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Sina Sohrab & Joseph Guerra of Visibility on Working with Clients While Preserving Your Design Identity

Core 77 - Thu, 2018-09-20 17:22

This interview is part of a series featuring the presenters participating in this year's Core77 Conference, "Now What? Launching & Growing Your Creative Business", a one-day event aimed to equip attendees with tangible skills and toolkits to help produce and promote their products or services. 

Joseph Guerra and Sina Sohrab, co-founders of the New York-based studio Visibility, successfully manage to ride the line between form versus function by applying a healthy dose of playfulness to their pragmatic designs. At first glance, their work carries a classic, almost archival feel. But after peering a bit closer, their design philosophy of making products that much more beautiful and useful through the editing of small details becomes apparent through thoughtful design tweaks. All in all, every aspect of their designs are there for a reason—no more, no less. Despite being a young studio consisting of only two lead designers, since starting in 2012, Visibility has already worked with a number of impressive clients, including Normann Copenhagen, Harry's, Outdoor Voices, Cooper Hewitt, and Good Thing. Even more impressive? Although the design studio often works for well-established clients, each product they design consistently maintains the voice of Visibility, reflecting both Guerra and Sohrab's serene and considered tastes.

Guerra and Sohrab, who will jointly be giving a talk at this year's Core77 Conference called "Owning and Maintaining Your Design Identity", answered a few of our questions about the ups and downs of starting a studio and what they've learned in the process:

What does Visibility do & what kind of expertise does your studio bring to the table?

Visibility is an industrial design office that works as a general practitioner, designing products and furniture. We work on a wide breadth of projects and that allows us to bring a 360 view of thoughtful design to each we approach.

Did your idea to launch a studio feel more like a leap or a long, drawn-out plan? What are your thoughts on how it began and what are some really important lessons you learned in that early stage that helped the studio to evolve?

It was a bit of both. We put our heads down and made a plan to start the studio, moonlighting it until we knew we had to make a leap of faith. I think something we've learned is not to be afraid to ask a lot of questions. As designers, there were a lot of things we didn't know about business and asking for advice on key issues became a way through the weeds. We have also learned to listen to what our experiences were telling us and adapt, rather than letting preconceived notions of what a studio was supposed to be to get the best of us.

The Standard Paintbrush for Cooper HewittYou've worked with a lot of cool clients I imagine many designers wish they could include on their client roster. How do these relationships come about for you two?

We work hard to make lasting relationships with everyone we work with directly and indirectly. It starts with one client and the next thing you know, we have a full roster. Word of mouth is a huge driver. We like forging authentic connections with people, whether that leads to client-work or just a great friendship.

What does it take as a young studio to get deals with good clients? Is it about portfolio building, going to as many design-related events you can….?

Portfolio building and going to design events are certainly part of the marketing effort you'll have to do. It can still be very difficult for young designers and we think the best thing you can do is make excellent work, hold yourself to the highest standards and make sure people see that work.

The Shapes Bundle for Outdoor VoicesWhat type of products are you most interested in working on? Is there anything you haven't done yet you're really hoping to do?

We like to work on projects that allow us to use our best design-thinking. Anything can fall under this umbrella. It would be great to someday work on something for transportation or even space.

When you work with clients, how much flexibility do you have in terms of bringing your own voice to something?

We try to only take projects where we'll have a voice and a sense of authorship.

Your studio focuses mainly on design as opposed to getting involved in the full product cycle. Can you tell me a little bit about what it is about the process of designing a product you appreciate the most?

We enjoy the initial stages of a product design because it's where we get to dream up something that doesn't exist yet. Everything is still possible in the beginning and that's where we come up with our best ideas. Over the longevity of a project, meeting with manufacturers and understanding their process can be just as exciting. A new set of opportunities are presented in the manufacturing process and you get to work with experts in their craft.

Even if you're not producing the pieces yourself, what bits of information regarding that process do you need to know in order be a successful design studio and work with clients big and small who are producing these products?

We spend a lot of time researching the production methods of any project. Over time we've been lucky to work on a huge variety of products that have allowed us to retain a good understanding of how things are made. We use this as an opportunity to design with manufacturing and function in mind while challenging the process to see what innovations we can bring to the table.

The Ridge Kitchen carafe set for AreawareWhen it comes to the business, logistical side of starting a studio, I imagine there are plenty of dilemmas where you feel a bit stuck or aren't sure what your next move should be. What are your favorite resources for finding this type of information?

This happens all the time where it's difficult to know how to solve some issues facing a new business. We reach out to people who can give us insight, we read super boring articles online and, as a team, we spend a lot of time talking about what it is that we actually want to do. We try not to let an issue feel like it's being forced onto us.

Finally, what are a.) some of the most challenging parts about owning your own business and b.) the most rewarding (if you're able to boil it down)?

The biggest challenges are: maintaining a constant stream of work because as a service you can't really plan on the future, staying true to your design values and prioritizing good work rather than paying work, turning a profit can be really nuanced and every business is different.

The most rewarding aspects are deciding on each and everything you work on; you build your own dream and not necessarily someone else's. Creative control over projects, but you also get to use those creative skills to drive the business in a way that's most interesting to you. There's really no greater feeling than launching a product that's almost exclusively created or designed by you.


You want to start a creative business. Now What? Come to our 2018 Core77 Conference to learn more about launching & growing a product line or design studio of your own, October 25th, in Brooklyn!

Buy "Now What? Launching & Growing Your Creative Business" Tickets here.

Tools & Craft #107: In Furniture Design, What's Old is New Again

Core 77 - Thu, 2018-09-20 17:22

This summer I'd gone to the Museum of the City of New York, to see the absolutely fabulous Stanley Kubrick exhibit. At the same time I stopped in at a small exhibit of the design work of the architect Rosario Candela. Candela's name is still dropped in New York real estate circles; he is the architect behind some of Manhattan's oldest luxury apartment buildings.

