It does, you know. You just have to get it hot enough.

Friday, August 20, 2010

“I want to be a designer because…” 2010 edition

As documented earlier, complete this statement every year while limiting your answer to 15 words or less,

“I want to be a designer because …”

…I like finding and solving wicked problems, and design is full of them.

posted by jet at 21:30  

Thursday, August 19, 2010

“design meets disability”, a pre-review review

I’ve got a backlog of stuff to write about, including this really great book by Graham Pullin, “design meets disability”. Things have been hectic at The Job That Does Not Pay Me To Blog so it’s been hard finding the mental energy to be smart about non-work stuff.

Until yesterday, that is, when my partner tripped and broke several foot bones that are needed for things like walking and driving and the like. So not only are crutches involved, but we live in a two-story house with the bath upstairs, kitchen on the first floor, and laundry and storage in the basement.

We knew our 1950s house was nowhere close to ADA when we bought it, and we often joke about how ADA-hostile Pittsburgh is in general.

I guess now we’ll get some first-hand experience as to just how bad it is and what we — as designers — can do to help fix things.

posted by jet at 20:51  

Friday, March 26, 2010

Documenting Design

On my recent trip to Japan I took my hand-me-down-but-new-to-me DSLR with the intent of documenting my trip and stuffing my swipe file to the brim. I didn’t take my video camera because it was too bulky and required too much attention: tapes that have to be managed, batteries to be charged and swapped, etc. Once I got there I quickly regretted not bringing the video camera and picked up a pocket-sized HD video camera, a Sony HDR-TGV5.

The DSLR is a great tool for documenting 2d and 3d design, but for 4d design you really need something that can capture video. (It’s true that some DSLRs now capture stunning video, but only for short durations and quantities and you’re still lugging around a full-size camera.) My “should have brought the video camera” regret kicked in as soon as I started experiencing how differently Japanese people interact with technology and their environment. Sure, I could take lots of photos and copious notes, but those aren’t nearly as good as 10-15 seconds of video.

It’s not just recording video that’s important, it’s being able to record video conveniently, in high quality, then easily move the video off the camera. With my full-size, miniDV video camera it’s pretty much impossible to take quick snippets of video given the overhead of getting it in/out of the case, turning it on, etc. On the other hand, the TGV5 is small and light enough that I can carry it in my pocket and within a few seconds have it out and recording video. (It’s even faster than getting my Droid out and recording.) Cheap/free software makes it trivial to take a 10-20 second clip, trim it if needed, then “Save As” for Flickr or Vimeo.

As an experiment I’m starting to document design — especially 4d design — using only short video clips. I’ve posted a couple of short clips to a new flickr set, “Japan + Design” which I’ll be filling with video and still clips as I get around to processing the backlog of photos.

There’s no chance of my getting rid of the DSLR any time soon as there’s no substitute for huge glass when it comes to taking good photos. However, I have stopped lugging it around unless I’m intentionally on a trip to take hiqh quality photos as the TGV5 is becoming my “go to” camera for documentation and swipe files.

posted by jet at 13:12  

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Are You Ready to Own A MakerBot Cupcake?

Which is a different question than, “Is the MakerBot Cupcake the right 3d printer for you?”

If you have the budget to buy a production-ready 3D printer, you probably shouldn’t be looking at a MakerBot. Production systems have better resolution, support contracts, schmancy STL conversion software and all sorts of other niceties. The MakerBot Cupcake is not a Stratasys, you’re not just going to plug it in and be cranking out pretty models a few hours later.

However, if you don’t have a huge budget and you’re willing to spend time debugging, tweaking, and generally getting your hands dirty; if you’re ok with the smell of ABS fumes, the stepper motor “songs“, and tending to an occasionally fussy machine that will botch a part for no obvious reason; and if you enjoy hacking and iterative exploration of technology, then maybe you’re the right sort of person to put together a MakerBot Cupcake or other reprap-based 3D printer.

Home scale fabrication is the domain of garage-carpenters and basement-machinists, the MakerBot doesn’t replace either. To some extent, building and running a MakerBot requires some of these related skills. Do you have a feel for how tight you can turn a bolt holding two pieces of wood together before it snaps the wood? Do you know how to shorten a screw with a hacksaw and keep the threads clean? You already own a multimeter, do you have a thermistor probe as well? How are you at diagnosing a wiring problem in a stepper motor?

Of the various reprap-related projects, MakerBot Cupcake is pretty clearly the easiest to put together. I got mine up and running without much fuss, but I’ve been building things from kits or fabbing things from raw materials for many years. I still needed help from the MakerBot mailing list to sort out a couple of minor problems and I’ve been able to help a couple of other people with their problems.

If you’re primarily a designer, there’s a reason you should consider taking the plunge even if you think you aren’t the sort of person who is ready to build their own 3D printer: self-education.

I’ve learned a lot about fabrication working in the opensource 3D printing world that I was never exposed to using commercial systems. Learning how to use Blender to create models has been painful at times, but I find myself liking it more than Solidworks for simple projects. I’ve learned about bad STL code, the relationships between temperature and speed when laying down plastic, and more about the physical properties of ABS than I ever thought I would need to know. Assembling the MakerBot from parts exposed me to a few neat tricks you can use to make 3D objects out of sheets of acrylic, and some new joining techniques for thin surfaces.

This new knowledge is also helping my ongoing education as a designer. Now that I know some of the printing capabilities, I can change my sketching and ideation process to work around limitations or integrate limitations of the printer. I’ve also rediscovered the old metalworking path of designing a mold to create a basic shape that is finished on machine tools, but instead I’m printing 3D plastic that I can finish using hand tools or machine tools.

It hasn’t been the easiest tool I’ve learned to use, but building and using the MakerBot might be the “funnest” tool I’ve learned to use in recent years.

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posted by jet at 13:19  

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Why does Google hate Design?

Decided to give SketchUp Pro a test-drive after discovering that Blender is problematic on the G5/PowerPC and that the free SketchUp is missing some features I need.

On the download page is the usual demographic survey, which includes this gem:


  • Architecture
  • Cabinetry
  • City Planning
  • Civil Engineering
  • Computer Consulting
  • Construction
  • Contractor
  • Entertainment
  • Facilities Management
  • Gaming
  • GIS
  • Graphic Design
  • Hobbyist
  • Home Building
  • Interior Design
  • Landscape Architect
  • Marketing
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Software
  • Survey

First, note the lack of “other”. You are going to tell Google exactly what it is you do or you cannot download the software. How can you have data-driven decision-making when people can weasel out and choose “other”?

Now, note the horrid inconsistency in the hierarchies of the various industries listed and the amount of overlap in some of the categories.. We go from the extremely broad categories of “Entertainment” and “Software” to the very specific discipline of “Cabinetry”. I guess if you’re a furniture designer who doesn’t specialize in “Cabinetry” you’re just an “Interior Design” person. Or maybe “Entertainment”, because people sit on your furniture while being entertained. Isn’t “Gaming” a form of “Entertainment” and “GIS” a type of “Software”?

Of course, the only design disciplines mentioned are “Interior” and “Graphic”, I guess Industrial and Interaction Designers aren’t really designers, they’re “Mechanical engineering” or “Software”. It’s also interesting that the only two design disciplines called out are also the ones commonly (and incorrectly) associated with women designers: interior and graphic.

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posted by jet at 19:53  
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