Saucy developments at MIT

May 23rd, 2012 | 0 comments | permalink

The boffins at MIT have done it again. They’ve come up with a food-safe coating that can be applied to food containers with some pretty amazing results.

Whether ketchup and mayo are really the best use of the coating depends a bit on how it goes down with consumers. But there are surely plenty more applications.

For more, see the original article here
The mayonnaise container is particularly interesting!

Product Pirate

April 13th, 2012 | 1 comment | permalink

Just read a very interesting blog post from Hugh Knowles at about a new development at peer-to-peer file sharing site, The Pirate Bay, that may help to make print-at-home parts for your broken products a reality.

The Pirate Bay envisage a new section on their website called Physibles – data that can be turned into physical objects. If the prospect of having 3D printers in every home (or even on every street corner) do ever become a reality, The Pirate Bay is where we might be able to find a peer-to-peer link for the data we need for the part we want to print. Design for Repair gathers momentum!
Read The Pirate Bay’s article about it here.

Design for Repair – The Light Bulb Conspiracy

March 8th, 2012 | 1 comment | permalink

The Light Bulb Conspiracy

!!! UPDATE !!! Sadly, this video has been removed from YouTube by the copyright owners. Pity.

Anyone interested in the concept of Design for Repair should take a look at this short, eye-opening documentary I found on YouTube.

It’s about “Planned Obsolescence”. It all starts to make sense!

Please read at my article on the blog about Design for Repair here


Have you Sugru’d yet?

February 23rd, 2012 | 0 comments | permalink


It’s not often a revolutionary material comes along. Particularly one that has tangible benefits to the the person on the street. Sugru is just plain genius.

Officially, it’s called Formerol. It’s a polymer clay that air dries to a rubbery dishwasher-safe plastic, and you can use it to repair pretty much anything.

Invented by Jane ní Dhulchaointigh while studying at the Royal College of Art, it took Jane a couple of years, some financial backing and some blood, sweat and tears to get Sugru to where it is now. If you haven’t had a go yet, I strongly recommend you do.

Get your Sugru here:

Design for Repair

February 22nd, 2012 | 3 comments | permalink

I’m pretty sure that if I ask you, have you thrown away a household or kitchen appliance, small or large, that’s less than five years old, in the last two years, your answer would be yes. It won’t have worn out, but something, somewhere has broken. It’s just stopped working. You probably have no idea why. You won’t repair it either, despite the incredible amount of energy and raw material that have been used to make it. But that’s not your fault (and this is not an article about green issues, per se). Say it’s your microwave oven. When you can go down the road and get a new microwave oven for less than £40, where’s the incentive to repair? If you could find someone to repair it, you’d probably be paying out double that before they’ve even undone any screws.

The concept of a consumer product lasting 15 or 20 years and just generally wearing out, reaching the end of its serviceable life, is one that seems to belong to a bygone era.

Over the last few years, I’ve repaired a number of our household appliances. But I’m very practical, and I design and engineer consumer products for a living. I know how to get into them (I’ve got the specialist screwdrivers) and I’m good at working out what the problems are and knowing how to fix them.

Very few consumer goods are designed to have their life prolonged through repair. But they often haven’t been engineered to last, either. Even ‘quality’ products can betray us. Not so long ago I owned a nice, shiny, colourful 50s style fridge, from a popular and reputable brand. But after a few years the door seal failed. Being the resourceful and handy person that I am thought, simple, I’ll go online, find a new seal and fit it myself. But no. In their wisdom and apparent contempt for green issues, they had decided to design the seals so that the only way of replacing them was to buy a whole new door at an astronomical price. Repair was categorically denied, even by the back door.

It is interesting how we used to consider cheap Chinese goods a scourge. But it’s now what we demand. And we’ve become so obsessed with the ‘new’ that disposal doesn’t bother us. In fact, the prospect of buying a new and shiny replacement probably excites us. Indeed, such consumerism is what keeps people like me, and a great deal of others in advertising, branding, marketing, retail and manufacturing in business.

Price drive is one problem. Feature drive is another. In an article in the American magazine Consumer Reports in August 2011 (the US equivalent of Which? here in the UK) the percentage of three to four year old fridges that needed repair jumps from 15% to 28% for those with in-built ice makers.  The more features we demand, the thinner our money is spread and the more there is to go wrong. The features may sound good to us when we’re making the purchasing decision, but by and large we will never use those added features that promise so much. Turning a fridge into a gadget is bound to mean its core function or durability is compromised.

But there was a time when household electrical items were simple, solid, and capable of being serviced, to a certain level, by the consumer themselves; and they were built to last. For example, I remember my grandparents’ upright vacuum cleaner, with the little door on the front to allow you to replace the drive belt in less than a minute. But it’s not just our household goods that have changed. We, ourselves have also changed. Our insatiable appetite for time and labour saving devices has left us impotent. Growing up, we are no longer taught a basic set of practical skills that would have been considered essential to daily life by our grandparents. Many of you will own a bicycle, but when it comes to carrying out the relatively straightforward task of mending a puncture, we’re more likely to reach for our smart phone and Google for local bike shops than attempt the task ourselves. We are losing even the most basic skills of maintenance, and with it the thrill and satisfaction we get from fixing things and doing something practical with our hands.

We’ve also forgotten what attachment means. We place less and less emotional value on the objects we populate our lives with. We lose the concept of familiarity and come to expect constant change and upheaval. Our belongings are transient. We expect them to fail, so we don’t allow ourselves to get attached to them. I look down, as I’m writing this, at a nasty plastic computer keyboard, which holds little more than junk status in my mind. The computer hardware that it’s connected to has only a slightly elevated status (yes, it’s a PC, not an Apple product, but I’m not going there right now). If I were writing this on a typewriter that I’d owned for 10 years, that I knew so well – all its little nuances – I can only imagine the bond I would have with it. And I want that bond. I miss that kind of bond. Don’t you?