The show included a settee c. 1926 that really caught my eye. It was made by a Queens-based company called "Company of Master Craftsman" and sold at the W & J Sloane department store. The settee is a semi-copy of a century previous settee by Duncan Phyfe.

If you look at it closely, you can see it is very nice work but not up to Phyfe's standards. For example, the beading on the legs is nice, but doesn't exactly flow with the bottom rail. I was struck by how an interior designer in the 1920s, rather than creating yet another Art Deco design, instead decided that a throwback design was appropriate in a modern setting, and didn't make everything look dated.

This approach is really important to consider if you are planning to sell furniture now. We cannot sell furniture in an older style that is meant for an older house. That ship has sailed. We have to show how great design doesn't become obsolete: while the inspiration for the new piece might be old, its context and value can be new. Colonial reproductions, for example, are a very tough sell. Almost nobody wants them. But you can tell people -- and you should tell people -- that your modern designs were inspired by great design from two centuries ago.

This thought allowed my mind to drift to the English Arts & Crafts movement, which I like enormously. Nancy Hiller has a great new book about the subject - including working drawings for several pieces. You can look at her book as a historical assessment of the style, which it is, but I think there is a lot more to be gained understanding the style and designs that make the English Arts & Crafts movement so appealing today. Then get some wood and seeing how the style fits in now.

P.S. The thought leaders* of the English Arts & Crafts movement were John Ruskin and William Morris. While Morris is mostly known for his design work, he also wrote turgid Icelandic sagas and a slightly more accessible futuristic book that you might enjoy called News From Nowhere. Nancy's book "English Arts & Crafts Furniture: Projects & Techniques for the Modern Maker" is available here.

P.P.S. The phrase "thought leader" is about as cliched as it comes, but I enjoy the vision in my head of a bearded William Morris making a presentation about traditional handwork to a group using a Power Point display and worrying about the number of Twitter followers.


This "Tools & Craft" section is provided courtesy of Joel Moskowitz, founder of Tools for Working Wood, the Brooklyn-based catalog retailer of everything from hand tools to Festool; check out their online shop here. Joel also founded Gramercy Tools, the award-winning boutique manufacturer of hand tools made the old-fashioned way: Built to work and built to last.

How to Properly, Safely and Affordably Crate a Chair for Shipping

Core 77 - Wed, 2018-09-19 16:49

For those of you designer/builders new to the game, selling your first chair will be a wildly satisfying accomplishment. But if your client isn't local, preparing the piece for shipping presents a new challenge--one that, if done half-assed, can completely undo your success with creating and selling the furniture piece in the first place.

Lost Art Press' Christopher Schwarz has built and sold his share of chairs. And while the always-modest Schwarz prefaces the following information by stating that "I am not a cratengineer. So I am certain that the way you build crates is better than mine," it's safe to say the man's methods are probably better than most.

As Schwarz explains:

My method is the result of a few things:1. Observing how hundreds of shipments of books, machines and furniture have been damaged during my last three decades in publishing and furniture making (I have not experienced any damage with my crates, by the way).
2. Asking my trucking company what I should do to ensure my shipments aren't damaged.
3. Using as little material as possible to add as little weight and cubic footage as possible.
4. Setting a goal of building a crate in less than one hour.
5. Spending $40 to $50 on materials on average.

Click here to read his full explanation, with photos, of his chair-crating method.

"Re-Thinking an Outdated Wearable:" BioLite's New Ergonomic LED HeadLamp

Core 77 - Wed, 2018-09-19 16:49

BioLite's a company that knows about outdoor illumination, and thus far their lighting products have been limited to handheld or hanging items. But now, with their new LED HeadLamp, they're expanding into wearables.

This being BioLite, the $49, 330-lumen HeadLamp is of course rechargeable, by means of either solar panel or powerbank. And the designers appear to have focused heavily on the ergonomics: "We've gone from phonographs to wireless earbuds, pilgrim shoes to flyknits, pocketwatches to fitness trackers; so why have headlamps – a wearable we all know – stayed so dang unwearable?"

"You know what we're talking about: the doorknob sticking out of your forehead. It's bulky, it's uncomfortable, and it constantly reminds you of its presence. So many other categories (sound, footwear, eyewear) have evolved into modern, lighter, smarter designs yet headlamps have remained largely the same – so we set out to change that. "3D SlimFit Construction is the secret sauce: 3D-molded housing integrates electronics directly into the fabric for a SUPER thin front that sits flush on your forehead for NO BOUNCE. The power source sits on the back of the head, creating a more balanced, weightless feel while negating the classic slippage problem found in other headlamps. Lastly, smart moisture-wicking fabrics keep you cool and dry and won't rub you the wrong way."

Since launching yesterday, the HeadLamp is already a smash hit on Kickstarter, with $178,271 pledged on a $40,000 at press time. There's still 30 days left to pledge in order to get one before the holidays, and while the HeadLamp will eventually be available for regular sale after that, "this is a limited quantity run – so once they're gone, they're gone until Spring 2019," the company writes.

Design Job: Skip Hop Is Seeking a Senior Designer Who Wants to Make Life Fun for Kids & Easier on Parents

Core 77 - Wed, 2018-09-19 16:49

Parenting can be tough, but at Skip Hop, we believe it can be easier when you have highly functional products on hand. Our team brings modern design to life, creating innovative essentials for moms, dads and infants all over the world. The brand is a favorite of parents worldwide, sought

View the full design job here

How Steel Bicycles are Made

Core 77 - Wed, 2018-09-19 16:49

We've dedicated a fair amount of pixels to how custom bike frames and fancy parts like aluminum wheels and seats are made. But what about workaday, average steel bicycle frames? Take a look at how rides for the 95% are fabricated, and check out the welder's jig-up in particular:

This Mobile Home Carries a Side-Deploying Sports Car So You Can Continue to Flee Your Troubles

Core 77 - Wed, 2018-09-19 16:49

A mobile home is all about getting away from your actual fixed-to-the-ground home. But as the saying goes, you can run away from your problems but you can't run away from yourself.

