Tag: Product Design

All The Small Things

Designers are obsessed with the details. Modernist architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe once remarked that “God is in the detail”. One of the ten principles of good design laid out by industrial designer Dieter Rams states that “Good design is thorough down to the last detail”. Furniture designer Charles Eames took this to its logical conclusion when he declared that “The details are not the details. They make the design.”

I first noticed a “detail” in design while  opening a pack of Nongshim’s Shin Ramyun Noodle Soup packaging. Jutting out from its top was a triangular indicator of where I should tear open.

Instant Noodles

That got me thinking about other details in design, the little touches that make a huge impact. Here’s one that many must be familiar with: a bottle cap that also acts an opener. The pointy edge on one side of the cap is designed for piercing open the sealed bottle.

Bottle Cap

This next example is something many have encountered, but not necessarily understood. The little dimple on the keypad of ATMs help the visually impaired orientate themselves and figure out where the centre of the numbers is.

ATM Dimple

Sometimes, a detail in design gives the product an extra edge. In the case of this potato peeler, one side juts out to function as an extractor of “potato eyes”, a bud which some may find disconcerting to cook with.

Potato Peeler

Finally,  here’s a design detail that may seem unnecessary to some, but for me, shows the deep level of consideration MUJI gives to its products. This dimple protects its pen nibs so customers can be assured their pens are less likely to be damaged. It probably discourages shoppers from taking their pens on extensive test-runs too!

MUJI Pen CapHave you encountered details in a design? I’m looking to compile more for a possible showcase. Drop me a line!

Piracy & Design: Rethinking Intellectual Property in the Third Industrial Revolution

Knockoffs, fakes, and counterfeits are the bane of modern industrial design. They are unauthorized copies of designers’ intellectual property. They are the stolen profits of manufacturers. They are the products of piracy: a phenomenon wrecking an industry’s will to innovate and create “original” and “authentic” design. But to consumers, piracy offers affordable goods, diversity of options, and sometimes, even better design. Piracy isn’t black-and-white like a pirate flag, but a nebulous concept whose edges ebb and flow like the waves of the sea. What’s a copy to some is homage to another, what is original today is tomorrow’s evolution, what is piracy to the industry is competition to society.

How will we recognize piracy and intellectual property in industrial design with the rise of digital fabrication technologies like 3D printing? By democratizing access to the means of production, it will become easier for users to copy, remix, and self-repair objects in ways that traditionally infringe upon a designer’s intellectual property. This calls for a need to redefine what piracy means. In response to the digital revolution, some designers and manufacturers have strengthened protection over their designs via the law and technology, while others are opening up access to them, believing that design is a collaborative process that benefits from a community working on it together. Will the rise of open design see an end to piracy?

This thesis examines more closely the relationships between piracy, intellectual property, and industrial design by studying a variety of case studies and interviews with practitioners. Beyond just a legal and economic issue, piracy is a reflection of society’s assumptions about the design process, who a designer is, and what design is for. Piracy is a ghost that will always haunt the world of design.

A Thesis Submitted to the School of Visual Arts in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Fine Arts in Design Criticism. 

To find out more, visit the Design Piracy Institute.

Printing Things: The Future is Here


“Welcome to the future” is a sign that greets visitors to the Long Island factory of Shapeways, a 3D printing company.

It could also speak for the hype surrounding the emerging technology of 3D printing today too. Many have touted the ability to produce objects simply by “printing” digital files as nothing short of a Third Industrial Revolution. Traditional mass manufacturing gave birth to consumers by figuring out how to produce the exact same object on an industrial scale, but digital fabrication technologies like 3D printing will empower everyone to become their own designer and manufacturer of things.

Printing Things: Visions and Essentials for 3D Printing is a new book that examines how this technology“will influence our economical, social and cultural ways of life” in the coming years. This 256-page book by German publisher Gestalten is an excellent introduction to the technical workings of 3D printing, the issues surrounding it, and showcases some of the most provocative design projects that have used this technology in recent years.
The book’s editors include, Claire Warnier and Dries Verbruggen, whose experience experimenting with this technology as Antwerp-based design studio Unfold helps this book standout from just a trendy compilation of 3D printing projects.

Printing Things: Visions and Essentials for 3D Printing is Gestalten's new book on the much-hyped digital production technology. | GESTALTEN
Printing Things: Visions and Essentials for 3D Printing is Gestalten’s new book on the much-hyped digital production technology. | GESTALTEN

They have written a comprehensive glossary of terms to explain how 3D printing is really a handy term for a collection of different processes and materials, and also penned eight essay on topics ranging from the technology’s history to the new aesthetics and alternative business models that it is introducing to contemporary design. These set the context for exploring the close to 200-pages of case studies that follow, and the connection between theory and practice is highlighted in each project with the tagging of keywords, such as “#empowerment”, “#wearables” and “#new craftsmanship” (all presented as hashtags as if they were tweets of a digital revolution), that reference back to the essays.

Printing Things presents a more nuanced reading of the technology beyond just a gadget that can print anything you want. For instance, a case study onKevin Spencer’s mini Vitra designer chairs brings out issues of authorship and intellectual property as the Swiss furniture company also sells the same miniature versions of classic designs such as Gerrit Reitveld’s Red Blue Chair and the Eames Lounge Chair, albeit in different materials. Despite what it looks, the chairs are probably legal because copyright does not protect functional objects. But there is also the question of the digital files that Kevin’s chairs are printed from. Who owns the renderings? The book suggests that Kevin’s files were probably created from virtual models freely distributed and used by professionals for their renderings — something which Vitra has previously never objected as they indirectly advertised their furniture. Now that these same files could easily be modified for print, how will things change?

A collection of ceramics 3D printed by Olivier van Herpt. | OLIVER VAN HERPT
A collection of ceramics 3D printed by Olivier van Herpt. | OLIVER VAN HERPT

Another aspect of 3D printing is how it allows for new forms of craftsmanship as demonstrated by the featured designs of Olivier van Herpt. The Eindhoven-based designer has created his own printer and techniques to print out ceramics with textures, patterns and details that challenge the self-conscious and amateurish designs that the technology has come to be associated with when it grew out of the domain of hackers and hobbyists.

One comes out of Printing Things with a renewed excitement for 3D printing technology. It is also a measured one. We only have to look to the history of graphic design and the arrival of desktop publishing technologies in the 1980s to recognize a similar buzz in what’s being said about 3D printing today. Desktop printers may have become ubiquitous, but professional graphic design is still going strong. The same will go for 3D printing and product design. But just as how technology changed the way we think and produce graphic design since, this new ability to print things is making us rethink how we create, distribute and use objects in our lives.

Written for Elizabeth Spiers and Chappell Elison’s Online Publishing class at D-Crit.