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Public Furniture That Makes a Statement: Snøhetta and Vestre's Peace Bench, a/k/a "The Best Weapon"

Core 77 - 3 hours 29 min ago

Yes, I reflexively almost put this into the Design Roast, before reading up on the intent of the design.

This is the Peace Bench, designed by Norwegian architecture firm Snøhetta and manufactured by Vestre, a company that bills themselves as the first carbon-neutral outdoor furniture manufacturer.

To be honest, from a practical standpoint the design makes no sense to me. The anodized aluminum bench is over 21 feet (6.5 meters) long, yet appears to seat only two. Furthermore, physics presumably indicate that the object be specially anchored to the ground; if it weren't, I could imagine some visually spectacular accidents experienced by passing skateboarders with poor impulse control.

But at the end I find it hard for me to criticize the design, because of what Snøhetta and Vestre are trying to do, and because of what the bench is meant to symbolize. It is not meant to be practical mass seating that blends into the background. It is meant to draw attention to itself and what it symbolizes.

From Snøhetta:Snøhetta has designed an installation which is currently showcased at the UN Headquarters Plaza in New York City as a symbol of diplomacy and dialogue. Commissioned by the Nobel Peace Center, the piece is titled "The Best Weapon" after Nelson Mandela's historic quote "The best weapon is to sit down and talk". The installation pays tribute to past Nobel Peace Prize laureates and their efforts to bring people together to find effective solutions for peace.

The installation was created in partnership with collaborators Hydro and Vestre, and was first unveiled at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City on Nelson Mandela Day, July 18th. The installation will remain at the Headquarters' plaza through October 15th, when it will be transferred to Oslo to its permanent location near the Nobel Peace Center and the Oslo City Hall, where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded annually.

From Vestre:
Designed as a partial circle that meets the ground at its lowest point, the gentle arc of the bench pulls those sitting on it closer together. The installation's singular design gesture embodies an invitation to conversation….

"Trust and understanding between people occurs when we meet and get to know each other. That is why creating social meeting places where people come together across age and background is so important to us. Some may think it's a little naive to believe that a bench can change the world, but we have seen it work – time and time again," says Jan Christian Vestre, CEO of Vestre.The Best Weapon balances a duality of messages, as a functional piece that invites conversation and social intimacy, as well as anchoring the Peace Center's mission as a resilient symbol for discourse and peace. [It] manifests the values of the Nobel Peace Center and pays tribute to the humane ideals of Nelson Mandela – ideals of compromise, of dialogue and compassion.

Engineers Develop a Hyper-Compressible Material Using Artificial Intelligence

Core 77 - 3 hours 29 min ago

You may not realize that among more conventional applications of artificial intelligence like apps and search engines, emerging technologies are transforming yet another unexpected area of design: materials. A fascinating new material study released by Delft University is showing how machine learning may upend our assumptions of how materials are capable of behaving.

The Delft study, led by assistant professor of materials science and engineering Miguel Bessa, has developed a new meta material that transforms brittle polymer materials into ultra compressible forms—to understand what this means for the future of product design, Bessa says with an innovation like this, "everyday objects such as bicycles, dinner tables and umbrellas could be folded into your pocket."

While it's difficult to imagine fitting an entire bicycle in your back pocket, the material has been developed in scales ranging from macro to nano and shows great promise.

So how do researchers utilize artificial intelligence to develop new materials? As Bessa " target="_blank">describes it, "Traditionally, you would go into the lab and by trial and error you would try to find a material that could do this... What Artificial Intelligence allows you to do is to revert that process. Instead, you do simulations in a computer and you let AI learn how the material is behaving and what is changing. It basically gives you a treasure map. And us, the scientists, just need to find the treasure after we find the map."

Bessa discusses in the study how perhaps the most important discovery within this investigation is how technologies like machine learning can create vast new opportunities in the design space: "Machine learning creates an opportunity to invert the design process by shifting experimentally guided investigations to computationally data-driven ones...data-driven science will revolutionize the way we reach new discoveries."

As for this new metamaterial, research is still being conducted to refine previous iterations of the material configurations. For those who are computationally literate, the researchers have even shared the code used to in the study as an open source so that people outside of Delft University can utilize and improve it. Let's hope all of these efforts in combination can inch us that much closer to our "bike-in-a-pocket" dreams.

Could You Imagine Earning an Industrial Design Degree Online?

Core 77 - 3 hours 29 min ago

Like many design schools, the Rochester Institute of Technology offers degrees in both Industrial Design and Architecture. Unlike most design schools, however, R.I.T. recently announced they're rolling out a Masters of Architecture degree program…online.

They're not alone. In fact, according to the Guide to Online Schools, "Online architecture degrees are available at the bachelor's, master's, and certificate levels." The site lists 31 accredited schools offering such degrees.

Which begs the question: What about Industrial Design? At press time I could only find one accredited school claiming to offer an online degree in ID: The Academy of Art University in San Francisco. However, the Online Industrial Design Degree section of their website makes no mention of which degrees--Bachelor's, Master's, Certificate--they offer as an online option.

AAU has posted this video demonstrating how their online programs work, but it's not ID-specific:

For those of you who have earned ID degrees, could you imagine earning one online? It's been a while since I graduated, but I could not see a "distance learning" model having worked for me. The camaraderie developed in classrooms and studios, the ability to see what all of your peers were working on, the help we gave one another, the future friendships and work contacts we formed, all seemed irreplaceable. We gave each other internship leads and job leads. Perhaps most importantly, many of us had jobs waiting for us after graduation as a result of the in-person education; we'd formed rapports with professors who were working industrial designers, and many of them hired many of us (indeed, that's how I got my first two gigs) after graduation.

While I cannot imagine an online Industrial Design degree program being a suitable replacement, I suppose it's worth noting that not too long ago, the idea of buying something online--not to mention meeting romantic partners online--seemed absurd. So I'll be keeping an eye on how this progresses.

Design Job: Jump on This Project Designing Snowboard Boots for Vimana Snowboards

Core 77 - 3 hours 29 min ago

We are looking for a shoe designer with former experience in snowboard boot design. We have a single boot project with a tight deadline and after that to moving forward with designing our new line. The shoe designer should have some snowboard boot design experience.