Which doesn't mean you shouldn't still try. If you buy this Volkner mobile home, you can hit the open road and flee your troubles--and once you realize that it isn't working, you can take it a step further and flee your mobile home via a supercar tucked into this side-deploying integrated garage platform:

The next step is to somehow wedge a folding motorcycle into the trunk of the car, so that you can flee your car when you have your next crisis of conscience. And on the back of that motorcycle will be a folding bicycle, and attached to that, a Razor scooter. Eventually you'll be scooting down the road, finally free, not a care in the world, leaving a string of broken lives, lies and unfulfilled promises behind you.

Design Job: Zoku Is Seeking a Motivated & Inspired Graphic Designer to Join Their Team in NJ

Core 77 - Wed, 2018-09-19 16:49

Zoku is an innovative product development company located in Hoboken, NJ. Our company is focused on creating high-quality, design-driven products for the home. More information about Zoku can be found at www.zokuhome.com. We are currently seeking a highly motivated and inspired graphic designer to work in

View the full design job here

The CD Trick for Drilling Perfectly Perpendicular Holes

Core 77 - Wed, 2018-09-19 16:49

It's amazing that no power tool manufacturer has designed a drill that makes it easy to create holes perfectly perpendicular to the surface of the workpiece. As Jimmy DiResta once suggested, the top and perhaps one side surface of hand drills ought be made perfectly flat, so folks could run it against a straightedge to get square results.

Until someone creates such a thing, here's a trick for using the reflection in an old CD to help improve squareness:

A Closer Look at the Collaborative Design Process Behind IDEO & Swarovski's Infinite Aura Chandelier 

Core 77 - Wed, 2018-09-19 16:49
All images: Courtesy of IDEO and Swarovski

What do you get when you combine design teams from a company that masters in crystal innovation and one of the leading design firms out there? The Infinite Aura chandelier by IDEO and Swarovski. To bring Infinite Aura to life, the two powerhouse companies joined forces to reimagine the traditional chandelier. The result is a head-turning, functional light, paired with an app that provides connectivity, customization and personal creativity. 

The collaboration was announced a couple of months ago, but we were curious to delve more into this particular collaboration process. To remedy our curiosity, we had a conversation with Courtney Song, Senior Design Lead at IDEO (project lead), Elger Oberwelz, Executive Design Director at IDEO and Roger Carthew, Senior Vice President of Swarovski Lighting, who each provided us with insights based on their own perspective within the project:

Core77: How did this collaboration between IDEO and Swarovski begin?

Elger Oberwelz: In 2016, Swarovski Lighting reached out to IDEO to explore a collaboration that would demonstrate the power and impact of design using an integrated team from both organizations. We moved forward with a brief that addressed these questions: How might we re-imagine the iconic chandelier in unusual and surprising ways that are relevant to today's users? How might we showcase the unique qualities of crystal in new and modern ways? How might we uncover unexpected forms and designs that could be uniquely Swarovski?

These briefs seemed like the perfect fit for our build- and tech-focused Palo Alto studio, where Courtney and I are based. As a studio, we are comprised of a diverse group of technologists, industrial designers, engineers, interaction designers, design researchers, architects, data scientists, software designers, nerds and magicians. Rather than just talk or strategize, we show what's possible by making it real and visceral. 

Roger Carthew: IDEO and Swarovski had already collaborated successfully on other former projects, so it made sense to utilize their innovative thinking to help create breakthrough innovation in the lighting category. Decorative lighting can be characterized in three ways: a design driven art piece, created to inspire and amaze, a functional light providing a source of light to complete a task, and a technology product to meet our desire for a smart connected life. With Infinite Aura, we deliberately created a product brief that would meet all three of these categorizations for the first time.

What parts of the design process did each side of the collaboration work on?

Elger Oberwelz: For this project, we assembled a combined Swarovski Lighting and IDEO team of designers. There were five different work streams going concurrently: physical design of the chandelier, brand strategy and positioning, digital development of app, software prototyping of light behavior, and finally physical build to make it all real.

In essence, we assembled a mini swat team around this product to make sure all the work streams were coalescing into one amazing experience. The Swarovski Lighting team deeply understood the brand, product strategy, and production processes, so they were critical in making fast decisions to move designs forward and keep the team moving. The IDEO team brought our human centered design lens, intuition and experience with luxury brands, different cultural backgrounds and points of view, and a willingness to try new things very quickly. We felt our most important imperative was to bring an open mind, a deep understanding of today's consumers and ultimately to bring the "design magic" to this product.

At IDEO, we ask our designers to join projects that they are passionate about, as we know this makes for the best experience. Designers work solely on one project at a time to get the chance to really dive deep and focus. For this project, we brought together a core team of industrial design, interaction design, software and product engineers, led by Courtney, who is a trained architect with deep brand and service design experience.

How did the Infinite Aura design process differ from your team's past projects?

Elger Oberwelz: To accelerate the ideation process in the beginning, we invited twenty IDEO designers across our San Francisco and Palo Alto locations to join forces for a one and a half day build and ideation hackathon. This was a curated day filled with inspirational speakers, brainstorm sessions, sketching, building prototypes, good food, a nice and inspirational offsite location, and lots of happy designers getting their hands dirty. It was great. This crazy 1.5 days generated more than 300 ideas and 10 different promising concepts, brought to life through renderings and prototypes. The idea for a chandelier that magically reflects crystals into infinity was born there.

