Father Studies Special Effects Online, Learns to Build Awesome Wheelchair-Based Halloween Costumes

Oregon-based Ryan & Lana Weimer have five children, three of whom have Muscular Dystrophy and require the use of wheelchairs. So several years ago Ryan began taking online courses at the Stan Winston School of Character Arts, in order to learn the modelmaking skills necessary to create costumes large enough to incorporate wheelchairs.So successful were Ryan and Lana's subsequent costume designs that they formed Magic Wheelchair, a nonprofit dedicated to producing wheelchair-friendly costumes for families across the country. "Our vision is to put a smile on the face of every child in a wheelchair," they write, "by transforming their wheelchairs into awesomeness."Here's Ryan and brother-in-law Daniel Saunders cranking the costumes out in the Weimer's garage, and the work will undoubtedly remind ID students of your hours in the studio:They face a seemingly impossible task: While they estimate there are "more than 121,000 children under the age of 15 confined to wheelchairs," this year the organization could produce just eight costumes. That's because each takes roughly 120 man-hours (not to mention $2,000 to $4,000 in materials) to craft. Here's Ryan walking you through one of the builds, giving you a sense of what goes into it:Again, I'm struck by how much this resembles ID school studio time. Which makes me wonder if industrial design students and departments couldn't do something to help Magic Wheelchair expand their capabilities. While materials costs are fixed, perhaps the processes could be improved? Fabricating bespoke items like these costumes requires the same shop-based problem-solving skills as your standard Prototypes class. Could the articulating mechanism for those wings be standardized and speedily produced, for instance? And/or could the sheer manpower of ID students already learning to build things be brought to bear?If you're a design educator or student, consider bringing Magic Wheelchair to the attention of your program. If every ID school's Modelmaking class was producing costumes and/or devising more efficient fabrication solutions, perhaps the gap between eight and 121,000 would start to close.

Hans Peder Sahl’s Beautiful Water-Cooled Workstations

Most objects we design and interact with, whether blenders, cars or computers, are enclosed. Meaning we can't see the mechanically marvelous operations happening inside them. That's why cutaway drawings, functional steampunk contraptions and Toyota's KIKAI concept are so fun to look at. So, too, are the "case mods" performed by the subculture of tinkerers who rig their computers up with robust liquid-cooling solutions, the better to deal with the high temperatures generated by the heavy processor use of intense gaming.Denmark-based Hans Peder Sahl is one such case modder, and with his background—he studied "engineering specialized in Integrated Design," according to his bio—he's able to skillfully combine what works well with what looks darned purty. Check out his liquid-cooled R40 Engineering Workstation project, where the simple act of adding liquid dye adds visual pop to his elaborate plumbing set-up:Sahl's earlier Project N.V. build introduced hard angles into the tubing and utilized milky-colored fluid, giving the piece a colder, more Tron-like aesthetic:It's amazing how much difference the color and the geometry of the plumbing has on the overall aesthetic. And if his color mixing experiments, below, are any indication, hopefully we'll see more variants from Sahl in the future.Check out the rest of his work here.

Alexandru Duru’s Real, Working Hoverboard

It's just five days until October 21st, 2015, the date that Marty McFly traveled to and rode around on a hoverboard on. Which means Canadian inventor Catalin Alexandru Duru has just five days to paint his invention pink, make it a bit smaller and get it ready for McFly.Yes, Duru has invented a working, battery-powered hoverboard—actually, two of them—and unlike the one McFly used/will use, Duru's do just fine over water. Earlier this year the 31-year-old used his first version to break the Guinness World Record for longest hoverboard flight (275.9 meters) over Quebec's Lake Ouareau; now he's already got a second version ready. Though this second prototype was developed in secret, Canada's CBC was allowed to videotape Duru taking it on its maiden voyage:You gotta love the wirecutter throttle.Duru has formed a company, Omni Hoverboards, around his inventions, and the CBC reports that the plan is to "have hovercrafts available for purchase across the country." We assume they mean Canada, but like Michael J. Fox himself, perhaps the hoverboards will migrate south.