Long-term ownership of products that contribute regularly to our lives in a positive way, builds bonds. But as a nation, have our world-renowned skills in marketing and advertising simply resulted in us becoming a shallow consumerist society that populates its environment with transient objects? We owe it to ourselves to reconnect with our craftsmanship roots. As industrial designers, maybe we can start by putting design for repair on the agenda.

Dyson products… Innovation or novelty?

December 8th, 2011 | 1 comment | permalink

Good as Dyson vacuum cleaners are, I wonder whether the bag-less cyclone system is much more than a marketing triumph. Those of you who have owned a Dyson will be familiar with the part of the vacuuming experience that leaves a lot to be desired. The emptying! Even if you empty the dust jug into a plastic bag first – the only thing you can do to limit a dust explosion – you can pretty much be guaranteed of one thing: clouds of it everywhere. It’s a far cry from the quick and clean experience I have when changing the bag on my more conventional cylinder vacuum. What’s more, I don’t notice any drop off in suction between bag changes with my vacuum cleaner.

Imagine this… If the Dyson had been the first vacuum cleaner to be invented, perhaps the later invention of bags would have been considered an Extra-Ordinary improvement?

Does Dyson risk becoming another Sir Clive Sinclair? Innovation for the sake of it serves little purpose.
by Mike Elam

Best Made – you old-fashioned beauty!

December 8th, 2011 | 0 comments | permalink

Based in Lower Manhattan, Best Made Company is “dedicated to equipping customers with quality tools and dependable information that they can use and pass down for generations”. They “seek to empower people to get outside, use their hands and in doing so embark on a life of fulfilling projects and lasting experiences”. And what fun they must have doing it!
OK, I’m a bloke who loves a quality tool (yeah, yeah), but I’d love to fill my life with objects like these. Their style and build quality hark back to a time when products were dependable. They’re unashamedly built to last. Not only in build quality but in aesthetics. Yes, they’re fashionable, but their aesthetic will be appreciated for as long as the products last. Inspirational stuff.
We’re obsessed with designing quality products at Hyphen, and we always strive to design and engineer products that have long lasting appeal and build quality to match, but I do particularly like the old-fashioned aesthetic here. In a way it’s sentimental. But in a good way. It reminds us of who we used to be as consumers.
by Mike Elam

Does it suck?

December 8th, 2011 | 0 comments | permalink

Before I say anything else, as a styling exercise I love the styling of this vacuum cleaner by Electrolux. Those of you who know us will know that some of our work has very much a ‘house style’. You’ll see what I mean if you have a look through our product design work for past clients on our main site. This vacuum cleaner has a real ‘Hyphen’ feel to it.
Anyway, that aside… music player dock and speakers on a vacuum cleaner? Eh? This really doesn’t make any sense to me. I’m sure it was simply done as a PR exercise to promote AEG-Electrolux’s Ultrasilencer vacuum cleaners (hey, I’m writing about it). But Gadgetising is never (or rarely) a good thing, and I certainly don’t think Electrolux should start. Yes, you can listen to your music out loud while vacuuming. But you could do that anyway using your hi-fi or iPod docking system, with a quiet vacuum cleaner; and the music wouldn’t stop when you’re done cleaning.
Nice as the vacuum cleaner looks, are they suggesting we stick the vacuum cleaner on a shelf and use it as a music system when we’re not vacuuming? Maybe. If it looks good enough…
by Mike Elam

My new London Commute

December 7th, 2011 | 0 comments | permalink

The Panther fire truck from Austrian company, Rosenbauer. Yum.

The Folding Plug – Brilliant? Maybe not.

December 7th, 2011 | 0 comments | permalink

Functional product design is what we do at Hyphen. We love to solve mechanical, usability and manufacturing challenges for our clients. And that’s why I love this plug, designed by Min-Kyu Choi while at the Royal College of Art. It’s one of my favourite pieces of functional problem solving design. And not only it is fantastically functional, it’s beautifully simple. It’s what every product should be. Compare it to this ‘Thin Plug’ design and you’ll see what I mean. The Thin Plug hasn’t had quite the same amount of ‘love’. It’s rather harsh and agricultural in appearance by comparison.
However, lovely as the Folding Plug is as a design concept, it’s destined to go the same way as so many other design concepts and never make it to market. It sounds like Min-Kyu Choi may have taken some liberties and ignored something rather fundamental in the design of his plug. The Folding Plug has apparently not been approved for sale in the UK as it fails to comply with the relevant British Standards.
I shouldn’t have a dig at Min-Kyu Choi in particular as he was a student at the time, so he should be allowed some leeway. But, while I think that giving students the freedom to explore creative ideas without the shackles of all the considerations of getting a product to market, I worry that the wholesale suspension of reality breeds complacency. Look at many, many product design consultancies’ websites and you’ll see, mostly, a lot of similar examples of design concepts that never make it. They remain on the drawing board. Lots of lovely computer renderings, but few actual manufactured, finished product. I’m sure many would blame the client. But the client will, no doubt, tell a different story.
To design successful products requires that the technical details are not left to the end. If anything, they should be tackled first. I don’t know the full story of the Folding Plug, but I’ve seen many similar examples. If, as designers, we don’t have the technical skills ourselves, we should collaborate. I don’t believe in showing clients anything but viable concepts, even early on. But there’s a tendency for some consultancies to make products look pretty and then leave it to someone else (either internally or more often externally) to try and make it work. And it’s the client who will end up paying, and then paying again for a re-design. It is incredibly damaging to the reputation of our profession if people think all we’re good for is drawing pretty pictures.
by Mike Elam