View the full design job here

A Great Example of Better Data Visualization: This Voting Map GIF

Core 77 - 3 hours 29 min ago

Done properly, the art of data visualization can be an incredibly powerful tool for educating people. It allows us to understand things that would otherwise be ungraspable due to their sheer complexity.

Done improperly, data visualization can be incredibly misleading. It's important that we have talented and hopefully unbiased (I know, what are the odds) designers presenting the information.

As one example of how bad data visualization can mislead, take a look at this map below. What you're seeing is a map of how each county in the United States voted in the 2016 Presidential election (Red = Republican, Blue = Democrat).

It looks like a landslide--because visually, it is. However, this is a wildly inaccurate representation of proportionality vis-à-vis the population, because all of those little shapes representing counties have vastly different amounts of people living within them. As some might put it, "Land doesn't vote. People do."

Data scientist Karim Douïeb figured that a more accurate way to represent how people voted is to use colored dots, varied in size proportionally to the population of each county. He turned the results into this GIF, which provides a clearer picture:

Pretty eye-opening, no? And yet, while this is clearly an improvement over the ham-fisted method of the first map in this entry, even this is not quite accurate. Within each of those large blue dots, you still have plenty of people who voted red, and vice versa. These results only show you which party won the vote in each region.

What do you think we'd see, if this data represented actual individual votes and we could zoom in on each one? The country is now more divided than ever, and just about evenly split. So all I'm certain of is that zooming out, we'd see a perfect shade of purple.

(Note: For those of you who'd like to further investigate or verify, Douïeb cites this "How well does population density predict U.S. voting outcomes?" article and analysis as the source of his data.)

Win Airfare to NYC: Open House Design Challenge 2019!

Core 77 - 3 hours 29 min ago

For its fourth annual challenge, SVA's MFA in Products of Design program has announced its Open House Design Challenge questions. The challenge is for people interested in learning about the program and attending their Open House and Info Session in New York City on November 13th.

"We know that so many people are keen to learn more about grad school and about the unique aspects of our program, but it can be pricey to come to New York City," offers Products of Design chair Allan Chochinov. "So our goal is to help a prospective student with the flight here, since visiting the studio, hanging out with students, and meeting faculty is the best way to get a sense of what the department is all about. A design competition seemed like the funnest way to do it."

The requirements for entering couldn't be simpler—pick one question, and answer it by creating one sketch and a two-paragraph description of the idea. This year's topics are should easily get your creative juices flowing:


A. If IKEA and Adidas launched a new initiative together, what would it be?

B. Design a device for your dog or cat to take a selfie.

C. Sketch an app that changes the mind of a climate crisis denier.

***The deadline for submitting your idea is Friday, October 24th.

The top 3 winning entrants receive expert portfolio reviews from faculty and experts, and the overall winner will receive travel reimbursement up to $750 to come to the department's open house in New York City on November 13th. You can find all the details at the Products of Design site.

An Ingenious, Eco-Friendly Solar-Powered Lighter

Core 77 - 3 hours 29 min ago

An indispensable piece of EDC kit, whether you're on a camping trip or prepping for the apocalypse, is a lighter. French company Solar Brother has designed the Suncase, an inexpensive and lightweight alternative that requires no fuel. Instead, two mirrored wings flip out, focusing the sun's rays towards a protrusion in the center of the device, in which you stick a twig, a rolled up piece of paper or a cigarette (which it appears to be sized for; this was invented in France, after all). Once the object ignites, you can then toss it into your firepit or that pile of your cheating ex's stuff in the driveway.

We know what you're thinking: What if it's cloudy out, or you want to set a fire at night? Solar Brother's thought of that, and has designed the case to also hold a conventional mini Bic lighter as backup. Better safe than sorry.

Weighing in at just 12 grams (that's less than half an ounce), the Suncase retails for $12.

The Weekly Design Roast, #20

Core 77 - 3 hours 29 min ago

In order for this to be accurate to New York, the two potted plants in the middle should be smoking, dropping ashes on the painting below and annoying the plant above with their wafting fumes.

"I designed this for The Punisher's getaway cabin in the Adirondacks"

The purpose of cabinet doors is to either obscure contents from view or keep dust off of them. What is the purpose of these ropes?

The perfect desk design, for people who often put their dog on speakerphone.

You have to be a real a-hole to design One-Liner Furniture.

The perfect way to store magazines, that you never plan on accessing again.

"We pump oxygen into the bubble, to motivate people to buy some of this shit."

"No, it's a great concept. So when are you going to finish it?"

Ideal for people who like to wash two outfits at a time.

First of all, can you imagine actually lugging two of these down to the beach. Secondly, this combination non-hanging hammock and non-regulation soccer goal…actually won a design award. Yeah.

IKEA Introduces 'Safer Home' Initiative in Response to Safety Concerns and Product Recalls  

Core 77 - 3 hours 29 min ago

According to IKEA, "every 30 minutes tipped furniture or a falling TV sends an injured child to the emergency room." While tip-over incidents are a safety issue for the entire home furniture industry, over the years IKEA has issued massive recalls in response to safety concerns spurred largely by this problem. You'll likely remember the recall of over 30 million Malm dressers in 2016, but millions of other products (including high chairs, crib mattresses, and bedroom lights) have been pulled over their ability to cause various injuries to children, as Fast Company reported.

Earlier this week IKEA launched a "Safer Home" platform, which is comprised of a series of tools "to raise awareness about common home hazards and provide tips to help prevent them." The main feature is a dedicated app and website that aims to educate parents on "children's different development stages and offers room-by-room home safety tips tailored to children's ages." The online resources will be complemented by in-store workshops "with a specific focus on furniture tip-over."

IKEA is also partnering with pediatricians to install display screens with safety messages in their offices, where parents and caregivers tend to be "in the mindset of thinking about the safety and well-being of their child."

In addition to providing safety tips, the site also aims to shed more light on the company's product development and testing process. "When we develop products for children, we first try to see things the way children do," the site reads. "When testing our products, we consider both intended and unintended use, to identify and minimize potential safety risks. Each product goes through a long process of testing and is not launched until we are sure that it is safe. And even after our products are launched, we continue to evaluate and test them on a regular basis, and if needed we make improvements."

