aware of it (the internet is great for this). Then, you don’t need to be good at sketching or making models, but I cannot stress enough, you do need to make rough, quick models to find the faults with your idea.  Use card board, plasticine, even salt dough – anything you can get your hands on and test your ideas on family and friends before approaching a designer – whatever it takes to avoid that chocolate tea pot.  I'm going to blog around this a lot more in the future.


Car design finally...

This weekend I finally completed the car project I have been working on for... too long.  Its been a difficult project (every thing that could have gone wrong did), so I'm not sure how I feel about the end result - if I had to do it all over again... I'd probably walk away.  Of course there are loads of things I'd like to have done a lot better and things I'd completely change.  As usually happens half way through this project, I came up with a much better idea for another car, its a real humdinger in the sketch pad.  Unfortunately it was such a radical change that I couldn't incorporate it into this design.  So I was faced with the tricky descision of scrapping several months work or pushing on.  Much squinting and tongue chewing later, I decided to push on and so now, at the end, I'm glad I did - although this could be the wine talking! 

All I have to do is polish a few images, edit a video and release it on the web to begin its new life on its own (fly my pretty).  I have learnt a lot whilst doing this project that I am sure will benefit me in the future, especially techniques for covering things in paper, which is a great for quickly covering over unsightly mistakes - it feels like the motto of this project should be, if it's unfinished, glue some paper over it and it will (hopefully) be ok.  Other mottos would also include, don't try and make round things without a lathe, dont decide it would be fun to make the interior as well as the exterior and do decide how the doors are going to open at the start, rather than thinking 'Oh I'll resolve that minor detail later on'. Yee Haa



design ideas - Pan lid

Loading the dishwasher after a recent meal, I was struck by how much space a frying pan lid takes up in the dishwasher.  The problem is the handle, which annoyingly always seems to be in the way.  In the past I have designed pan lids to lock to the pan, so that the pan can be drained with one hand.  Following recent experiences, I think a far more useful feature would be to have all pan lid handles fold, twist, lock or generally get totally out of the way for ease of storage and dish washer loading, so have sketched out a few concepts.


Product Design a Valuable lesson #2

Anyone who thinks you are only as good as your last design project is misguided – I hear this said all the time, but the fact is, you are only as good as your next product design, because you hopefully take forward all the things you have learnt from your last.  Whilst it is important to make the lastest completed project as good as possible as this will be the most recent thing you can be judged on, I also think it is very important to be able to make mistakes and show how you have progressed. Having had quite a few product design projects in my past where the outcome, on reflection, has not been as strong as I would have liked, I now know not to be dishartened, just to analyze where to improve and come back stronger


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 - chocolate

A while ago I made a series of vac forming moulds to make my own chocolates.  They were going to be unique flavours and shapes, with popping candy in the tips of one idea.  I found the moulds whilst rummaging for some parts over christmas and it seemed relevant as recently I've eaten a lot of chocolate.  Looking at the moulds now, it's surprising how architectural they are, even though that wasn't the original intention.



design ideas - door stopped

I never really said why my doorstop was different, so I made a short explanation video.


design ideas - Door stop

A while ago I designed and built a model kitchen with an extendable 'reach over' tap.  Initially I made the tap arms too small and had to make them again, but one of the waste parts somehow ended up as my door stop.  Since then it's been very useful, working so well I'm considering making more for the other doors in the house.


design competition - Braun Prize 2012

Product Tank wins the Braun Prize Professional & Enthusiasts category for Uk/Ireland for his kitchen design.  I have no idea how many professional & Enthusiast entrants there were from blighty, it could have just been me, however I'm very pleased as I can now say I am an award winning product designer.


design idea - ear buddy

A while ago I read an artice regarding litter on beaches.  People use cotton buds, then flush them down the toilet.  13,000 were found on 400 beaches surveyed this year.  I've heard there is a move to try and make the tubes out of cardboard rather than plastic, so that they degrade. 

I wonder if a reusable cotton bud design concept - not for make up, just for cleaning ears, made from a very low shore silicone, that could then be washed under a tap and stored in the bathroom cabinet would be a way to further reduce the problem of litter?

My gran always said the only thing you should put in your ear is your elbow, she must have been double jointed! But despite her advice, people still clean their ears with these things, myself included.


design idea - safety syringe

I've been playing around with ways to make simple everyday things safer.  Whilst looking at how needles are disposed I wondered why the lid couldn't be made into a disposing feature. 

When the lid is placed back over the needle and firmly pushed on it locks, making the needle safe and the two parts very difficult to separate.  The assembly can then be safely removed from the syringe and disposed and a new needle and lid fitted by pushing the syringe into the needle whilst holding onto its collar.


design idea - Wash your mouth out

Whilst brushing my teeth, I was wondering if you could simply combine a mouth wash bottle with an optic (that dispenses measures of alcohol in bars). So you could either fill the cap, or drink from the bottle, but each time it would be a measured result.  I spent about an hour doing a very quick doodle of an initial ideas (obviously not fully resolved!).

The images show a section of the bottle, so imagine a round bottle was cut in half and the exposed faces couloured in. 

The bottle has a inner assembly ultrasonically welded into it (in blue, green and red).  The idea being that you shake the bottle (as you would normally), then turn it upside down (2) and depress the raised button in the cap.  This forces a rod to act against a sealing valve (in red) opening it and allowing mouthwash to flow into a reservoir.  The cap could be clear so that you can see this happening.  Once you release your finger, the valve would close and you can turn the bottle the right way up. 

The air trap (2) is important as it means that the reservoir cannot be filled completely, so when the bottle is turned the right way up, the liquid will not be level with the top (3) so it won't spill when you unscrew the lid.  You now have a system that will always give you an exact measure that can be poured into something. 

It would be good to try and reduce the part count further, but the added tooling complexity would probably prove very costly.  It would also be good to replace the spring with a plastic substitute as this would be an expensive part when the production is viewed as a whole, but shelf life has to also be considered if the bottle is stored in a stock room for a year before being sold.  Metal spring force remains constant where as plastic memory means it looses efficiency over time. This has probably been done before, but hey.