ERNIT: A Piggy Bank for the 21st Century

The idea of gathering savings at home in a slotted container has been around for a long time—the first such example we have is a miniature Greek temple with a slot in the pediment and a locked opening in the back, dating back to the 1st century BC. But it turns out the beloved pig form, which has become a symbol of financial education around the world, was the result of a linguistic accident. In the Middle Ages, people collected their savings in clay pots and jars, made out of an inexpensive, orange-colored clay called pygg (pronounced "pug"). After the Great Vowel Shift of the 14th-18th centuries, the pronunciation of English vowels evolved, changing the "pug" sound into its modern-day pronunciation, "pig." After a time, the pygg clay was no longer widely used, but the "pig pot" had a ring to it and artisans began crafting the porcine vessels we are all too familiar with. Early examples of piggy banks. The removable plug element wasn't added until the 19th century and destruction was a necessity, so very few of these remain. [Image courtesy of]Now that we're historically up-to-date, the question of the day is: What does the modern piggy bank look like? More often than not, we end up handling intangible money—studies have shown that since 2010 annual mobile transactions have increased from $52.9 billion to $431.1 projected for 2015. And without a real grasp of where (or how quickly) it's going, financial literacy is more complex than ever. How do we instill good habits and a sense of value in kids without the physical exchange of currency? This is precisely what 3 dads-to-be were contemplating while celebrating New Year's Eve a few years ago—a "what if" chat over a bottle of wine that would become ERNIT, a piggy bank for the modern family. "I believe designers have a responsibility for delivering improved solutions and this also includes cultivating everyday habits," says ERNIT's lead designer Lars Larsen of the motivation behind the product. ERNIT's curly tail and snout are reinterpretations of the classical features of a piggy bank. Visualizations of the saving progress in ERNIT's app. The new piggy bank typology that they've devised is a digital system composed of a wi-fi enabled interactive "piggy bank" and accompanying app. Kids are invited to set different goals for both large and small purchases, a new bike or a new soccer ball, for example. Once a goal is set, family members can begin sending money (or bitcoins) to the ERNIT app. In order to do so, adults have to set up a bank account and connect it to the app—so ERNIT isn't actually holding any of the money itself, just reading the balance in the account. A ring of LED lights around the pig's snout serves as a reminder of progress; when it lights up all the way around, the goal has been reached. A main concern of the design was finding a way for it to "bridge between parents and children," as ERNIT CEO (and former editor-in-chief of Denmark's largest financial magazine, Penge & Privatøkonomi) Soren Nielsen recently told us. "The design invites families to talk and interact. I see ERNIT as much more than just a toy for kids. It is made to start a conversation between generations both online and offline." The focus with ERNIT is really on the learning experience, not the object itself or even the money. In order to make the intangible tangible, the design mixes tactile, visual and aural experiences to create different ways of interacting with the product and understanding the distinct actions taking place. "That is why the buttons on the snout are big, the eyes are animated to show emotions and the piggy bank has an organic touchable shape and a soft surface," explained Lars Larsen, the founder of Kilo, and the lead behind ERNIT's design.With just about 3 days left in their Kickstarter campaign, the team is just a few ERNITs away from their funding goal. Watch their video below to see the little pig in action:

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.

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.

This Terrifying Mobile Tree-Harvesting Machine is Like a Robot Koala Bear with Chainsaw Limbs

Earlier we saw that loading logs into containers is still a primitive process. But thanks to Finnish forest machinery company Ponsse, the process of creating those logs is super high-tech.Ponsse's Scorpion King is an eight-wheeled monster designed to "endure tropical heat and arctic cold, travel without destroying the terrain and briskly climb the steepest slopes." That's because it's designed to get to and cut down trees down in tricky areas. And Ponsse has developed a "cut-to-length" method whereby the trees are stripped of their branches and cut into logs of precise length on the spot.To achieve this, they designed a fairly terrifying saw-wielding robot koala bear suspended from the end of a massive boom arm. Watch as it outstretches its greedy little arms, eagerly embracing and mutilating one arboreal victim after another:Ponsse's official product video for the machine, below, gives you a better idea of the design work that went into it. The hydraulically-balanced cabin self-levels, and the articulated chassis can handle challenging terrain. Especially cool are the in-cabin shots, where you can clearly see how well the machine has been designed for panoramic visibility and see the digital readouts used by the operator. It's also amusing that, from the operator's perspective, it kind of looks like the koala bear is defecating, well, logs:

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?