In another effort to increase safety in the home, IKEA will be launching the GLESVÄR family of dressers this December in the US, UK, and Germany. The dressers are designed with safety features to decrease furniture tip-over. For example, they feature a function that only allows one drawer to be open at a time unless the unit is attached to the wall.

"At IKEA, we believe that the safest way to prevent tip-over incidents is to attach furniture to the wall, per our assembly instructions," says Vladimir Brajkovic, Head of Range and Product Engineering. "With the interlock function, we hope to further encourage wall attachment and decrease the risk of furniture tip-over."

If you're interested in attending one of IKEA's safety workshops, they'll be held in stores nationwide beginning in November of this year and continuing in February and June 2020.

Reader Submitted: This Planter System Instantly Transforms Chain Link Fences Into Vertical Gardens

Core 77 - 3 hours 29 min ago

Kingston, New York, based designer, Bryan Meador released his latest product, the Sead Pod, an invention that uses recycled plastic to convert chain link fencing into lush vertical gardens in one easy step. Sead Pods give people a quick and easy way to transform any urban space into a green haven, while embracing a cyclical plastic economy that cleans our environment of single use plastic waste.

View the full project here

Design Job: Always Be Closing as the Business Development Manager at Whipsaw in San Francisco

Core 77 - 3 hours 29 min ago

Whipsaw is in search of a Business Development Manager who will lead the identification of new client opportunities and grow existing client relationships. As a Business Development Manager, you will proactively seek out new opportunities across many industries and represent the full range of Whipsaw’s services. New business at Whipsaw requires a nimble connector that gets people around you excited about creating unique and inspirational product solutions for our clients. The ideal person will be able to bring together strong business acumen, relationship-building skills and passion for design. We’re looking for a leader who will play a critical role in driving Whipsaw’s success. Sound up your alley? Let’s talk.

View the full design job here

What We Learned at the 2019 Core77 Conference, "The Third Wave"

Core 77 - 3 hours 29 min ago

by Alexandra Alexa and John P. Kazior

This year's Core77 Conference, "The Third Wave" took place on Friday, October 4th, and included presentations by a number of designers working in variety of fields, but all asking similar questions through their work, like: How can designers do better? How can our community use our unique skillsets in order to enact real change? Each talk countered and questioned the design community's established processes while challenging how design can uniquely tackle issues relating to sustainability, representation, and not perpetuating frightening sci-fi visions of the future.

All photos by Rebecca Smeyne

Didn't get a chance to take part in this year's conference and wondering what attendees got out of the experience? Here are some of the lessons we took away from talks throughout the day:

Notes on collaboration

Yasaman Sheri set the tone for the rest of the day with her discussion about the importance of "code switching" across disciplines to better design in the increasingly complex and networked systems we find ourselves in. Sheri presented her wide-ranging work—from being one of the first designers working on Microsoft's Hololens to a recent residency at Gingko Bioworks where she created biosensors that can react to certain molecules, toxins, hormones, etc. far more sensitively than existing hardware.

Early prototypes of the Microsoft Hololens

Along the way, she's learned to switch between various "codes"—those embedded in our culture, in nature, in our machines. As her practice has evolved, so too has her desire to build trust through language, exemplified by initiatives like the BioDesign Dictionary that she created to establish a foundation for her work with the scientists at Gingko. "Shared language helps us build trust across boundaries," Sheri explained. "It requires taking the initiative (and having the interest) to learn the other community's language." "There is no consensus on an ethical future because there is no 'one' ethic nor 'one' future," she continued. While it may not be possible to come to a single consensus on one "ethical future," collective decision-making is going to be vital going forward.

John Maeda released the floodgates, so to speak, when he was quoted in Fast Company as saying "in reality, design is not that important." His seemingly dismissive statement launched a series of impassioned responses, even though it lacked context. Maeda used this experience to launch a discussion about the value of public failure and the importance of those who assume the risk of disrupting norms. "Disruptors are an anomaly," Maeda said. Most people don't love change, so if you assume that role you have to be prepared to take the heat. And if (or rather, when) you find yourself experiencing a public failure of your own, Maeda shared his go-to resource for getting out of the funk, this essay on "personal renewal" by John Gardner.

Joe Meersman of Resideo hosted a panel with Marijke Jorritsma of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Dean Malmgren of IDEO, exploring the future of data on micro and macro scales. The issue of language and communication across disciplines emerged as a key theme again. As Dean put it, he works as "a data scientist working with other data scientists to learn the language of design" while Marijke has to understand and anticipate the needs of astronauts as she develops user experiences for future missions. When designing UX for highly-trained scientists, one major challenge Marijke pointed out is making sure that the data is not looked at as proprietary. Ultimately, she said we find ourselves in "exciting data times," but Dean was quick to point out they are also "terrifying data times." When designing new experiences, the data we currently have—although there's a lot of it—is not always the right data and language is big part of how that gets framed.

Question the legacy of modern design practices

Through examples like the Lego Braille Bricks, Liz Jackson schooled the audience on spotting "disability dongles" and asked that we always question whether we're "thinking of" or "thinking for" when designing. Design briefs too often seek to fix disabled people. "We're defined as the problem rather than the problem being defined as the problem," Jackson said. In the process, emerging technological schools of thought like transhumanism are actually promoting the erasure of disabled people through design.

Lego Braille bricks commercials are highly visual and therefore clearly not created for blind consumers.

Jackson proposed "design questioning" as an alternative to "design thinking." She referenced the shift from thinking about empathy as inspiration—according to the definition of being "physically moved by works of great human expression"—to it being a way of expressing pity or sympathy. "We've lost the ability to parse between definitions," she said. Nobody is immune from this kind of thinking. Jackson concluded with a rumination on Lewis Miller's flower installation in NYC. She stumbled across a bunch on a curb and was instinctively drawn to pick them up, to save them from being discarded. "Not all things need saving," she realized. "Sometimes they need the right to exist."

