Slow/d: “The First Distributed Design Factory”

At first glance, this design for a stacking chair called the RJR might not seem like much:It's simple, clean, consists entirely of 90-degree cuts and looks like anyone could make one. But that's actually the point. That's because Italy-based industrial designer Mario Alessiani designed it for Slow/d, an Italian outfit that bills themselves as "the first distributed design factory." What Slow/d is shooting to be is, in essence, a production company with no warehouses, no inventory and no fabricating facility of their own; instead individual craftspeople and artisans scattered throughout Italy are their production arm.Under Slow/d's scheme, designers submit their designs to the Slow/d site for approval. Consumers peruse the chosen designs, and when they purchase one, an artisan local to the consumer that's been pre-approved by Slow/d is then tasked with building and delivering the piece. "In this way," explains Alessiani's entry to the VModern Furniture Design Competition, "everyone works and we have less transportation and pollution."The aim of the designer was to make a wooden chair that can be [built] by the most number of carpenters in order to make the net of artisans capable of doing it as big as possible. The idea was to create a design that could be done with base carpentry tools but with something more that makes the chair recognizable and functional.Thus far Slow/d claims to have some 1,300 designers and artisans signed up, but I could only find 20 products currently for sale on their site. Some examples of the furniture currently being sold are Nicola Dalla Casta's Woodrope, a flatpack stool with structural stability being provided by rope in tension:FareDesign's similarly flatpack Join coatrack:Mess+Simoni's Cullatonda cradle:All of the designs feature straightforward construction similar to Alessiani's. While design snobs might sniff at what they perceive to be "idiot-proof" construction designed to attract producers of varying talents, I think the idea of distributed manufacturing has merit, and the long-term environmental benefits, if such a thing were to work, are undeniable.Less clear are some of the details of the precise payouts offered. First off, the site states that designers score a 10% royalty on each piece sold—if that percentage sounds low to you, it's still far higher than what you'd get from an established furniture brand—and the initial fabricator who helps them prototype that design gets a 5% royalty. Those numbers seem fine to me, and is a particularly good way for a fabricator to continuously earn a little coin after a one-time job.Where it gets murky, at least for me trying to puzzle through the badly-translated English description, is that once a particular design's "manufacturing license" is sold to the fabricator who will ultimately build the exact version going to a consumer, the designer gets 65%; is that a one-time fee, and who determines the price of the license? Furthermore, that last-mile fabricator is said to receive only 5%. The website is not clear on whether the fabricators are also paid for the actual materials and labor, but I imagine they'd have to be; otherwise the payout in building a €280.60 (US $305) RJR chair only amount to €14 (US $15.25) per unit for the last-mile fabricator, which hardly seems worthwhile for what is likely several hours of labor.In any case, here is Slow/d's pitch, and I hope they can hire a proper translator in the future to make the financials a bit more clear: Slowd connects designers and artisans to redraw the furniture supply chain from Andrea Cattabriga on Vimeo.

Reader Submitted: ‘Painful’ Chair: An Original Approach to Traditional Woodworking

A handmade wooden chair not only demonstrates the beauty of the wood, but through stylistic choices also reveals the cultural influences and elements behind it. "Painful" doesn't mean that you feel painful when sitting in this chair. Instead, "painful" refers to the material language of this traditional "Ming" chair—the inspiration behind the chair, Chinese acupuncture, is translated into the form through the 800 hammered wood nails that make up the seat of the furniture piece.View the full project here