"Imagining the chandelier as part artwork, part functional light had an effect on our design process; instead of utilizing purely strategic and functional ways of problem solving, we relied just as much on intuition and emotion to guide our decisions." —Courtney Song

It was clear from the beginning that we had to see our concepts in a real world context. In order to achieve that, we built out one of our project spaces into a beautifully decorated dining room. Imagine a large dining table, dining chairs, and everything else that would make it into the perfect backdrop for our prototypes. When we showed our "works like, looks like" chandelier prototype at our end of phase presentation, the whole team gathered around the table and had a magical "family lunch." The Swarovski Lighting and IDEO team co-presented the concept while we all had the chance to fully immerse and experience the Swarovski Infinite Aura chandelier first hand. With our fully built out Swarovski digital app "Infinite Control," we could change the mood of the room accordingly.

Swarovski Infinite Aura Design Process from IDEO on Vimeo.

We also experimented with cinemagraphs, a combination of still photography and video, to tell an interesting visual story of all the different user scenarios for which the chandelier was designed. It would show "A Day in the Light," from very functional task light user scenarios to emotional lighting scenarios. To document our process, all designers were dedicated to capturing fun and interesting moments along the way, with the goal to hand over a process video that truly reflected our common ethos and build mentality.

Courtney Song: This project was a rare opportunity to balance both beauty and technology from the very beginning and design with a medium as ephemeral as light. This combination of factors pushed the team to approach this project with a much more intangible goal than is typical—how do we produce awe and wonder, versus just pure function and utility?

To evolve our designs throughout the project, we also tested physical prototypes in context from day one, which was different from a more linear design process where we sketch and visualize digitally before mocking up 3D prototypes. As a team, we quickly realized that to actually evaluate the chandelier designs, we had to experience them in person in specific environments to observe how natural daylight refracted through the crystals. 

Designing in context (whether it be a living room, kitchen, bedroom, etc.) had profound impact on our product design. Instead of just thinking about details such as the product form itself, we considered the bigger, holistic system in which the light fixture would operate. How could we imagine what it felt like to come home to the light fixture and operate it with a light switch versus a connected home app? What light settings could support various types of environments and the various modes we cycle through in various contexts? To test our designs, we also pushed ourselves to assess the multi-sensorial impact of the product–from sight to sound to touch.

Roger Carthew: Infinite Aura is the first time that Swarovski Lighting has combined crystal, light, cutting edge design, the latest app controlled technology, and the curated use of light temperature and intensity to allow consumers to match the light to both the occasion and their emotional feeling. By bringing the symbiosis of crystal and light alive through Infinite Aura, we allow light, clarity and depth to work together and give crystal an eternal quality encapsulating the mood of the moment while enabling the material's timelessness to add an essential ingredient to contemporary design.

What special considerations did you have to keep in mind during the Infinite Aura design process?

Courtney Song: We needed to keep in mind that Swarovski is a luxury brand with a well established audience, so we carefully considered how to modernize a storied icon of heritage—the chandelier—while still respecting Swarovski's strongly established brand. By always counterbalancing technology and function with emotion and art, we arrived at a nuanced connected lighting system centered on the end user's holistic experience of light.

We relied heavily on intuition and the client's expertise to guide us throughout the short couple of weeks we were designing, all while still retaining a strong human centered lens on the role light plays in people's lives and various environments. We swiftly selected the design concept to start detailing out. That type of decisiveness and commitment to the concept was key in being able to reach the level of fidelity that we reached.

Despite a compressed project timeline, the team operated in a rather efficient way. Each stream was self-sustaining, and we came together at opportune moments to quickly check in, make decisions, and go back into fleshing out the concepts. We also had a very experienced designer from Swarovski Lighting embedded with us the entire project, and he was instrumental in providing the IDEO team with a depth of knowledge of past learnings and helping us to work through feasibility and viability from the beginning.

Surprisingly, there was not really a hierarchy of the design streams across the industrial design, the lighting design, the digital design, the brand and business strategy. Each stream was considered equally important. As project lead, my challenge was to harmonize all the work streams and make sure each stream's content was balancing each other at a high enough fidelity for everything to come together and produce a holistic, inspiring experience.

Roger Carthew: For this project, we were very focused on the human experience when interacting with the fixture. This took our thinking beyond functionality and into the realm of how light triggers emotion and memory. Our heritage of groundbreaking collaborations with designers, innovators and craftsmen demonstrate how Swarovski is an integral part of the language of design. We believe that crystal opens the senses, guides our understanding and gives a sense of security. We pay attention to every detail from the beginning of the design process until the product is hanging in the customer's home. The Infinite Aura collection is an exciting direction for our brand as it modernizes the concept of beautiful chandeliers and appeals to an entirely new consumer market.

What are the main qualities Swarovski looks for in collaborators? Why was IDEO a good fit for Infinite Aura?

Roger Carthew: Swarovski looks for collaborators who parallel Swarovski with equal professional reputation, experience and knowledge and who continuously seek breakthrough. We admire innovators who will take risks, challenge themselves and us, and ultimately find ways to exceed our expectations. Given our prior collaborations, IDEO were the perfect fit for Infinite Aura, and together we've reimagined the role of lighting today—combining leading-edge contemporary design, broad functionality, proprietary technology, and a personalized user experience.


Skidmore, Owings & Merrill Re-Thinks the Wall, Teams Up with U.S. Army to Advance 3D-Printed Buildings

Core 77 - Wed, 2018-09-19 16:49

When there's a natural disaster and our government is paying attention, we send scores of physically-fit, militarily-trained young men and women to the site to render assistance. This is a logistically massive task. For starters, all of those men and women need a place to sleep in between shifts.

Tents would be the easiest to transport, but are unsuitable for extreme weather conditions. So wooden-framed barracks are typically constructed on-site. While organizations like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have barracks-building down to a science, each barracks still takes a crew of eight people five days to build, and the wood must be shipped to the site.