Jerome Harris took us on a crash course through the history of modernism in graphic design, from its roots in America originating largely from European modernists being driven out of their countries by the Nazi regime around World War II, to its current status as the default language of printed matter and branding. Modernism has become a default in much of graphic design today. It's familiar grids and alignments have essentially become synonymous with the entire discipline. Modernism "gives design an immediate legitimacy," Harris noted. Rather, Harris urged attendees to consider how technology gives us more opportunities than ever to be expressive. Rather than mining the familiar canon for inspiration, Harris suggested alternate sources that have been left out of the history books. The long lineage of queer and feminist zines for example, show what design can be when it's made with true urgency. "When you have something to say, not just sell," as Harris noted. As modernism continues to define the expression of our tech-driven capitalism, how do we find a new Modernism that is more appropriate for the challenges we face? Harris ended with a simple ask: think about the criteria you use to assess good design and don't stop challenging it.

Rethink how technology can be utilized to enact change

Suma Reddy, Co-founder & COO of Farmshelf

Several founders housed in New Lab presented their company concepts to the Core77 audience and demonstrated very different ways in which technology, machine learning and data can be harnessed to create sweeping change. Atolla skincare founder Meghan Maupin discussed how her company uses machine learning to perfect skincare solutions, which results in a better understanding of one's own skin health and as a result, declining packaging waste in the cosmetic industry. Farmshelf founder Suma Reddy explained to the crowd how she found a way to grow hyper-localized produce in indoor settings with minimal water usage. And finally, Roots Studio Rebecca Hui demonstrated how technology can be used to preserve heritages and cultures' creative products while also ensuring these communities can be properly attributed and paid for their original works.

What have we gotten ourselves into?

In his "participatory talk," Francois Nguyen, creative director at Frog, took the audience through Maslow's famous "hierarchy of needs," with a set of exercises designed to help simulate the fine line between comfort and need. Providing a series of historical vignettes to demonstrate how industry has addressed those needs of ours, Nguyen highlighted the ways in which design has so often led to excess; from the simple paper dixie cup, an object designed to make drinking more hygienic, to the 1 million plastic water bottles consumed every minute, that we've arrived at. In his discussion of the cost of comfort, Nguyen implored us to consider the importance of all the products we create, but also, all that we don't.

How do we reckon with the world comfort has created for us? Susanne DesRoches took us through her 25 year journey from her education and early career in industrial design, to developing sustainability and resilience guidelines for the city of New York. Building from experience as a designer and learning to collaborate with engineers and architects at the Port Authority, DesRoches has been able to apply her unique experiences to helping prepare the city for an uncertain future—for events like sea level rise, precipitation fluctuation, air temperature increase and the multitude of issues climate change will inevitably throw at the city. From DeRoches' own journey we can glean that collaboration and education are a necessity if we are ever to prepare ourselves accordingly.

For designers, finding a place to start when it comes to confronting climate change and other issues in sustainability can be a challenge. Moderated by Leigh Christie of MistyWest, Sandra Moerch, Meagan Durlak, and Brian Ho discussed the ways in which they've addressed the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals through their own work and how they can serve as a starting point for sustainable design practice. Finding goals to connect with, and learning how the different goals can inform each can help individuals and organizations develop more comprehensively sustainable practices going forward.

Design for an uncertain future

Just as designers must acknowledge the social and ecological issues of our time, we can't stop pushing the boundaries of our collective imagination. VR/AR "evangelists," Max Almy and Teri Yarbow of SCAD, demonstrated the many ways that the technology can alter perspective, experience, and ideally generate empathy in the budding medium. With projects like "Oculus VR for Good" and their own project "Radiance" for therapy in Hospice, Almy and Yarbow suggest that the VR/AR frontier can offer possibilities for social impact that we've not had access to before as artists and designers.

Archie Lee Coates, partner at PlayLab INC., has made a career of challenging what is possible. Archie and his cohort at PlayLab INC. set for themselves the mission of creating a public swimming pool, "+Pool," in the East River. Though it has been an endeavor spanning several years with obstacles the whole way through, their vision will finally be realized.

PlayLab and FOOD' s +Pool concept (soon to be a reality)

Providing an impressive carousel of design, publishing, exhibition, fashion, installation, performance, and more, Archie took us on a journey through the dreams of his studio. With the improbable achievement of +Pool, Archie made a compelling case for the collective pursuit of dreams.

In the conference's final presentation, Paola Antonelli, gave us a glimpse at what dreaming in our current ecological crisis might look like. In the exhibition Broken Nature, curated for the Design Triennale in Milan, Antonelli compiled a wide array of designers and artists who are acknowledging climate change and extinction, and imagining the ways we might proceed forward. Through the diverse and multidisciplinary exhibition, Antonelli presents the idea that we cannot escape extinction, but maybe we can decide the manner in which we go out.

Stay tuned for speaker videos in the coming weeks, and learn more about the 2019 Core77 Conference, "The Third Wave" on our conference website

Currently Crowdfunding: A Reusable Straw That Won't Get Soggy, an Upgraded Thermometer, and More

Core 77 - 3 hours 29 min ago

Brought to you by MAKO Design + Invent, North America's leading design firm for taking your product idea from a sketch on a napkin to store shelves. Download Mako's Invention Guide for free here.

Navigating the world of crowdfunding can be overwhelming, to put it lightly. Which projects are worth backing? Where's the filter to weed out the hundreds of useless smart devices? To make the process less frustrating, we scour the various online crowdfunding platforms to put together a weekly roundup of our favorite campaigns for your viewing (and spending!) pleasure. Go ahead, free your disposable income:

This reusable straw is made out of silicone so you can be sure it will never get soggy on you mid-drink. It comes in a range of sizes—there's an extra-wide one for smoothies, milkshakes, and even Boba—and includes a handy carrying case and cleaning tool.

The Rally Pack is a rugged backpack made to accompany you on all your adventures—even if they get a little extreme. It combines the look of a vintage rolltop with versatile features that make it ready for modern life. (Note: The campaign video is on the long side, but worth a view.)

The MillRight Mega V claims to be the best value, affordable yet high-performance CNC. It can be used as a CNC router, plasma table, or hybrid depending on your needs.

Designed to make aquatic exploration accessible to anyone who is interested, the features on this small but mighty underwater drone make it capable of swimming with even the big fish.

Here's an updated take on the thermometer that can measure your temperature in mere seconds and keep track of your data over time.