A Rare Look at the Early, Pre-Memphis Work of Ettore Sottsass 

Ettore Sottsass is practically synonymous with the provocative, raw aesthetic of Memphis—the pioneering design collective that formed in Sottsass' own living room in 1981—but he was already in his 60's at the time, with a formidable, diverse career preceding the years of Radical Design. At Friedman Benda, a series of works from 1955 through 1969 highlight a far lesser-known stage of his career, one marked by intensely personal explorations and a will to devise objects that "touch the nerves, the blood, the muscles, the eyes and the moods of people." During this time, Sottsass began to collaborate more with his patrons in the Italian furniture industry while also traveling extensively and drawing on these experiences in early explorations with color, pattern and material. Through an array of personal and commissioned works, the show frames these rich, formative years during which Sottsass consolidated his design philosophy: that "decoration can be a state of mind, an unusual perception, a ritual whisper."Sideboard for Poltronova (1962) and collection of Tenebre vases (1962)Offerta a Shiva (Offerings to Shiva) series, 1964In 1961, Sottsass traveled to India for the first time and was deeply moved by the sensuous world he encountered. "In India I found very strongly a sort of dimension of sacrality," he said. "Every object could become something so related to your life that it becomes part of your vision of la sacralità [the sacred]." Unfortunately, he also contracted a kidney infection—with a terminal prognosis—that forced him into a lengthy convalescence in California. It was there that he met and befriended Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac (among others), seminal writers who had been similarly marked by their travels to India. After his experiences in India, and later with the Beats, Sottsass began working on a series of expressive, hand-made ceramics reflecting the darkness of that time period, in which he so closely brushed with death. Each of the cylindrical forms in the Tenebre (Darkness) series represents a specific person he had known and lost—a set of intimate memorials. In a more optimistic tone, he created the 100 unique plates that make up the Offerta a Shiva (Offerings to Shiva) series as an offering of gratitude for being alive. Using earth tones and circular motifs, the forms are meditative and echo the iconography of mandalas. Tantra vases, 1968Grande Mandala, 1964-65 and Piccolo Mandala, 1964He would go on to make numerous subsequent trips to India during the following years and continued to absorb lessons from the country into his work. The monumental Tantra vases demonstrate that influence. Their ziggurat-like forms are three-dimensional interpretations of tantric diagrams, while their oversized proportions begin to speak to the playfulness that would define his Memphis work. View of installation including the Califfo Setee and a hanging lamp designed for ArredoluceMobile Barbarella (1966)View of installation including the velvet upholstered Canada setee and armchairs (1959), Lava vases and a mirror designed for Santambrogio and De Berti. Library (1965)Alongside the ceramic works are several little-known furniture designs, many of which are taken from his own house: a gridded screen, the cluster of coffee tables which were similarly assembled and a set of graphically patterned planters. "The experimentation in ceramics up against the furniture pieces shows the complete duality of what his career was," explains designer Jim Walrod. In contrast to much of the plastic and laminate work that would come later, most of these earlier pieces were made of natural materials like rosewood and walnut wood, often inlaid in contrasting tones to create graphic patterns. The biggest presence in the space, floating on a wall, is the bookcase he designed for an Olivetti executive in 1965. Though definitely functional, this piece also represents Sottsass' bold, subversive attitude—the typical structure of a library is upended, the bookshelves are vertical instead of horizontal. The exhibition is closing this weekend in New York but if your interest in Sottsass is piqued, we recommend the recently released biography written by London's Design Museum director Deyan Sudjic, Ettore Sottsass and the Poetry of Things.

Strange, Experimental Phone Designs from China

Are phones designed for users, or for the companies that produce them? What features might you design into a phone that didn't have to pass Apple or Samsung's strict internal guidelines? Those are questions posed by MIT Media Lab and production company mssngpeces, who teamed up to create this video look at phone production in China. On the ground in Shenzhen, the production crew found a bewildering array of locally-designed devices with features meant to appeal to the local market. What if a cell phone had a built-in telescoping reading light, for those living in areas with spotty electricity? What if a phone could be used to charge another phone? Or how about a phone with multiple SIM-card slots, so the traveling user can switch to whatever carrier they'd like? MIT Media Lab Knotty Objects: Phone from m ss ng p eces on Vimeo.However weird, unlovely or downright tacky we Westerners might consider some of these, we think China should do more to promote this kind of local-targeted design work. They've got the consumer base to support it, and trying to solve users' needs that have been passed over by the big dogs is a sure path to innovation. That would go a long way towards repairing their piracy-riddled reputation, and perhaps even help to stamp it out.