That's why the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center is trying to figure out how to do this faster and cheaper. They've set up a project called ACES-- Automated Construction of Expeditionary Structures--and are making great strides using massive concrete-spewing 3D printers and the services of a top-notch architecture firm.

The ERDC contracted Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, who had previously done a project with the U.S. Department of Energy and were thus on the government's radar, to help them design sturdy barracks that could swiftly be 3D-printed in concrete. One of the problems with 3D-printed concrete is that it can crack at the foundations more so than cast concrete, and another is that it must be reinforced for strength. SOM solved these issues by designing a rather funky-looking wall that, understandably, initially attracted skepticism.

Last year's ACES design: Straight, conventional walls. This year's design by SOM: Undulating walls.

While the wall is straight at the top, down at the bottom it undulates, as if following the path of a slithering snake. At first glance this seems like a bad idea: Because the wall transitions from this zig-zag shape to dead vertical, it means that during the printing process, each layer of concrete slightly overhangs the one beneath it. That seems like an obvious no-no with 3D printing, and "when [SOM Associate Director Benton Johnson] first proposed the idea of the undulating wall, most of the team was hesitant," ACES Program Manager Michael Case told Engineering News-Record. Additionally, the undulating wall design requires 15% more concrete.

Undaunted, SOM printed up three walls to prove the concept: One straight, "normal" wall, one supported by a pilaster and one in the undulating design. Each wall was tested for both practical printability, and strength to the point of failure (i.e. they tested them until they broke). The undulating design proved to be "more efficient at resisting overturning moments" and "reduced the potential for shrinkage cracking near the foundation." Additionally, the shape "provides 2.5 times the strength in the wall's out-of-plane direction, is self-supporting during construction and allows field changes of the building shape without a total re-engineering." The undulating design was thus selected.

To further reinforce the structure, rebar anchors are embedded within the foundation, which 18-inch rebar dowels are plugged into "after the first lift of the printed wall."

In subsequent testing with three-man crews, ACES and SOM have "learned we can potentially build a building in 48 hours of clock time," according to Megan Kreiger, ACES Project Manager. That will come after kinks are ironed out:

The biggest problem, aside from exhausted crews, involved maintenance. Operator errors and printer malfunctions had had a cascading effect, causing the material, which sat longer in the mixer, pump and hose, to begin to cure and build up on the sides of the equipment. The equipment had to be cleaned.…The team learned that for continuous printing, two or three dedicated crews--pretrained and working in shifts--are critical.For SOM, the two biggest lessons are that concrete material performance is critical and stopping the printing process must be avoided, says Benton Johnson, an SOM associate director.

Even so, the early results are promising. ACES' 3D printer can be placed on a pallet and shipped on a C-130. Acquiring concrete from local sources would be easier, cheaper and faster than shipping wood. And if three crews are used in rotation for non-stop production, the building time is projected to be as low as a single day per structure--versus five for a wooden-framed structure.

The next step is to get a pre-cast concrete roof onto the structure (as of now, 3D printing a roof is still impossible), which should be completed by this month. Following that, a report with design guidelines will be produced. We'll be reading it with great interest.

Will Future EVs Only Have a Five-Year Battery Life?

Design News - Wed, 2018-09-19 05:00

Many EV batteries may not last as long as consumers expect—especially if trends toward nickel-rich chemistries and fast-charging continue, an expert said at last week’s Battery Show.

Asad Farid of Berenberg Bank told engineers at the show that many of the newer breed of batteries will last, on average, only about five years. “We think the battery degradation rate in your electric car will increase rather than decrease going forward,” he said.

The shorter life expectancy will come as a surprise to those who believe all EV batteries will behave in a manner similar to that of Tesla Inc.’s big, actively cooled lithium-ion battery packs, Farid said. He predicted that many future batteries will exhibit the kind of “capacity fade” that Berenberg chronicled in early Nissan Leaf EVs. Those batteries exhibited more than 20% degradation after an average of five to six years of driving, he noted.

According to Asad Farid of Berenberg Bank, future EV batteries are likely to need replacement after just five years of use. “People believe their battery degradation will be similar to that of the Tesla,” he said (see graph on left). “But we think battery degradation will remain similar to the case of the Leaf going forward” (see graph on right). (Image source: Berenberg Bank)

Asad Farid of Berenberg Bank: “We think the battery degradation rate in your electric car will increase rather than decrease going forward.” (Image source: Berenberg Bank)

Farid cited three main reasons for the shorter life expectancy in future batteries.

  • First, he said, there’s a shift toward high-nickel cell chemistries in NMC (lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide) and NCA (lithium nickel cobalt aluminum oxide) batteries. Those nickel-rich chemistries have shown a lower cycle life of 2,000 charges (for NMC) and 1,000 charges (for NCA). In contrast, the lithium iron phosphate batteries commonly used in China typically hit more than 3,000 cycles. In a paper published earlier this year, Farid contended that the move to high-nickel chemistries is caused by the growing desire for greater driving range. Unfortunately, the move to higher energy density (greater range) comes at the expense of longevity, he wrote.
  • Second, a shift toward faster charging speeds will reduce life expectancy, he said. Today, many utilities are installing DC fast-charge stations rated at 50 kW, 150 kW, and even 350 kW. And while such stations can charge big batteries in as little as 20 minutes, they also generate heat that can lead to decomposition of the battery’s anode and cathode. “When you triple the speed of charging, your battery degradation will also increase,” Farid said.
  • Third, the use of air-cooling leads to faster battery degradation, he said. Today, some OEMs are choosing to use passive air-cooled systems instead of more expensive liquid cooling, but such systems trap more heat in the cells. Farid said that the degradation rate with air cooling is more than double that of dynamic, liquid-cooled batteries.