Do you need help designing, developing, patenting, manufacturing, and/or selling YOUR product idea? MAKO Design + Invent is a one-stop-shop specifically for inventors / startups / small businesses. Click HERE for a free confidential product consultation.

A Mid Century Modern Designer Whose Name You Should Know: Mel Smilow

Core 77 - 3 hours 29 min ago

If I asked you to rattle off some famous Mid Century Modern designers, I already know which names you'd say. Chances are it wouldn't have included this fellow, but you should certainly know his name, and how his combination of design skills and business savvy led to a successful career. And how his deep portfolio has led to a recent resurgence of interest in his work.

Mel Smilow was a kid from the Bronx who, in 1939, got accepted into Pratt Institute. His plan was to become a commercial artist. Unfortunately, Mel's father died that same year, and he had no choice but to drop out of school and take over the family business. His father had been a furniture wholesaler, a middleman between furniture manufacturers and retailers, and Mel took over the reins in order to feed his family.

Then came World War II, where Smilow traded a suit and tie for U.S. Army fatigues. After fighting Nazis in Europe under General Patton, Smilow returned with a Purple Heart.

After returning to New York in 1945, Smilow resumed selling furniture. Over the course of the next few years, he came up with a bold idea.

To explain: A furniture wholesaler, or middleman, had the then-important job of serving as the conduit between the factory and the retailer. Wholesalers survived by taking their cut of the transactions. That cut drove the price of the final product up. Smilow of course knew this, and he and business partner Morton Thielle had this thought: What if they vacated the middleman position, and instead served as the manufacturer--and the retail outlet? With this arrangement, the middleman's cut disappears, and the price of the final product could be lowered.

They succeeded in setting up this arrangement by 1949, and opened their first storefront in Manhattan on Lexington Avenue.

Note: While the sign above indicates the business is called "Morton & Smilow," this was eventually changed to the name they'd come to be known by, "Smilow & Thielle."

Smilow was reportedly unhappy with the work of the designers that he had access to, and decided to design the furniture himself. This could obviously have gone wrong in many ways--what business does a furniture wholesaler, with no formal training, have designing furniture? But as it turned out, Smilow had a natural eye for proportion, and had apparently seen enough furniture to understand the importance of details, transitions, craftsmanship, material selection, et cetera.

Throughout the 1950s Smilow designed chairs, sofas, bookcases, tables, cabinetry and more. In 1956, this review of his work appeared in The New Yorker:

From one source or another, I had heard a good deal about the moderate priced modern furniture at [Smilow-Thielle], but [assumed] that the place was just one more outlet for debased copies of eccentric Scandinavian designs. When I got around to visiting it, however, I found that the Messrs. Smilow and Thielle design and manufacture their own pieces and that these are by no means the blatant limitations one so often encounters in this copycat field; they aren't even predominantly Scandinavian. Most of them are American in feeling, but without the unpleasantly self-conscious appearance of some mass-produced modern. There is, for example, low and very broad armchair (you could call it an easy chair except that it isn't upholstered) with a rush seat and back in a graceful frame of walnut-finished birch; the price is $29.95. The chair can be converted into it chaise longue by the addition of a square, rush-seated ottoman of corresponding dimensions priced at $21.95. The ottoman, which was chosen by the Pratt Institute last winter for an exhibition of well-designed objects costing less than $25, struck me as being surprisingly well-made, and so did the chair; the wood, being nicely grained, seems to have been selected with some care, the stretchers have been shrunk before being glued in place, and the rush seat and back are hand-woven.

While Smilow had been forced by circumstance to drop out of Pratt back in 1939, his work was now, some 16 years later, being exhibited there. There's no photo in that 1956 issue of the New Yorker, but I assume this is the chair and ottoman they referred to:

"Furniture by Smilow-Thielle," the New York Times wrote in later years, "was widely regarded in the decades following World War II as among the better examples of contemporary American design and workmanship."

Below we see a newspaper ad for Smilow-Thielle furniture, circa 1959. To give you an idea of the cost savings engendered by the no-middleman approach, look at the small print beneath each price. For instance the final chair, priced at $29.95, has beneath it "If not made in our factories would be $59." All of the prices are essentially halved. (In 2019 dollars, that chair would be $264 retail, vs. $520.)

"My father believed that working people should be able to afford modern design," daughter Judy Smilow told Craft Council magazine in an interview last year.

Smilow-Thielle expanded into a chain of six stores, five in the New York area and one outside of Washington, D.C.

He did well enough that in 1963 he was able to purchase a home in Frank Lloyd Wright's planned community, Usonia Homes, in Pleasantville (a suburb of New York City). Here's Smilow's sketch of the house he moved his family into, designed by Wright disciple Aaron Resnick:

The interior of the house was populated by Smilow's own designs:

Smilow-Thielle continued to thrive throughout the 1960s and '70s. In 1975, nearly twenty years after that positive New Yorker review, here were Smilow's chairs being featured on the cover of the New York Times Magazine:

Smilow' success meant he was able to retire before he even turned 60. "By 1981, he retired and closed the business," reports Annex Galleries, "but continued to offer custom furniture, cushions, and covers to his loyal customers while he pursued his passion for sculpting, painting, and printmaking which he had done for a while, selling his color woodcuts through his stores."

I am not sure how many good years of retirement Smilow had, but hopefully they were manifold. Smilow was eventually diagnosed with Alzheimer's and passed away in 2002.

Following his death, Mel's daughter Judy was going through his filing cabinets in the basement, and discovered that he had saved all of his furniture plans.

Judy had grown up to become a designer in her own right--her flatwear designs are part of the Cooper-Hewitt's permanent collection...

...and she correctly deemed her father's furniture designs still relevant to the modern-day consumer. She decided to relaunch a number of her father's designs, but the economic crash of 2008-2009 temporarily stymied her plans. "Finally, in 2012, I had the chance to have a chair made," she told Craft Council. "I found a factory in Pennsylvania to make it, and that's the one we still use today."

Judy Smilow managed to relaunch ten pieces at the 2013 International Contemporary Furniture Fair. The response was positive, and today Smilow Design is a going concern, with Judy having steadily put more pieces into production each year, drawing from her father's archives. Today their site is populated with dozens of designs for sale.

