Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Design or Craft?

I was mulling over an idea recently. Is what I do - sew bags and pouches and the like - really “product design” or “craft”?

I’m not a graduate of a 4 year university course in Industrial Design. But I design and make prototypes. Some might argue that since I have no idea what goes into designing a vacuum cleaner or a medical diagnostic device, I’m not a true product or industrial designer. But I have zero interest in designing any of those things. Admittedly my interest in designing products veers towards outdoorsy products, particularly sewn goods. Given that many people who graduate from design programs know they want to, and go on to specialize in certain areas, does my not having spent a lot of money and years learning about subjects I have no interest in, necessarily a negative? 

Whenever I see what “proper industrial designers” post on a portfolio site like Coroflot or Behance, especially the ones specializing in soft goods, most of it appears to be either rough sketches or 3D renderings – and 
that is as far as many of them ever seem to go. Now, theyre all impressive, but theyre not real items. My sketches for the stuff I design tend to be very rough, and I never do colour renderings or 3D renderings. But I know how many times Ive had ideas  that when turned into a physical reality, turned out to have all sorts of shortcomings. I really dont know how well an idea works, until Ive given the actual object a shake down lasting several months. Fill it up, put it on, get out there, walk around with it on, see how comfortable it is, get it wet, get it dirty, figure out any shortcomings in actual use, etc. Perhaps its snooty of me to say, but I think a real live bag, beats a drawing any day. In that sense what I do is less theoretical (ie, purely design) and more practical (ie, crafty).

Now, my not bothering with any renderings has a lot to do with the fact that I design largely for me. I just want to get on with making other things, rather than spend time on any of that. Unprofessional of me perhaps. If a manufacturer sees what I’ve made and likes it and wants to produce it I can certainly provide the drawings required for manufacture. (I could also design packaging and create marketing campaigns.) My reticence to bother with spending the time and resources to master yet more software and the skills that go with it, is again that idea that a real bag is far more valuable. I don’t know for sure, but I think that if I had a good sewing machine, I could likely put a bag together faster than I could produce a 3D mockup in a computer. And I realize there is a material expense, but a real object someone can hold in their hands, says far more than something on a screen ever will. For a lot of things a rendering in a CAD program that could be 3D printed may make a lot more sense, I get that. But for soft goods, I intuitively feel that just making the thing makes more sense.

A lot of what I see when I see the work of for real, ID’s and not amateur wannbes like me, is that much of the stuff is really flashy. So much of what gets sold in stores is sold on appearance, rather than performance. They need to distinguish their stuff from everything else and attract the customers eye. They’re stylists. Pointless doodads, multiple colours, eye-catching shapes. (I suspect that a lot of people designing bags for big brands have a fashion design background, rather than a product design background.) So many features I see Im left scratching my head as to what purpose it’s supposed to serve. It makes sense in the context of making it visually distinctive rather than practically functional. Style over substance. Personally I care less about how it looks as opposed to what it does. Form follows function. Is it pretty? Likely not. Will it do what it is meant to do - organize and carry equipment in difficult terrain and conditions? Im confident it does.

The means by which I create prototypes, at this juncture anyway, would seem to have more in line with an artifact than a product. In that sense I suppose they veer more towards craft than design. But I make them that way because of limitations, and their production could be done just as easily via machines.

And I think the ho-hum to abysmal quality of the photos I take of the stuff I make makes me little more than a hack too.

So I’m not sure I can really call myself a product designer necessarily, but I don’t know that I am purely a craftsperson either.

s likely my erroneous interpretation, but a lot of “craft” nowadays seems to be felt finger puppets, or a dollar store pencil case with some sparkles glued to it, or a thrift store jean jacket with some beads sewn to it. Which I think is lame. Or “craft” harkens back to the rustic aesthetic of an earlier time. Much of it seems to be about capturing an ideal and perfecting certain techniques. The latter isn
t necessarily a bad thing, but I dont think its what I do. 

And I suppose that product design as it developed over the past century or two, was just a formalization of the crafters skills and knowledge and style into something that could be harnessed by the  means of mass production. Maybe there isnt so much distinction between the two.