In a session titled, “Lithium-Ion Batteries Most Critical Raw Materials: Lithium, Cobalt, Nickel & Graphite,” Farid told the audience that many other factors also contribute to shorter battery life. Among those are depth of discharge and size (capacity) of the battery. Because drivers are more likely to deeply discharge a smaller battery, smaller packs on average will not last as long as the bigger ones, he predicted.

To be sure, consumers who purchase EVs would be covered if the batteries degrade as rapidly as Farid predicts. Today, most manufacturers offer warranties—typically for eight years and 100,000 miles. Moreover, some states are providing protection for consumers who buy used EVs. California, for example, recently passed a bill that would provide a rebate to buyers of used EVs to replace the battery packs in their vehicles.

Moreover, the industry is aware of the heat problems associated with fast charging and is prepared to deal with it, other analysts say. “OEMs understand the desire for fast charging and are actively working to mitigate the impact through things like careful thermal management to keep pack temperatures down,” noted Sam Abuelsamid, senior analyst for Navigant Research, in an e-mail to Design News. “On the e-tron, Audi is making a big deal about the thermal management of the battery pack to support 150-kW charging, and Porsche is launching 350-kW charging on the Taycan in the spring.”

Either way, Farid believes that most consumers will want to replace their batteries sooner than eight years. Such purchases would be more cost-effective than replacing the entire vehicle, he said. “EV car owners will be tempted to replace their battery pack after four to five years, rather than buying a new electric car,” he said. “And if you buy an electric car from Nissan, BMW, or Renault, you can replace the battery pack for around $8,000.”


If owners choose not to replace the battery, Farid said, they could lose as much as 70% of the car’s resale value within five years. “The only thing wrong with your car (at that point) is your battery pack,” he said. “So if you can replace it, you can significantly increase the value of your car.”

Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 34 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and auto.

Today's Insights. Tomorrow's Technologies.
ESC returns to Minneapolis, Oct. 31-Nov. 1, 2018, with a fresh, in-depth, two-day educational program designed specifically for the needs of today's embedded systems professionals. With four comprehensive tracks, new technical tutorials, and a host of top engineering talent on stage, you'll get the specialized training you need to create competitive embedded products. Get hands-on in the classroom and speak directly to the engineers and developers who can help you work faster, cheaper, and smarter. Click here to register today!

5 Resources for Learning Python

Design News - Wed, 2018-09-19 04:00

Python has become an indispensable tool to embedded software developers. Whether Python is being used to provide a GUI to control a system, acquire data, or even to write embedded software (think MicroPython), chances are Python has a place in your development process. This blog will reveal several resources you can use to learn Python.

(Image Source: Amazon)

1 – Purchase A Good Python Book

This might seem a bit old-fashioned, but when I’m learning a programming language or a new concept, I like to start with a book. Do a quick search on Amazon for Python books and you will find that there are more than 6,000 books to choose from. I obviously have not reviewed them all, but there are several that I’ve found
to be quite helpful.

These include:

One of my favorites is Mark Lutz’ Learning Python, which is almost 1,700 pages long and covers every topic that someone new to Python needs to learn. I’ll be honest, I have not read it cover to cover. But when I’m working with Python, I often keep this book close so I can review critical concepts.

2 – Online Python Tutorials

I’ve always found that looking to multiple, experienced resources can help bring new insights into how to use a language or technique. One online resource that I have found to be extremely helpful is W3Schools, which provides several tutorials that are great for developers just getting started with Python. The tutorials are grouped into several categories:

  • Fundamentals
  • File Handling
  • Databases
  • Python Reference

Even if you are already an experienced Python developer, you may find the references from the site to be worthwhile. If W3Schools doesn’t fit your needs, a quick online search will undoubtedly provide several additional results.

3 – Reference Guides

Learning Python is one thing. But chances are, you’ll need to periodically access a language reference that doesn’t just provide the how-to’s with an example, but also provides Python wisdom such as best practices. A great online reference guide is A Hitchhikers Guide to Python. This guide is also available in print through O’Reilly, but the online document is open so developers may contribute. The guide includes useful sections such as:

  • Getting Started
  • Python Development Environments
  • Writing Great Python Code
  • Scenario Guide for Applications
  • Shipping Great Python Code
  • General Notes

This guide has a great wealth of knowledge that will quickly help a novice developer get up to speed.

4 – College Courses

Another great resource for developers interested in learning Python is to explore the course offerings through local universities. Programming has become so important that it is highly likely you will be able to find a course at a local community college or even a high school. A course based in a physical classroom will likely help you learn more consistently and can also reinforce and test your programming skills. I’ve seen many developers, including myself, who start to learn a technique or skill and then get caught up in project work or other activities and have to start over at square one.

5 – Your Own Ingenuity

I’ve always found that nothing forces you to learn how to use a language more than actually using it. Selecting a series of small problems that need to be solved or a larger program that then needs to be decomposed into smaller programs is a great way to learn. For example, let’s say we need a program that will receive sensor data from an embedded system over a serial interface and then log that information to a file. Looking at such a simple need results in a developer needing to learn how to:

  • Receive Serial Data
  • Store the Data Locally in Memory
  • Possibly Process and Display that Information
  • Open, Write, Read, and Close a File
  • Handle Errors

There are surely plenty of other activities that would be needed in such an application. But from a high-level standpoint, the developer will be provided with direction as to what they should investigate and learn next.


Python has become an important programming language not just to embedded systems, but to general application programmers as well. If you haven’t dived in yet and learned how to write Python applications, you’ll find that these five resources will help get you up to speed as quickly as possible.                                                                                                  

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 www.beningo.com/, and sign-up for his monthly Embedded Bytes Newsletter.

Today's Insights. Tomorrow's Technologies.
ESC returns to Minneapolis, Oct. 31-Nov. 1, 2018, with a fresh, in-depth, two-day educational program designed specifically for the needs of today's embedded systems professionals. With four comprehensive tracks, new technical tutorials, and a host of top engineering talent on stage, you'll get the specialized training you need to create competitive embedded products. Get hands-on in the classroom and speak directly to the engineers and developers who can help you work faster, cheaper, and smarter. Click here to register today!