One major difference between then and now is that "you can't make furniture in this country [today] at the price point he did," Judy told Craft Council. "So I had to rejigger the business as a luxury line."

The gambit paid off, and Judy succeeded in getting her father's work back on the map. "For many years, nobody knew who Mel Smilow was," she said. "My father really slipped through the cracks, mostly because he never signed his furniture. But that's all changed. I continuously answer emails about his work."

Sadly, Judy herself passed away last yeard after battling ALS. But Smilow Design lives on, with Judy's children Maia, Aaron and husband Steven having taken over the reins. Judy's flatware designs have been added to their offerings, and you can see it all here.

Design Job: Work as a Visual and Industrial Designer in a dynamic, emerging category in the world's largest consumer market

Core 77 - 3 hours 29 min ago

The industrial/visual designer will be an integral member of the iAnthus HQ creative team and will report directly to the Creative Director. This individual will partner with the Creative team to drive the branding and corporate identity process and will be a major contributor to the development of future state of the art retail environments. Additionally this individual will design innovative and original 3D assets and concepts, and will contribute to the overall creative collective of the or

View the full design job here

From Battery Engineer to Nobel-Winning Rock Star

Design News - 18 hours 27 min ago

John Goodenough never wanted rock-star status.

But the self-effacing, 97-year-old engineering professor had little choice last week after getting the call that would vault him to worldwide prominence. During that call, he was told he had won the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his co-development of lithium-ion batteries that have touched the lives of billions. In London at the time, Goodenough flew back to his home in Austin, TX, where he was met by a police detail.

University of Texas engineering professor John Goodenough met with the press this week after winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. (Image source: Design News)

“We had to send a police escort to the airport because his face was in every newspaper in the world,” noted John Holden, a science writer and media specialist at the University of Texas at Austin, where Goodenough serves as a mechanical engineering professor. “We were afraid people would recognize him and crowd around him, so we sent the police so that ‘Elvis’ would be able to leave the building.”

While the world-at-large may just now be learning his name, however, the scientific community has long been aware of Goodenough’s contributions to technology. He is credited with co-inventing a succession of battery chemistries that may turn out to be the most important of the past hundred years. First, there was lithium cobalt oxide, which serves as the power source for millions of phones and laptops. Then, he co-invented manganese spinel lithium batteries, now employed in millions of hybrids and electric vehicles. Later, he co-developed lithium iron phosphate chemistries, which continue to serve in products ranging from handheld power tools to plug-in cars to grid storage systems.

The technical community has repeatedly honored Goodenough for those efforts. Last week, he was in London to receive the British Royal Society’s distinguished Copley Medal for scientific research. In 2013, he was presented the National Medal of Science by President Barack Obama. And in 2018, Design News awarded him its Lifetime Achiever Award.

Goodenough was in London last week when the Nobel committee called from Stockholm with the news about its 2019 award. Colleagues at the University of Texas said they had difficulty tracking him down because, ironically, he doesn’t own a cell phone.

Goodenough is sharing the Nobel with two other scientists: British researcher M. Stanley Whittingham of Binghamton University and Akiro Yoshino of Japan. Whittingham is credited with laying the foundation for lithium-ion in the 1970s with a lithium battery that used a titanium disulfide anode. Goodenough later altered Whittingham’s chemistry, doubling the voltage of that chemistry and making it safer. Yoshino is credited with creating the first commercially viable lithium-ion battery. Together, the three scientists will share the $900,000 Nobel award.

At an impromptu news conference on Monday punctuated by Goodenough’s frequent, high-pitched laughter, the new Nobel laureate told a small group of reporters that he was lucky that the University of Texas has allowed him to work past the conventional retirement age. Prior to UT, he said, he served at the University of Oxford in the England, until learning that he would lose his job at retirement. “They have a problem,” he said on Monday. “They retire people at 65. I’ve been fortunate to be able to come here, escape retirement, and work another 33 years.”

Colleagues at Monday’s conference said that Goodenough has a traditional view of his role as an engineering professor – that is, he believes his main role is his contribution to the greater body of technical knowledge. During his career, he has published 550 papers, 85 book chapters, and five books. He earned no commercialization money for his work on lithium cobalt oxide or manganese spinel lithium batteries. It is not known how much he earned for commercialization of lithium iron phosphate.

Goodenough’s first lithium battery chemistry employed a cobalt oxide cathode. He later developed manganese spinel lithium and lithium iron phosphate chemistries. (Image source: Johan Jarnestad/The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences)   

Goodenough has said he plans to continue working on lithium batteries. His current project is a solid-state version, which he hopes will solve some of the shortcomings of today’s chemistries. He told Design News in 2018 that the big goal for his next battery is faster charging times. “Today, the solution is to charge overnight,” he said. “But with an electric car, you don’t want to have to charge overnight. You want to drive up and get charged in ten minutes.”

He said this week that his work on solid-state lithium will take time. “People have told me I need to live to 105,” he said. “Well, I’ll try.”

In the meantime, he is also learning to cope with his new role as a scientific celebrity. Colleagues said he has been inundated with letters requesting autographs. He is also receiving more media requests than he can possibly fulfill.


But he’s coping. “You never think you’re going to win a nice award like this,” Goodenough said of the Nobel. “All I can tell you is that if you live long enough, you never know what’s going to happen.”

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3 Major Trends from Arm Techcon 2019

Design News - 19 hours 27 min ago

This past week I attended the 2019 Arm Techcon in San Jose, California which hosted a series of technology announcements, developer educational sessions, and workshops focused around the Arm ecosystem. It was the 15th annual Arm Techcon and as I attended the various keynotes, walked the show floor, and attended the conference sessions, I noticed several major trends that will resonate throughout the embedded systems industry not just over the next year, but over the coming decade. Let’s examine these trends.

The major trends from this year's Arm Techcon included artificial intelligence everywhere, security, and pervasiveness of multicore processors. (Image source: Arm)

Trend #1 – Artificial Intelligence Everywhere

Artificial intelligence and machine learning have become some of the embedded systems industries greatest driving buzz words, and at Techcon this year they were everywhere. The conference itself had 70 speaking sessions and as I peruse the conference website, I count 25 sessions on artificial intelligence! There’s talk about AI taking over in the next 25 years, but it’s already conquering industry conferences.