Using Cradle to Cradle to Eliminate the Concept of Waste

Presented by the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute and Autodesk, the Product Design Challenge asks emerging designers to develop new solutions for improving our environment through sustainable design. Each iteration of the challenge brings us closer to realizing the imperative to create a circular market standard. After receiving applications from 18 countries, the design challenge recognized winners in four categories: Best Student Project, Best Professional Project, Best Use of Aluminum, and Best Use of Autodesk Fusion 360. Find out more about their work below:Best Student Project: Gabriella Jacobsen, Onward BagJacobsen developed an aluminum stamp to press a wavelike pattern onto the finished bags—a storytelling element meant to instill a connection between user and nature. "It is not enough anymore to just design a computer bag. One must ask, 'Why should this computer bag exist? and 'Where in our product system does the life of this computer bag fit?'"The Virginia Tech student responded to the growing issue of plastic bag waste, which is a major pollutant of oceans and waterways despite the fact that the High Density Polyethylene used to make plastic bags is 100% recyclable. Her laptop bag is made from 60-70 recycled plastic bags, organic cotton canvas, canvas thread and biodegradable dyes. At the end of the product's life, users need only cut a few stitches to fully separate the two types of fabrics, allowing the entire bag to be recycled and composted respectively. Best Professional Project: Barent Roth, BikeShare Helmet"I envision a time when sustainable design thinking is so completely integrated into the process that it does not even require to be defined as such, it just is. With 80% of a product's environmental impacts being determined in the design phase, it is imperative that ecological solutions be woven into the design process of every object."Designer and educator Barent Roth designed a simple unisex style bike helmet intended to integrate with the growing bike share community as an optional purchase accompanying bike share memberships. The BikeShare Helmet uses a recycled aluminum foam shell and a sustainably grown cork liner to provide maximum protection with minimal bulk and weight. He incorporated mechanical flanges into the sides of the cork liner so the two layers could "snap" into place, so no glue is necessary to secure the cork to the aluminum shell. Best Use of Aluminum: Michiel Meurs, AtoB Seat"To me, Cradle to Cradle is a design-philosophy that turns the way we look at things upside-down."Along with his team, Meurs designed a seat for public transportation made from recycled aluminum, recycled PET and formaldehyde free bamboo plywood. In the research phase, they found out that current commuter seats require a whopping 60-120 parts for construction. Their design is focused on creating a far simpler approach, requiring just a basic aluminum frame, a continuous, ergonomic seat panel and customizable upholstery options. The category Best Use of Aluminum was a new addition in this round of the challenge, meant to highlight the "infinite recyclability" of the material. Best Use of Autodesk Fusion 360: The Engineers for a Sustainable World Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) Chapter, Sweeping the Nation with ChangeThe design incorporates a mechanism at the base of the broom handle that allows the handle to be adjusted between 0°, 45° and 90°. "This feature allows a customer to afford the functionality of three separate brooms for the material and monetary costs of one," note the designers. "The design-led revolution is ingrained in our generation and, as engineers, we see ourselves playing a large role in transforming today's industries."A group of RIT engineers developed a recyclable broom with a bristle head made of highly biodegradable material that can be replaced independently of the broom's other components. "We looked at everyday household items and wanted to transform one of the biggest wastes into something sustainable," they explained. "Broom bristles don't last very long and so the entire broom is then thrown out to go to a landfill." The product uses recycled aluminum, steel springs and wheat straw—an abundant crop with low commercial value to keep the final product cost-effective. The bi-annual Product Design Challenge is an ongoing platform. If you're interested in the Cradle to Cradle approach to design, keep an eye on our Calendar for updates on the upcoming call for submissions.

Modern-Day Small-Batch Hybrid Production Techniques: Combining CNC with Hand Tools for Effective Results

When Tom Blake was designing his revolutionary surfboard in the 1920s, I'm sure he had no notion that it would change surfing. Nor could he have any idea that his design would eventually be usurped by foam and plastic. Nor could he have possibly envisioned that nearly a century later, a small shop would go back to wood and produce new designs inspired by his, and that this shop would not be located in his stomping grounds of Hawaii or California, but way over in England.Cornwall-based Otter Surfboards produces Blake-inspired hollow surfboards, featuring a skeleton with sturdy ribs that nevertheless might have appeared shockingly thin to Blake. To adhere the rails and surfaces they use adhesives with efficacies Blake could only have dreamt of. And while he'd recognize some of the hand tools Otter uses, the CNC mill would likely throw him for a loop. Check out the hybrid techniques they use to put their boards together:This will sound naïve to those of you familiar with the usage of Japanese hand tools, but I was amazed at how he used a ryoba to cut curves. I have so much trouble getting the flexible blade to cut straight, it never even occurred to me that you could intentionally bend it and cut without binding.I do wish the video was edited a bit less; I would've liked to see more footage of how he built up and contoured the rails during that time jump between 2:36 and 2:44.For those of you within proximity to Cornwall—perhaps you're headed to see boatmaker Ben Harris?—the chaps at Otter offer workshops ranging from one to five days in length, where you can learn to build surfboards, bellyboards or handplanes (the swimming kind, not the wood-shaving kind). Click here to see more of their stuff.