Chinese Researchers Develop Non-Toxic, Flexible Material for Circuits

Design News - Wed, 2018-09-19 03:00

Researchers have developed a hybrid material of polymer and liquid metal that can be used to develop non-toxic, stretchable circuits for next-generation flexible electronics and medical devices.

A team at the National Center for Nanoscience and Technology created the material. Called a metal-polymer conductor (MPC), it is composed of elastic polymer and liquid metal. It can be bent and stretched at will, meaning that circuits made with it can take most two-dimensional shapes.

LED circuits interconnected by a new hybrid material developed by researchers in China can undergo repeated bending, twisting, and stretching. (Image source: Tang et al., National Center for Nanoscience and Technology)

The material also is biocompatible, making the components made with it non-toxic, said Xingyu Jiang, a professor at the center who worked on the project. This is well-suited to one of the goal applications for the team: the development of new biomedical devices.

"These are the first flexible electronics that are at once highly conductive and stretchable, fully biocompatible, and able to be fabricated conveniently across size scales with micro-feature precision," he said. "We believe that they will have broad applications for both wearable electronics and implantable devices."

The components comprising the MPC are at the same time very different, yet have properties that are equally needed for the material to function, researchers said. The metals in the material are gallium and indium rather than the usual conductive solids, such as copper, silver, or gold. In this case, the metals exist as thick, syrupy liquids that still permit electricity to flow.  

Support Structure 

In fact, as researchers discovered, embedding masses of this liquid-metal mixture within a supporting network of silicone-based polymer created mechanically resilient materials with sufficient connectivity to support functioning circuits, Jiang said. Researchers published a paper on their work in the journal iScience.

When examined closely, the MPC’s structure appears like round liquid-metal islands floating in a sea of polymer, with a liquid-metal mantle underneath to ensure full conductivity.

Researchers used both screen printing and microfluidic patterning in their process to fabricate the material. They said this is well-suited to scaling up for industry, as it can accommodate any two-dimensional geometry or different thicknesses and electrical properties, depending on the concentrations of the liquid-metal inks to be sprayed.


Variety of Uses

The team experimented with different MPC formulations in a variety of applications with reported success. These tests included using the material to develop sensors for wearable-keyboard gloves and as electrodes for stimulating the passage of DNA through the membranes of live cells, they said.

During their tests, researchers found that the applications of the MPC depended on the polymers. For example, super-elastic polymers made the MPCs viable for the development of stretchable circuits. To design implantable devices, researchers used biocompatible and biodegradable polymers.

Indeed, biomedical applications are one of the key reasons for the design of the material, Jiang said. "We wanted to develop biocompatible materials that could be used to build wearable or implantable devices for diagnosing and treating disease without compromising quality of life, and we believe that this is a first step toward changing the way that cardiovascular diseases and other afflictions are managed," he said. Researchers even anticipate using the material to build soft robots in the future by combining electro-active polymers, he added.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for 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.

Pacific Design & Manufacturing, North America’s premier conference that connects you with thousands of professionals across the advanced design & manufacturing spectrum, will be back at the Anaheim Convention Center February 5-7, 2019! Don’t miss your chance to connect and share your expertise with industry peers during this can't-miss event. Click here to pre-register for the event today!


iRobot's New Roomba Robot Vacuum Empties Itself While Docking

Core 77 - Tue, 2018-09-18 16:34

As we learned during our in-depth review of a robot vacuum, sometimes product designs simply shift UX hassles from one part of the operation to another. In that instance the hassle of vacuuming was replaced with the hassle of emptying the machine and cleaning the brushes out. But now iRobot is attempting to rectify those issues with their Roomba i7+. The brushes use rubber surfaces rather than bristles and, incredibly, the robot empties itself into a bag--good for a reported 30 fillings--whilst docking itself for recharges:

For me and other pet owners, the dealbreaker would be whether the emptying mechanism chokes on pet hair or not. We'd have to wait for some reviews to come in before entertaining the idea of buyine one--$950 is a bit too much to gamble with.

Halloween Costume Idea: Han Solo in Trapped in Carbonite

Core 77 - Tue, 2018-09-18 16:34

Earlier this year, Solo: A Star Wars Story became the franchise's first bomb. (It took in $400 million at the worldwide box office, but reportedly needed to make $500 million just to break even.) So it's unclear how many people will be dressing up as Alden Ehrenreich's rendition of the character this Halloween. Fans of the Empire Strikes Back version of Han, however, might be thrilled to pony up for this costume:

The "Star Wars Adult Inflatable Han Solo Carbonite Costume" comes from Japan, judging by the instructions. Interestingly, it comes with a fan to keep the inflatable "carbonite" rectangle rigid.

It runs about 90 bucks, but I'm thinking any ID student or industrial designer worth their salt ought be able to DIY one of these up. If you get started now, you'll have about six weeks. Be sure to send a photo in if you tackle it!

Design Job: Pandiscio Green Is Seeking a Junior Designer to Join Their Planning & Architecture Team

Core 77 - Tue, 2018-09-18 16:34

Pandiscio Green is seeking an eager, ambitious, and highly-creative Junior Designer, Planning & Architecture to join the team. An ideal candidate is a strong conceptual thinker and confident at tackling a brief from beginning to end. This individual is responsible for conceptualization, establishing direction and design solutions, and ensuring the

View the full design job here

A Look at Design School Dorms, Part 1: RISD First-Year Housing

Core 77 - Tue, 2018-09-18 16:34

By now you crazy college kids have had time to settle in to your Fall Semester '18, and your dorm room is starting to feel like home. But the curious among you must wonder: How does your dorm room stack up against the dorms from other design schools? In this series we'll take a look at what each school offers.