While there were talks at the conference ranging from panels on the future of AI, to object detection with neural networks, the sessions that I found most interesting were those that discussed AI at the edge. Many of these talks weren’t talking about edge AI running on powerful multicore class-A processors, but instead discussed running AI inferences on microcontrollers! Various applications were discussed for AI running these resource constrained devices ranging from simple object detection and keyword spotting to more interesting techniques like predictive maintenance by processing audio from a motor.

If anything was clear, it was that we can soon expect AI algorithms to be running everywhere, in the cloud, at the edge, on our wearable devices, and in our most resource constrained devices.

Trend #2 – End-to-End Security

As I talk and interact with developers, teams and companies through-out the world I’ve generally had the feeling that security is still neglected in IoT devices. While I still hold this view, it was encouraging to see that a major trend was end-to-end security and providing the frameworks, tools, and processors that developers need to properly secure their products. For example, I saw that there were several announcements about upcoming processor cores that would provide better isolation within the core to improve security.

There also seemed to be an increasing number of developers attending security-related sessions. A few critical topics discussed the Platform Security Architecture along with the API’s that have been designed around PSA. There was also a lot of discussion around Trusted Firmware for Cortex-M (TF-M) and Arm Trustzone. It’s interesting to see that there are foundational open source security solutions that developers can leverage to help accelerate their security implementations. Of course, you have to first perform a security threats analysis to understand what level of security you need in your system which I gave a talk on at the conference.

Trend #3 – The Coming Pervasiveness of Multicore Processors

While the server and PC markets have long made use of multicore processors, developers working on real-time embedded systems have often been able to ignore multiprocessing. Most microcontrollers are just a single processing core, and if the application requires multi-tasking, developers often leverage an RTOS to properly schedule multiple tasks on that single CPU. It’s become interesting to see that more and more silicon vendors who manufacture microcontrollers are releasing multicore processors. There seem to be several reasons for this.

First, in order to secure IoT applications, some vendors are opting for multicore solutions. An example of this is the Cypress PSoC 64 secure microcontrollers. These microcontrollers have two cores, a Cortex-M0+ which is used as a secure execution environment and then a Cortex-M4 that is used as a rich execution environment for “non-secure” application core.

Second, multiple cores are becoming necessary to handle all the processing that needs to be done by the application. There are plenty of processors out there, but one that I’ve started to experiment with is the STM32H747 which has one Cortex-M7 core and a second Cortex-M4 core. These processors can be independently controlled so one core might be used to run a machine learning inference while a second core is used to handle sensors and cloud connectivity stacks.


Arm Techcon provided a wealth of new insights and glimpses about where the industry is focused over the coming year and decade. While there are certainly many additional themes, AI, security, and multi-core processing stood out as the major themes. Each of these is a foundational technology that supports the IoT and our connected world. Companies might still be struggling to determine exactly what their use cases are for their products, but it’s time that developers start to understand how to leverage these technologies so that when the use cases are fleshed out, they’ll be ready.


Jacob Beningo is an embedded software consultant who currently works with clients in more than a dozen countries to dramatically transform their businesses by improving product quality, cost and time to market. He has published more than 200 articles on embedded software development techniques, is a sought-after speaker and technical trainer, and holds three degrees which include a Masters of Engineering from the University of Michigan. Feel free to contact him at jacob@beningo.com, at his website, and sign-up for his monthly Embedded Bytes Newsletter.

Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis

The Midwest's largest advanced design and manufacturing event!
Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis connects you with top industry experts, including esign and manufacturing suppliers, and industry leaders in plastics manufacturing, packaging, automation, robotics, medical technology, and more. This is the place where exhibitors, engineers, executives, and thought leaders can learn, contribute, and create solutions to move the industry forward. Register today!


New Reactor Turns Carbon Dioxide into Green Fuels

Design News - 19 hours 57 min ago

One of the chief aims of researchers looking to help mitigate the effects of climate change is a way to transform greenhouse gases such as methane and carbon dioxide into something more useful, such as fuel sources.

An electrocatalysis reactor built at Rice University recycles carbon dioxide to produce pure liquid fuel solutions using electricity. Researchers who developed the invention hope it will become an efficient and profitable way to reuse the greenhouse gas and keep it out of the atmosphere. (Image source: Jeff Fitlow)

Researchers at Rice University have made a breakthrough in this goal with a new reactor that uses renewable energy to produce pure liquid fuels from carbon dioxide.

The catalytic reactor—also called an electrolyzer and developed in the lab of Rice chemical and biomolecular engineer Haotian Wang—produces high concentrations of formic acid that is more pure than typically can be produced, he said.

“Formic acid is an energy carrier,” Wang said in a press statement. “It’s a fuel-cell fuel that can generate electricity and emit carbon dioxide--which you can grab and recycle again.”

Usually formic acid produced by traditional carbon dioxide devices needs a series of purification steps, which can be costly and time consuming, he said. With the reactor he and his team developed, pure formic acid can be produced directly, thus making the conversion of carbon dioxide to fuel more accessible on a wider scale, Wang said.

Secrets to Success

Researchers cited two key developments they made to enable the design of the reactor: a bismuth catalyst and a solid-state electrolyte that doesn’t need salt for a reaction.

Using bismuth created a very stable catalyst for a couple of reasons, Wang said. One is that bismuth a very heavy atom--compared to transition metals like copper, iron or cobalt—and its mobility is much lower, particularly under reaction conditions. “So that stabilizes the catalyst,” he said in the press statement.

Researchers also structured the reactor to keep water from contacting the catalyst, another reason for its stability, Wang added.

The team also knew that using an electrolyte that didn’t require salt would preclude the need to remove salt from the formic acid created in the chemical reaction, Wang said.  

Typically people reduce carbon dioxide for fuel in a traditional liquid electrolyte such as salty water, which helps ions move freely in an electrolyte to optimally conduct electricity, he said.

“But when you generate formic acid that way, it mixes with the salts,” he said in the release. “For a majority of applications you have to remove the salts from the end product, which takes a lot of energy and cost. So we employed solid electrolytes that conduct protons and can be made of insoluble polymers or inorganic compounds, eliminating the need for salts.”