A Radical Board Design from the 1920s Set Surfing Up for Popularization

Back in 1927 Tom Blake, a competitive swimmer from Wisconsin, found himself working on an interesting craft project in Hawaii. Introduced to this weird Hawaiian activity which came to be called surfing, he'd been exposed to the sport through fellow swimmer and surf pioneer Duke Kahanamoku. Blake had spent three years trying it out and visiting a museum in Honolulu to look at early surfboard/paddleboard designs, called olo.Olo were gargantuan affairs. They were some fifteen feet in length, three to four inches thick, made from a local wood like koa in Hawaii or redwood in California, and required plenty of muscle to haul around; some weighed well over 100 pounds. Blake was building replicas of the olo he'd studied in the museum and wondering if he could make them lighter.Image: Surfing Heritage Foundation The idea he came up with was to drill hundreds of holes in the board, just to remove mass. Then he skinned both sides with thinner layers of wood in an effort to seal the surface. Blake's invention worked well enough that he continued down this road, eventually striking upon the idea of not starting with a solid piece of wood at all, but instead cutting thinner pieces of wood into ribs and a spine, in the manner of an airplane wing. He'd then skin the skeleton in wood, creating a relatively watertight surface—a plug was needed to drain whatever water got inside after each session—and succeeded in getting the weight down to around 40 pounds. By 1931 he'd applied for a patent, and the following year was awarded U.S. Patent No. 1,872,230 for his design (amusingly referred to as a "water sled").By 1932 Blake had opened a business producing his innovative surfboards and paddleboards in Venice, California, and later licensed his designs to other manufacturers. In 1935 he came up with another idea—adding a fin to the underside of a board—and again found success, as the simple addition provided lateral stability and gave the surfboard better maneuverability. By 1936 he was holding classes to each others how to build his designs… Image: Surfing Heritage Foundation …and by 1939 his designs had been published in both Popular Mechanics and Popular Science, with Blake writing accompanying articles on how to DIY them.Popular Mechanics, July 1937, Volume 68, Number 1. Image: The Wood Buddha Popular Mechanics, July 1937, Volume 68, Number 1. Image: The Wood Buddha An end user in Lanai with one of Blake's designs that had been published in Popular Science. Image: The Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum Along the way Blake had begun surfing competitively and winning competitions like the Pacific Coast Surf Riding Championships, America's first such organized event. And his innovation wasn't limited to board construction; he came up with the idea for a waist-mounted leash so that boards wouldn't get away from him after a wipeout, and so in love was he with the sport that after learning photography, he invented a waterproof housing for a Graflex camera that allowed one to shoot surfers from within the water. As GoPro would do decades later, Blake's invention allowed the public to see images of an exciting new sport from a perspective they'd never before seen, like this:You can read about a couple more of Blake's inventions here, but let's get back to the boards for a moment. What Blake's modifications achieved cannot be overstated. His innovative and lightweight design suddenly opened the sport up to folks for were previously either unable or unwilling to lug 100 pounds up and down a beach. According to Steven Kotler's West of Jesus: Surfing, Science, and the Origins of Belief,"Blake altered everything," surf journalist Drew Kampion wrote in 2001. "He almost single-handedly transformed surfing from a primitive Polynesian curiosity into a 20th century lifestyle." Blake accomplished this despite having no industrial design training—heck, back then most people didn't even know what industrial design was—and indeed, lacking a formal education, as Blake had dropped out of high school. So, would-be design entrepreneurs among you, I'd urge you to look around at objects within your own realm of experience. There is something around you that more people would like to use, but do not, because it's too heavy, too light, too big, too small, too unwieldy, too hard to learn, or in some way inaccessible. Think about how you might be able to improve it, and if you've got the passion to see it through, perhaps you could be the Tom Blake of [fill in the blank].Here's a look at a Blake design from the 1940s:Blake's hollow boards eventually became supplanted by better material technology, and today polystyrene foam, fiberglass and resin are the rule. But that doesn't mean that all modern-day boardmakers have forgotten what a Blake board was like. Stay tuned.