First up: RISD housing for first-year students.

If you're a freshman at RISD, you're housed at one of six buildings in The Quad. This is regardless of what major you'll eventually choose, so those of you planning to go into ID will be rubbing shoulders with the scum from inferior majors like Architecture, Photography and Animation.

All students have access to laundry facilities (even though we all know that Fine Arts majors don't even do laundry), access to a kitchen (that the slobs from Animation will slowly destroy), shared bathrooms (which Fashion/Apparel folks will clutter with an appalling amount of product), work lounges (as if those lazy Photography people ever do any actual work), and a living room with sofas and a flatscreen TV. This latter one is important: Fighting over access to the remote control to the flatscreen will help first-year students build the social skills needed to navigate future contentious design firm meetings, where you must fight for what you believe in while figuring out how to pin the blame on others if the show turns out to suck.

You can have a single room if you prefer to smell your own farts, but if you enjoy the variety of many people's farts you can also get a shared room.

Single Rooms offer:- an "extra long" twin bed
- a dresser
- a desk
- a chair
- only yourself to blame when you lose something

For a 360-degree view of a Single Room, click here.

Shared Rooms (Double, Triple or Quad) offer:- an "extra long" twin bed (for each student)
- a dresser or closet space (for each student)
- a desk (for each student)
- a chair (for each student)
- up to three other people that you can blame when you misplace your things and assume they have been stolen

For a 360-degree view of a Shared Room, click up above on the Single Room link and use your imagination. Because there was no 360-degree view of a Shared Room available at press time.

There are six dorms available in the Quad. Here are the floorplans and square footages for each:

Carpenter House

The Carpenter House conveniently offers two staircases, so that you've got a choice of which stairwell to sit and cry in after your high school sweetheart breaks up with you because s/he met somebody that's like you but taller and better-looking at whatever college they decided to go to.

East Hall

As you can see, East Hall is much larger and can hold many more students to share a bathroom with, offering you ample opportunity to secretly try other people's shampoos while jealously guarding your own.

Homer Hall

The relatively towering Homer Hall has a much more classical college dorm configuration, with orderly, repetitive room configurations. Communal bathrooms provide the opportunity to overhear gossip while you're in a toilet stall. You'll also learn to avoid that one shower stall that always seems gross in comparison to the others, favored by some hairy person who always clogs the drain.

Nickerson Hall

Like Homer Hall, Nickerson features long, communal balconies that only students living on the south side of the building have access to. This is the perfect spot for Southies to congregate and discuss how lame Northies are.

Pardon Miller House

Compared to the dense Homer and Nickelson Halls, Pardon Miller is a smaller structure consisting of only shared rooms, no singles. Loner-types who wind up in Pardon Miller can form the annoying habit of sighing and rolling their eyes every time one of their roommates walks in.

South Hall

Unlike Pardon Miller, South Hall offers single rooms--and even single basement rooms, for those who want to live both alone and below the surface of the earth.

The upper floors offer relatively massive suites with up to four rooms sharing two bathrooms, giving you the opportunity to decide: Are you the kind of person that uses up all the toilet paper and doesn't load up a fresh roll afterwards? If so, do you feel good about yourself?


Note: If you're a RISD freshman that has anything to add--factoids, experiences, photos, videos--please let us know in the comments!

V2 Studio's Gorgeous 'First Gear' Remote Control Cork Toys

Core 77 - Tue, 2018-09-18 16:34

Having become a parent relatively recently myself, I'm quickly becoming accustomed to the deluge of brightly colored objects that are filling our once minimalist living quarters. Toys are, of course, amongst the worst offenders—many kind and well-meaning family and friends delivering new garish, throw-away plastic play-things with almost conveyor-belt levels of efficiency.

It's little wonder then, perhaps, that I swooned a little on first glance of 'First Gear'—a range of remote control toys developed by London-based V2 Studio. Not only is the range delightfully understated, but these cork-based little beauties also have a sustainable edge that makes me a little more hopeful for the future of the planet.

From a nifty F1 car to a stylish speedboat, graceful sailboat and beyond, the First Gear range of vehicles and vessels are made primarily from Portuguese cork. The soft, lightweight material makes a perfect impact resistant car body and buoyant boat hull, but also has great CO2 offsetting abilities—the seven million acres of cork forest around the Mediterranean apparently offsetting 20 million tons of CO2 each year.

If that wasn't sufficient sustainability credentials, the entire range is designed with longevity in mind. The remote control for the toys—a simple half-moon wheel, with a couple of buttons—comes equipped with dynamic control settings that give children different steering sensitivity and speeds (and thus control challenge) as they grow, hopefully meaning these toys will stay relevant for longer.

Naturally, we enquired with V2 Studio as to whether these little beauties were available for purchase but, alas, you won't be seeing them in toy stores just yet. Apparently, the range was the outcome of a self-initiated project of the studio—the firm having spent many a year developing toys for big brands. The studio aims to license the range for manufacture in the near future.

Sustainability aside, these are also just some damn good looking objects—some much need visual calm for weary-eyed parents. Children would be advised to keep them well away from design-minded adults.

Unveiling and Explanation: Why BMW Developed a Riderless Motorcycle

Core 77 - Tue, 2018-09-18 16:34

A riderless motorcycle makes even less sense than a riderless bicycle, because the former requires gasoline. But German companies, particularly large ones like BMW, are not known for doing things that don't make sense. So here BMW Research unveils the riderless motorcycle they've secretly been working on for the past two years, and explains why they created it:

Unlike an autonomous truck displacing truck drivers, BMW's creation shouldn't put anybody out of work. Well, except for motorcycle stunt drivers. You could do away with them, have the bike do all the work and just CGI the actors into the scene in postproduction. Yes, now that I think about it, motorcycle stuntmen are screwed.