Vertically Parked Cars, Sauna-Equipped Motorcycles and Self-Shortening Coupes: Hilarious Vehicle Concepts by Steven M. Johnson

The brilliant cartoonist/inventor Steven M. Johnson has been dreaming up kooky product concepts for 40 years. Luckily for us the man saves his work, and this year he released a new book, "Patent Depending: Vehicles," that rounds up four decades of his automotive concepts. The $19.95 book contains over 400 drawings of "ludicrous, whimsical or marginally-plausible inventions relating to the automobile, as well as to vans, motorcycles, bicycles and unique personal conveyances," and I really wish some car company would hire him. (He actually worked for Honda R&D for nine years!) Here's a sample of what's in the book:Ooh—maybe VW is now in such dire need of distraction that they'd consider taking Johnson on?Via PrintMag & The Atlantic

The Push-Button, Motorized Packaging on Those Star Wars Books

This cracks me up: Several years ago the publishing house Becker & Mayer, having secured the licensing from Lucasfilm, released a series of Star Wars "manuals" that retailed for $100 each (S.R.P., anyway). Before we get to what's in 'em, let's look at how they're packaged:First off, I'm a little disappointed with the industrial design. I know there's only so much tech you can put into an object at that price point, but I would've preferred they sold them for $250 and made the mechanisms less janky. Cheap, tinny speakers will always sound like cheap, tinny speakers, and making the lights flash on the latter three models renders them cheesy.But, what did I expect from manuals purporting to reveal the secrets of the Jedi, the Sith, the Empire and that universe's version of Dog the Bounty Hunter, a/k/a Boba Fett? I love that the promo copy of The Jedi Path states "Through wars and rebellion, only a single copy of this manual has survived. It is now passed on to you." To you and anyone who has access to Amazon, that is. Speaking of Amazon, what's interesting is what's happened to the prices since the books were first launched. While all four were intended to retail for $99.99, The Jedi Path and The Bounty Hunter Code can now be had for $59.99; the Imperial Handbook, for $89.59; but the Book of Sith goes for a whopping $524.99! It seems that when it comes to retail, the Dark Side really is stronger than the Light.

The August Smart Lock Gets Some Smart Friends

We announced the Yves- Béhar-designed August Smart Lock two years ago, and by last year it was on the market. The remote unlocking design has been applauded not only by us—it won a Core77 Design Award—but by consumers; in the year since it's been on the market, they've sold millions, activating five million units alone in just the past month.Today August Home announces they're expanding the product line by not only upgrading the Smart Lock and adding HomeKit functionality, but also by adding the August Smart Keypad and August Doorbell Cam. The idea is that the keypad allows the user to provide temporary or permanent access codes to those without smartphones handy, while the Doorbell Cam obviously provides visuals (and reinforces to, say, a deliveryperson whom you're buzzing in, that they're being observed). The company has also launched August Access, a software platform linking August users with "partnerships with top home service providers," like Sears, Handy and Fetch. This is a shrewd move; while homeowners might have no trouble buzzing in a UPS guy that they see weekly, allowing less frequent visitors to enter their homes in their absence might give them pause, and having pre-vetted service techs from reputable companies is meant to provide peace of mind.Here's how the system is meant to operate:These being Béhar and co.'s handiwork, thoughtful design touches abound. The Doorbell Cam only lights the doorbell icon, and the Keypad only lights the keys, when someone approaches and triggers the motion sensors within. The Smart Lock design has been updated with a grippier pattern etched into its periphery, and a little chrome speed-bump has been added so that one can physically see which position the lock is in. And all of the devices can be user-installed "in 10 minutes or less."The Smart Lock will set you back $229; the Doorbell Cam, $199; and the Keypad, $79.What I wish they'd design next is some kind of all-encompassing New York City edition. Me and many of my Gothamite friends have up to three locks on our doors, each with a different opening mechanism. I envy August owners not only because they own the system, but because they live in an area where one lock is enough.

Better, More Flexible Eyeglasses Through Materials Science and Digital Fabrication