Design Job: Imagine the Next Gen of Wearables as Huami’s Lead Industrial Designer in Mountainview, CA

Seeking candidates to imagine the next generation of smart wearable devices. You'll lead projects from product definition to manufacturing. You'll need 5+ years of experience, strong sketching skills, a proficiency in 3D modeling, and excellent 2D/3D rendering skills. Experience with design research including user, trend, color, material, and finish required.View the full design job here

Design Job: Studio Red seeks a World-class Designer/Director in Menlo Park, CA

Candidates should have an Industrial Design degree, 7+ years experience, and will be responsible for producing concept sketches/refined concept renderings of a wide variety of tech and non-tech products. They'll be directly responsible for successful aesthetic outcomes of multiple projects and will oversee and guide concepts from research through development.View the full design job here

Two Cooperative Kids Figure Out an Awesome Way to Share One Bike

When I was in Hue, Vietnam, I met four schoolteachers who all lived in a single-room shack. The four women could only afford two bicycles between them, so the way they commuted was two to a bike–with the one sitting on the rear placing her feet on the pedals alongside the driver's feet and pedaling in sync. It seemed they'd been doing this for years. "More faster," one of the teachers cheerfully explained to me, "less tired."I can't tell what country the following video was shot in, though it also looks to be somewhere in Southeast Asia. In any case, these two clever kids have also figured out a way to share a single bike between them:I am dying to know A) How they thought this up, and B) How they get started!

Objects You Can Attach to Your Head

When Google Glass was announced in 2013, I figured we'd all be wearing them on our heads by 2016. Instead they were canned last year. But as you look around, you'll notice there are plenty of other technological items you can wear on your head, either for on-head usage or mere storage.A Single GoPro CameraThis is perhaps the most obvious one, and it's not just for extreme athletes. It's not uncommon now, at least in New York City, to see an otherwise unremarkable-looking cyclist zip past you while wearing one of these. You can opt for center-forehead-mounted, side-mounted, chin-mounted or the all-important selfie-mounted.Two GoPro CamerasFor those who can't make up their mind.Two GoPro Cameras on a Rotating Swivel MountWise manufacturers have discontinued this product, and GoPro not only doesn't produce one, but distances themselves from it. Sure it can capture some cool footage, but it's dangerous. Imagine the leverage this could place on your neck if, say, you slid into a copse of trees while skiing.Seven GoPro Cameras and a Canon 7DAgain, not something you want to be wearing on your head in the event of an impact. An iPhoneAnd the iPhone 4, by the looks of it. I can't think of a single reason why you'd be wearing a helmet and needing to have your phone float in front of your face, but apparently this thing is for sale.An LED HeadlampI was first introduced to these on a camping trip, and I now occasionally use one during sewing machine repairs. As a side bonus, wearing it makes you look like a complete tool.Night Vision Monoculars and GogglesSoldiers have of course been wearing these for years, and nowadays they even have quad-lens panoramic models.Display Night Vision GogglesHelicopter pilots now have access to NVGs like these that also feature a display to relay vehicle information.Night Vision Goggles, a Communications Headset with Batteries and a FlashlightThat's a lot of gear, isn't it? That's why they sell, to prevent your head from getting unbalanced……Helmet CounterweightsAt the end of the day, I'm glad my jobs and hobbies do not require me to wear a helmet.