Life By Design – Making your monotonous desk job…Slightly Less monotonous

Hello  Sports Fans!

I promised to showcase some of my more recent work – This is a long one, so grab a coffee and lock up the kids. Here we go!

Now the reason I’ve picked this particular work piece is a bit of a double-edged sword. Firstly it has probably been my most stressful and involved project to date – Secondly it concerned a manufacturing process that is more weighted to my background in computer aided design…. And I think it looked pretty cool.

So here it is!

This project centred around redesigning an everyday radio to add a unique element to its interaction.
So first of all we need at least one person to centre this design around. In this case I chose my brother, and created a character card;
So we have our target market;
The next step is to come up with 100 idea’s that would relate to the character (no that’s not a typo – ONE HUNDRED product idea’s!).
The 100 idea’s method is certainly draining on the old ‘creative juices’ – I mean some of these idea’s ARE what we call “throw away” idea’s – Idea’s that are so ridiculous or pointless that they would never be produced – But every now and then you experience a crazy idea that could really work – And that is where the exciting products come from.

At this point I began to lean towards a radio that featured a pendulum to control it – Ie. Begin the pendulum swinging to turn it on – swing higher for more volume. However it was not until I considered the form that would house this functionality that I struck my idea gold. At this point I created 5 prototypes that centred around the pendulum idea – each displaying it in a different form.

However one of these forms struck me more than any other. Shown below;
There was something simplistic yet interesting about this design that none of the others had – so much so that the physical form of the product became more of interest than the function – Or could the two be merged?

At this point I thought back to the user. The same office every day – I know because I’ve been there and done it. But what if this object could offer a form of constant change to an environment that was uniformed day-to-day through its very use or function.

By this point I had decided that the form could be changed by interaction of the user – The legs could be telescopic to allow the user to alter the height and lean angle of the legs – Meanwhile the module at the top could be turned – further altering the shape of the overall product.

At this point I had a pretty firm idea of the form and function – However there were hardware components that had to be accounted for in the design. This problem can be solved rather easily using software at this point (Note: This is not the only way you can do this – but it was my way of doing this). First off I created the hardware components – this way I had a hard, physical size reference to fit the design around;

Once I had these components made – I could begin to give the main design a physical dimension – I decided at this point to form the final product from Acrylic (3mm for those who are interested). For reasons that I will disclose later in this post – However it is important to know what material you are working with – and indeed the thickness so you can account for this in the design.

A few hours later – some swearing and too many cups of coffee the result was this:

One of the cool things about designing things in 3d like this is that you can check all the movements of the product to see if there are any conflicting geometries to correct them at the design stage – rather than have to create several iterations of one prototype.

Now remember that I said I chose to create a 3d model for more than one reason earlier? Well here is the cool bit. This virtual prototype was created so that the program could make what we call “Flat patterns”.
If you don’t know what flat patterns are (its got nothing to do with IKEA) – Flat patterns are exactly that – a pattern of a 3d shape that has been flattened out into a 2d shape – sort of like origami. When the parts were flat patterned they look a lot (well…exactly) like this:

Whats the use in that Allan? I hear you say. And an excellent question it is!
Fortunately the Product Design department in Dundee University have a laser cutter. The laser cutter basically functions as a giant printer – the cutter can both cut and inscribe by use of a high-powered laser – driven by a computer. This allowed me to directly cut out the parts from the 3d design package from my 3mm sheet acrylic – simply awesome. Here’s a quick video of one of the cutting runs:

Once this was done it was a simple process of using the hot wire bender and a preset 90 degree angle jig to bend all the components into shape. Here are a few progress pictures from start to finish.

So now I had all the parts I could assemble them into the finished product by using either push fitments or chemical bonding. This was probably the most infuriating couple of hours in my entire life. If I can’t make a tiny little acrylic pyramid in the 21st century with computers, lasers, plastics and chemicals – I have no idea how they made pyramids stories high thousands of years ago. But with just mere millimeters of sanity left – the final product was produced.

At this point I should probably explain to you EXACTLY how it works. The central unit that is suspended contains the PCB (Printed Circuit Board) for the radio components, the volume potentiometer and the speaker. The uppermost part of the radio actually formed the speaker housing – which was free to rotate – which, when mounted on top of a two function (On/Off Vol) potentiometer would control the volume and, you guessed it, on/off functions.

The four legs that supported the upper unit could both extend/retract and pivot – allowing the whole structure to get taller and shorter. On the inside of one of these legs a linear potentiometer was mounted to measure the extension/contraction of one legs (as this would be equally distributed between the four). This would supply the user with a means of tuning the radio.

Now if you’ve read my previous post entitled “So – What Is A Designer?” You would know that a designer has not always completed a project at the creation of a fully functional product prototype. The product also needs to potentially be sold.

This would necessitate the creation of 3 of what we call “Presentation” boards:

  1. Concept board – To outline the idea – and its use; also to give a small insight into its target market – It is important to show the form here.
  2. Interaction board – To show how a user would interact with it in normal day-to-day use
  3. Manufacturing board – Usually featuring an exploded view – describing how the product was/would be manufactured, should it go to market.

Now if you cast your mind back a few paragraphs (or scroll up) you will remember that I initially prototyped this product electronically – which helped during the creation stages – but it also greatly helps in the pitching stages;

The program I use (Autodesk’s Inventor) also has a pretty able rendering plugin which gives you beautifully realistic and well finished renders like this:

Which, with a little digital wizardry can form the very subject of your boards (click to enlarge)

So there you have it – The project from start to finish. All in all – I really enjoyed this project and I would say learned a lot about the manufacturing processes; for me it was a bit of a thrill to see something that I designed as a 3d model to become a physical product – It’s not something I had previously been accustomed too.

If you have any questions or comments about the article leave a comment and I will be happy to answer them!


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