According to statistics, more than half of you are reading this with eyeglasses on the front of your face. Let's talk about how they're made.Eyeglasses frames are typically either metal, with titanium being the trendiest these days, or plastic. Of the plastic frames, injection molded are the cheapest (and cheapest-looking), using nylon-based plastics that can grow brittle with age; most fashion-conscious brands these days eschew injection molding and make their frames from sheets of cellulose acetate, which are laminated into blocks, then milled or stamped into shape.Cellulose acetate is fairly flexible stuff and can be colored, which is why it's become the go-to material. But now a new brand called Aspire Eyewear, launched just this year, has concocted a proprietary nylon blend that they reckon is better. Called SDN-4, the stuff is milled like acetate is—in Aspire's case, CNC-milled—but can be made lighter and thinner. Here's how flexible the stuff is:Obviously the super-twisty shots aren't practical, as if there were lenses in those shots they'd break, but you get the idea. "SDN-4 is extremely lightweight, pliable, strong, and resistant to heat and UV exposure," the company writes. Acetate, in contrast, is susceptible to heat; when I first started wearing eyeglasses as an adult, a friend who was a lifelong speccy advised me not to leave acetate glasses in a hot car, warning that they would deform.Aspire sent me a pair of their glasses to try out (the "Powerful" model), and the first thing I did was squeeze them flat, emulating what would happen if they were tucked in a jacket pocket without any protective case:They went flat without complaining. But while the company claims the material's memory will cause it to spring back into shape, the pair I tested didn't, at least not right away:Still, I found it was simple enough to re-introduce the curve with my fingers, as below, and they then kept that shape.Impressively, you'd swear by looking at them that the SDN-4, which is what the fronts of this model are made of, was the same stainless steel that the temples are made of:Its only up close and in good light that you can tell the materials apart.My biggest gripe with the two pairs of metal eyeglasses I own is that I must regularly dig out that tiny screwdriver and re-tighten the hinge screws. Aspire's glasses feature a screwless hinge design:However, I'm not sure how to adjust them, or if there even is any possibility of user-adjustability. I've been testing them for just over a month, and I can't recall if they arrived like this or if this has recently developed, but the right hinge is looser than the left hinge for the first 10 degrees or so. This is not noticeable while wearing the glasses and doesn't have any performance drawback that I can see, but I was asked to review the glasses, hence the fine-toothed comb.The nose pads appear to be molded directly into the frames. "Each nose pad has several prongs, or 'grippers' that are secured to the SDN-4 material using a proprietary process," the company says. I've observed that unlike the nose pads on the pair of Warby Parkers that I typically wear, Aspire's don't dig into my nose or leave furrows like the WP's do; when I take off the Aspires, you can't tell I was wearing them. (The nose pads on the Aspires also haven't fallen off as the left one on my Warbys occasionally does, but then I've only been testing these for a month.)Something I noticed by switching back and forth between the Warby Parkers and the Aspires is how much lighter and more comfortable the Aspires are. It almost feels like you're not wearing glasses at all. What I mean by this, concretely, is that the stems of my Warbys exert a particular amount of pressure on my temples, yet despite that pressure will still slide down my nose over time. In contrast the stems on the Aspires exert much less pressure on my temples, yet stay firmly in place, even when I'm in the shop and bending over stuff, standing on a ladder and looking straight up to adjust something on the ceiling, or looking directly down on items.Which is to say, the Aspires have a noticeable performance advantage in that they never move on my face regardless of my head angle, yet they exert less pressure on both the temples and the sides of my nose. I couldn't figure out why this would be—it's paradoxical—but I'm pretty sure it has to do with weight. I threw both pairs on a kitchen scale to see:The Warby ParkersThe AspiresI'm no eyeglass expert, but it appears that the Aspire frame's lighter weight is what keeps them firmly fixed in place despite being more comfortable. And that's probably why the company is billing them as ideal for "active situations like running or boating or golfing" in addition to desk duty.Alas, the Aspires are too wide for my face, aesthetically; my pupils are 59 millimeters on-center, and asymmetrical to boot, so I often have trouble finding glasses that fit me. But this is no fault of the company's, and if I had to recommend a pair of eyeglasses to a friend—even one that works in a shop environment, spends time in the gym or runs—with a more average pupillary distance, I'd recommend the Aspires over the Warbys, Prodesign Denmarks and Guccis I've previously owned.Admittedly, I don't have experience with the brand that Aspire has in their sights:"The only company that might be considered a competitor in performance right now is Lindberg," says the company. "That brand does not use a similar material, though"—(I looked into it, Lindberg uses acetate)—"and is available at a much more expensive price point. Aspire is available in the affordable luxury price point of $240-$280."I'm curious to hear from the eyeglass wearers among you, particularly those of you that work in shop environments: What brand do you wear, and what qualities do you prize? Also, do any of you have a pupillary distance of 59 millimeters, and if so, what the heck fits?

