For the past few weeks I was home for the holidays and had a lot of time to think about what I want to accomplish in 2016. Before I went back home, I had spent the last couple of months diligently preparing for the graduate school entrance exam for the Design Strategy department at Kyushu University (the same uni where I'm a research student now). Just as a bit of background information, the exam is 100% in Japanese and involves writing essays on design, memorizing quite a lot of design terminology I'd never heard of, and a presentation and interview with some of the faculty. As you can guess, I was more than a little nervous about passing. However, I somehow must have convinced them, because just in time before I headed home for the holidays, I found out that I passed!
So that means I'll be an official master's student starting in April! Yay! Not only will I have an actual schedule with classes, I will be working towards a degree in the Design Business program. I can't say exactly what my career will look like in 5 years, but I have always daydreamed about the possibility of having my own design shop or other business someday. Whether I end up working at a design firm, an in-house design department, or working for myself, I feel like design business is one of the big knowledge gaps that has kept me from having as much confidence as I'd like to. Some of the classes I'm looking forward to are: Project Management, Intellectual Property Theory, and Design Ventures.
Preparing for the entrance exam got me thinking a lot about design as a general practice again. It made me remember the things that I feel are important - the ways that I could make the world a better place as a designer. Among other things, like universal design and human factors, the thing that has always interested me the most is sustainability in design.
As I put together a poster and presentation about my research proposal, I realized that I had almost lost track of my initial motivation for choosing this topic. The whole point of my project is to propose a sustainable furniture design inspired by traditional Japanese woodworking. Sometimes I feel like I get caught up in minute details and the idea of "making progress" and lose sight of the big picture. But once I remembered the reason I came to Fukuoka in the first place, it got me motivated to revitalize my interest in sustainability.
In my undergrad degree, I took a lot of Materials + Processes and Sustainability classes to learn how to choose appropriate, cost-effective, and environmentally responsible materials and manufacturing processes. One of the things that stuck in my mind was watching the documentary Waste = Food. It's all about how the concept of waste doesn't exist in nature, because "waste" just transforms into "food" for new growth (e.g. cherry blossoms that don't yield fruit just turn into nutrition for the soil). The documentary talks about how we can work within nature's cycles instead of using brute force to try and (unsuccessfully) overrule them. If we worked with nature instead of against it, problems like toxicity, landfills, and global warming would be non-existent. Some of the ways the makers of the documentary propose working "eco-effectively" are designing for dis-assembly, separating "biological" (biodegradable) and "technical" materials (metals, plastics) so that they can be effectively recycled, and phasing out toxic materials.
Watching this documentary had a big impact on me at the time. Let's face it - as someone studying to be a product designer, I was initially depressed by the realization that everything I design will eventually end up clogging landfills all over the planet. I also became more aware of the negative consequences of perpetually creating waste and went on a "shopping fast" where I carried around only $5 in cash and no debit card for a couple of months in an effort to resist impulse buys (the only exception being bringing $50 on a grocery run once a week). Shortly thereafter I experimented with a minimalist lifestyle while studying abroad in Madrid, bringing only one suitcase of belongings to get me through my nine-month-long study abroad. Frankly, I ended up being a little disappointed at how big of an impact material things had on my happiness, after reading wonderful things about how freeing and enlightening minimalism was supposed to be.
Wouldn't it be great if we didn't have to feel guilty about consuming so much? Wouldn't it be great if you could buy a new pair of shoes without worrying about the toxic plastics and adhesives used in its manufacture, the sweat shop where someone earned next to nothing to make it, the fact that it will eventually wear out and you'll have no option but to throw it "away" to some landfill? The makers of Waste = Food argue that these kinds of undesirable side-effects of industry are all avoidable. It sure would be nice to see them stop being the norm in this lifetime.
The documentary Waste = Food is based on the book Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough (architect) & Michael Braungart (chemist). This winter break I decided it was high time I read the book. Reading it got me thinking about how I could make a difference right now. To be honest, the book proposes such an ideal end goal that it's hard to know where to even start, but at least now I know that sustainable design is something I want to contribute to.
This year I will be focusing on one industrial design project - my graduation thesis project.
At the beginning of the semester I started thinking of possibilities for a thesis focus and ended up with two possible ideas:
1. Piano keyboard portability and learning process
2. Kitchen safety - cuts and burns
After some initial research and consideration of both topics, I decided to go forward with the kitchen safety idea. The next step was to attempt to find an area with a lot of opportunities for improving the safety of food preparation. I focused on cuts and burns as common injuries in the kitchen, and after doing a lot of research through product safety reports and studies as well as conducting my own survey, I decided to narrow down to kitchen knives as my focus.
My research and surveys showed that cuts from kitchen knives were an ongoing problem that hadn't really been tackled in the current product market. Existing solutions were somewhat limited, including Kevlar cut resistant gloves and some radical "ergonomic" solutions.