Researchers also coated their polymer-based solid electrolyte with sulfonic acid ligands to conduct positive charge or amino functional groups to conduct negative ions, Wang said.

The team detailed its work in a paper in the journal Nature Energy.

Design in Action

In tests, the new electrocatalyst reached an energy conversion efficiency of about 42 percent, so about half of the electrical energy generated by it can be stored in formic acid as liquid fuel.

In a catalyzer such as the one the Rice team built, the rate at which water flows through the product chamber determines the concentration of the resulting solution, researchers said.

 The performance of the current device produces a solution that is nearly 30 percent formic acid by weight, they reported. However, faster flows would allow for customization of the concentration, something the team is aiming for in future iterations of the design, according to the team.

The lab used the device to generate formic acid continuously for 100 hours without much degradation of the reactor’s components, including the nanoscale catalysts, Wang said. Moreover, he believes that the reactor could also produce even higher-value fuels, such as acetic acid, ethanol, or propanol.


“The big picture is that carbon dioxide reduction is very important for its effect on global warming as well as for green chemical synthesis,” Wang said in the press statement. “If the electricity comes from renewable sources like the sun or wind, we can create a loop that turns carbon dioxide into something important without emitting more of it.”

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 20 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco and New York City. In her free time she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.

Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis

The Midwest's largest advanced design and manufacturing event!
Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis connects you with top industry experts, including esign and manufacturing suppliers, and industry leaders in plastics manufacturing, packaging, automation, robotics, medical technology, and more. This is the place where exhibitors, engineers, executives, and thought leaders can learn, contribute, and create solutions to move the industry forward. Register today!


This Plastic-Alternative Packaging for Personal Care Products Is Made Entirely Out of Soap

Core 77 - Mon, 2019-10-14 20:09

On average we each go through eleven bottles of shower gel and ten bottles of shampoo a year—and that's without factoring in all the other products that make up our daily personal care routines. "Why is a product that is used for about a month made of a material that takes an average of 500 years to disintegrate?" That's the question designer Jonna Breitenhuber asked herself as she started developing her master's thesis at the University of Arts in Berlin. The end result is a refreshingly simple take on the problem of single-use plastics: what if we made the packaging itself out of soap?

Breitenhuber's SOAPBOTTLE is a line of sleek and colorful bottles made out of soap that can hold any type of liquid hygiene product thanks to a water-insoluble lining that prevents the liquids inside from dissolving the exterior.

Unlike traditional bottles, SOAPBOTTLE has a higher likelyhood of getting slippery and hard to handle, so Breitenhuber included a strap that can be used to make that a bit easier. Once the contents inside are done, the "bottle" can be used normally as soap so there's no waste.

It's a simple but powerful move—a product that embodies "the aesthetics of transcience," as Breitenhuber puts it. "The concept plays with the process of dissolution, with the transformation of the object and the individuality arising from these aspects," she explains.

Mobile Food Lab Is a Refurbished Bus Designed to Educate Students on Healthy and Sustainable Eating Habits

Core 77 - Mon, 2019-10-14 20:09
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Tessellate Studio has partnered with Reed Foundation to design a Mobile Food Lab meant to be a traveling educational vessel—quite literally, it is a customized 300 ft greenhouse chill zone, with a lab and exhibit space. The movable classroom is meant to educate K-8 graders on everything from better eating habits, how to cook, gardening, and how all of these activities in unison can nourish our minds and bodies. This inventive approach to food education ended up earning Tessellate Studio a 2019 Core77 Design Award Runner Up win in the Design for Social Impact category.  

“The MFL's primary missions are to help children develop a healthy connection to food by harnessing their innate curiosity through a multi-sensory experience of smell, sight, touch, and taste," Tessellate Studio writes in their Core77 Design Awards entry, "the MFL uses food as the medium to teach a curriculum of science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM).”

The design objective was to create a space that could house different learning components — an all encompassing greenhouse, classroom, science lab and art studio. The greatest challenge was how to fit 30 people on a vehicle at once while still being able to accommodate different educational activation zones within the space.

Designing the MFL was challenging in that the studio had to create robust and multi-functional experience both inside and out. The lab was designed in three sections with the central area being the social zone comprised of skylights and 4,000 ft of rope — the nest-like "sanctuary" is the center of the design, and meant to facilitate conversation and orientation. The next area is the cooking area consisting of a hydroponic garden, cook top, sink, and cutting service. Then there’s the science area, complete with digital microscopes, LCD monitor, test tubes of herbs and spices, and a "taste" chart to learn the science of taste. The Art Area includes storage for the materials and two carts that can be wheeled off the bus for additional flexible countertop for storage,  and a countertop for arts and craft activities. The flexible learning stations allow each student the opportunity to engage in hands-on experiments, group work, and independent investigation.

The bus is scheduled to visit schools, parks, and public events and currently serves the entire state of New Jersey. As there are many subjects to teach within the larger umbrella of art, science, and cooking, different exhibits were built. The space includes a geography exhibit that teaches kids about the herbs and spices growing in their own backyard to prompt discussions around regional cooking. The lab's plant anatomy exhibit teaches children about the structural make up of a plant and how to keep plants healthy. A flavor profile exhibit allows the students to try new herbs and spices; the exhibit also outlines the science of flavor (taste buds, plant composition) and how to combine them to form recipes. One of the main curriculum goals was to prompt curiosity around healthy food and ingredients so that students would encourage their families to make fresh food as part of a balanced meal. 

Mobile Food Lab has been highly successful since beginning the programming in September 2018, usually booked for months out. The overall project was built out to benefit participants on a multitude of levels in a cleverly holistic manner. In addition to building healthy connections to food, the bus has served to provide dozens of jobs for adults with autism who help maintain and upkeep the exhibits and programs. And of course, Mobile Food Lab has positively affected thousands of kids, many in underserved communities, in bettering both their individual and family's food habits. Projects like this one are further proof that knowledge is power, and will perhaps even inspire students to become future change agents in food reform.

Check out the Mobile Food Lab project in full on our Core77 Design Awards site of 2019 honorees