Corralling the Keys

While a basic keychain works for many end users, others are looking for better tools. One problem with keys on standard keychains is that they don't tend to fit nicely into a pocket. Furthermore, some end users report that the keys have ripped their pockets, and some say the keys have stabbed them in sensitive areas. Other end users are disturbed by the jangling sound. And keys could possibly scratch a smartphone. The KeySmart addresses these problems by using a Swiss army knife type of design, tucking the keys away. The basic KeySmart holds 2-4 keys; there are extension posts to allow it to hold many more. There's a loop on the end to attach a car key; that loop piece takes up one key slot. And optional USB drive takes up two slots. Many other key holders use the same basic design as the KeySmart, including the Keystone, shown at the top of this post, which has a Kickstarter funding on Oct. 29. The KeySmart comes in two sizes, and the company provides a sizing PDF so end users can make sure they are getting the size that will work for them. That's a smart idea.The original KeySmart is lightweight, being made of aluminum (with stainless steel hardware). While many end users are delighted with the KeySmart, others complain that it isn't rugged enough, especially if expansion posts are used. There are numerous reports of the KeySmart falling apart or needing the have the screws tightened very frequently (daily, every other day, weekly). Others have had problems with the screws breaking or easily getting stripped. There's now a titanium version, which may be less fragile.Some other key holders with a similar design specifically address the "falling apart" issue. Liquid said this about its key caddy when it was in its Kickstarter phase: "The post and custom screws that we made may seem small and simple, but it required immense engineering in order to make a product that works without screws constantly loosening and falling apart. Our designers and engineers got help from one of our great Australian engineer friends who's been working in the industrial engineering industry for 20+ years and brings a wealth of knowledge and experience."End users have noted that the Key-Bar is bulkier than the KeySmart, but also "far more robust and sturdy." That's a trade-off many end users will be glad to make.There's a removable pocket clip on the back of the Key-Bar. There are also a number of thoughtful accessories; one of them is the Keyrabiner, which serves as a carabiner but folds back inside the Key-Bar when not in use. Some end users have found the double-ended Swiss-army-knife-style key holders a bit complex to assemble. They might appreciate the somewhat simpler design of the KeyGrip, from Raven Workshop. Unlike the double-ended designs, the KeyGrip can't be expanded; that limits the number of keys it can hold, but it also makes for a simpler (and perhaps stronger) design. The keys are also somewhat more visible, which might help the end user find the correct key more quickly.The KeyGrip can hold up to six keys; there are brass spacers to hold keys in place if the end user has a smaller number of keys. OrbitKey has a somewhat similar design, but it's made of leather or elastomer. This is another product that emphasizes its locking mechanism. As the Kickstarter pitch said: "Our custom designed locking mechanism solves the issues that normal screws have. It is specially created to stop your keys from coming undone over time and it also allows you to adjust how tight your stack of keys are."One minor drawback for European users: One purchaser noted that no Euro coins fit the slit in the locking mechanism. (The mechanism can be tightened and loosened with a fingernail, but it's easier to do with a coin.)For end users whose primary concern is being able to clip the key holder to a belt loop (while still keeping the keys together so they don't jangle) there are designs like the KeyKlip. The Kickstarter for this product will be funded on Nov. 21. It has a slot to attach a key ring for those car key fobs, but that would make hanging it from a belt loop a bit awkward. So this product is probably best for those who don't mind carrying a car key fob separately or who don't need to carry one at all. While carabiners are a popular way to deal with keys and belt loops (for those who don't care about jangling keys), the key rings from Grovemade can also do the job; this one is made from solid brass. As Grovemade points out, this is a product which is practically indestructible (which so many others are not). I've mentioned the Swiss-army-knife-style key holders — but about end users who like to carry an actual Swiss army knife? While it's not the same as carrying that knife, the Mini Q does provide a combination knife and key holder, allowing the end user to carry one item instead of two. There's a choice of blade styles, and both locking and non-locking knives are available.For those end users who want to carry a range of tools (but not a knife), there's the KeyBiner from Fortius Arms. It's not clear how well those tools work, though, especially when the keys are loaded; some Kickstarter purchasers have reported problems with the bottle opener. Using those wrenches looks like it might be awkward, too. For some end users, a primary concern is being able to easily remove a key (or a group of keys) when necessary: to hand off to someone else or to make the keychain less bulky when not all keys are needed. The GoKey is intended to help with that, with three sets of keys that can be removed independently. The GoKey Kickstarter has until Oct. 18 to meet its funding goal. Another design that makes it easy to remove keys is the Swivel key wallet. It's held together with internal neodymium magnets (coupled with a stainless steel locking pin), so there are no screws to deal with (and possibly lose). This would work well for end users with medical conditions which limit their dexterity, making small screws hard to deal with. The creator says that "even a drop from 5' to a hard surface will not spring open the key wallet."Another advantage of the key wallet: It can be placed on any surface that holds magnets. This is a Kickstarter project that will be funded on Nov. 14.