After researching kitchen knife safety tips, I decided to target the three largest common causes of accidental cuts:
One of the biggest causes of accidental cuts is a dull blade, because it can slip off of the food instead of cutting it:
Here are some of my first ideas for tackling the problem of inadequate sharpening and honing:
I decided that a knife sheath the both protected and automatically honed the blade between uses would help solve the problem of dull blades.
Another of the most cited tips for avoiding knife injuries was using the correct grip. Most users intuitively hold a knife in either "handlebar grip" or a modified version with the thumb or index finger on top for more power:
However, most professional chefs use and recommend a grip called "pinch grip," which gives you more control and therefore less chances of slipping and accidentally cutting yourself.
I used air dry clay to take impressions of people's hands using pinch grip to hold a wooden kitchen knife mock-up. By making a composite image of the various handle shapes, I can start to see what recesses and core shape they all have in common. This will serve as a starting point for prototyping an ergonomic handle that encourages or even induces pinch grip for better control, and therefore less accidental cuts in the kitchen.
I used this image as the basis for my own intial design. I created a simple foam model, which I then tested with potential users to get their feedback on the design.
Below, you can see the evolution of the knife form as I kept testing and getting feedback on each prototype.
Here is the final form "white model," which I made by hand out of high density modeling foam using the bandsaw, spindle sander, and sandpaper.
Here are some Photoshop renderings showing the intended materials for the final product.
My latest project is to design a jewelry collection fabricated with the lost wax casting technique. My partner and I decided that we wanted to design a unisex collection influenced by the minimalist movement for young people like ourselves.
Our concept involves two parts:
1. The arrow, which symbolizes the one-way direction and constant forward flow of life and time.
2. Yin and yang, which will be embodied in our final collection because all of the pieces come in pairs (one silver and one black) that are stackable. The silver pieces are yang - energetic and vibrant because of their polished silver finish. The black pieces are yin - more subtle and withdrawn with a satin finish.
Above, the rings from my partner's and my Doble V (Double V) jewelry collection are shown directly after casting in silver and brass, along with the original copper rings that we sculpted by hand and used to make the mold for the others. All of the pieces will be polished and the brass ones given a black patina.
Here are some sketches of how our idea evolved on paper before we ever touched a piece of metal or jewelry modeling wax.
Once we committed to a final design, we started working on fabrication. The original for the pendant was made directly in jewelry sculpting wax.:
For the rings, we cut the shape out of a sheet of copper, then filed and sanded it to perfection...
Then we curved it into a ring shape and soldered the joint:
After we had the original, we took it to a professional jewelry casting workshop, where they created a vulcanized rubber mold of the rings so they could make copies in silver and brass, shown below with the copper original:
The process of making the bracelet was similar to the ring, only there was no soldering involved. Before curving the bracelet original, made in aluminum:
Once we had all of the pieces cast in silver and brass, we used files and sandpaper to give them an even surface, used a soldering torch to fill in air bubbles with silver solder, polished them, and gave the brass ones a black patina by using a chemical oxidizing solution.
The finished collection:
For more pictures click here!
My latest school project is to design a product that is inclusive. That is to say, designed in such a way that most people, including people with special needs, can use it comfortably. For example, for this faucet design we are aiming for something that is comfortable for children, the elderly, left-handed as well as right-handed people, people with motor problems, and the blind. But not just a product designed for a specific type of user with special needs; a product that virtually anyone can use.
Here are some of the first sketches I did of ideas for a faucet design.
Here are the plan views of our final design, the Arc Tap. Many aspects of the form were inspired by the aqueduct, but the two things that most determined our chosen form were functionality and ergonomics. As functionalist architect Louis Sullivan so aptly put it, "form follows function" - and that was definitely the approach we took on this project!
We also built a 3D model with the program Solidworks, and rendered it with Keyshot. Here it is!
Then, we built the prototype. Ideally, we would have made it in real chrome, but given our time, material, and machinery constraints we made an appearance model out of medium-density fiberboard (MDF) spray-painted with a chrome finish.
Here is a shot of me working on the bandsaw in the woodshop.
And last but not least: a photo of the finished prototype! (MDF painted with matte metallic spray paint and sanded to give the appearance of a brushed stainless steel finish)
My latest project was to design a product that was inspired by a playful moment. My partner and I chose hide-and-seek as our inspiration and decided to design a teapot-cup set. I started by sketching existing products.
Then, I started to brainstorm ideas for a tea set that could incorporate the concept of hide-and-seek. A great idea hit me on the head - a teapot that has a form with a hollowed out area in which one or more teacups could be stored. Hide the teacups under the teapot, and lift up the teapot to find them! Then I started sketching different possibilities for the form of the teapot to maximize the volume while allowing for a hole to hide the teacup(s).
We settled on this basic form of basically a semi-sphere whith a simple spout and a wire handle, partly inspired by the Japanese cast-iron teapot I sketched (see above).
Then it was time to make the prototype, which was in itself the biggest challenge of all! We used plaster as the material, although the real product would be made of ceramic. Due to the limited materials and machinery available to us, we used a different process to build the prototype out of plaster instead.
The teapot and mug after priming are shown above, and the final product, painted with synthetic enamel spray paint, is below.