And maybe this meandering diatribe is just me over-thinking aloud. Maybe I should stop blathering and get back to making stuff.

S.o.t.D. - Amen Brother – The Winstons

Amen Brother – The Winstons

Lord knows I’ve featured enough music that features the infamous Amen Break, maybe I should post the actual song it comes from.

And if you have no idea what I’m talking about – “Huh? Amen Break? What?” – this will explain what it all means.

Monday, 29 July 2013

S.o.t.D. - Deep Down Trauma Hounds – Skinny Puppy

Deep Down Trauma Hounds – Skinny Puppy

I was at this concert, and Crompy drumming was the best part. When the video filmed at it came out, my only disappointment with it was that it wasn’t entirely of his drumming.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Saturday, 27 July 2013

S.o.t.D. - Dead Eyes Opened (Remix Three) – Severed Heads

Dead Eyes Opened (Remix Three) – Severed Heads

Dead Eyes Opened, the original of which came out in 1983 (this remix is from 1985), was really ahead of its time. Really opened my eyes to what was possible with electronic music. Dark and quirky, yet paradoxically very catchy and bright.

Friday, 26 July 2013

S.o.t.D. - Wordz of Wisdom, Pt. 2 – 3rd Bass

Wordz of Wisdom, Pt. 2 – 3rd Bass

I never knew about this version. Still think I prefer the original with the Gary Wright “Love Is Alive” sample being the prominent element, but this one with the Depeche Mode “I Hope She Never Lets Me Down Again” sample works well too.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

S.o.t.D. - Wordz of Wisdom – 3rd Bass

Wordz of Wisdom – 3rd Bass

Proud to say I have a vinyl copy of 3rd Bass’ The Cactus Album. Love that record. Hip hop when it was still a lot of fun. Something that seemed to disappear from the genre by the early to mid 90s.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

S.o.t.D. - Beautiful Day – Tantsui

Beautiful Day – Tantsui

The song is good, but the picture of the gorgeous redhead really adds something to the experience.

Iconic WWII photo to be immortalized in sculpture

I’ve expressed my thoughts about this photo here:
11:11 11/11/11

I tend to have the emotional capacity of a rock for the most part, but that picture totally gets to me every time I see it. But I didn’t know much about it. And the question I really had.....was there a reunion?

I was up early checking out CBC’s news site, when I saw the above title. “Could it be....?  Yes!” I read the article, and it reminded me that I really need to dust in here. It’s playing havoc with my allergies.

Turns out there is a name for the photo - “Wait for me, Daddy.” Turns out I was incorrect about the date - 1940, not 1939 - but correct about the location - New Westminster, British Columbia. And the people in that gut punch of a slice of human drama are Bernice, Warren ‘Whitey’, and Jack Bernard. And most happily....yes, young Warren Bernard got to see his father again. Five years later, but better than the alternative.

Sad that they couldn’t have found a Canadian sculptor to do the piece, but glad that amazingly powerful photo is being made into a physical form.

Monday, 22 July 2013

S.o.t.D. - Just A Wish For Now – Meekah

Just A Wish For Now – Meekah

This is a track that instantly found itself on repeat for a few hours. Superb stuff. From one Miika Niemi from Järvenpää, Finland. 

First Warzone Tintype Since US Civil War

Ed Drew served as an aerial gunner in a USAF rescue squadron, but while in Afghanistan, he also took what are believed to be the first photos taken on a battlefield with the tintype photographic process since Matthew Brady’s work documenting the Civil War.

The results are fascinating, and I dig that someone went to the trouble to use an “archaic technology”. It produced results no chintzy Instagram filter could have achieved.
Link to a story about him and his work.

A link to his website.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

S.o.t.D. - You In Me – Volor Flex

You In Me – Volor Flex

Aaaaanndddd continuing the Burial Archangel theme for one last day. Another track that samples Archangel. I think this is my favourite of the lot.


I decided I needed a deck pack for the kayak, but of course, decided to make rather than buy. Besides a bag that could sit atop the deck and allow me access to important stuff while afloat, I also wanted it to serve as a day bag, so that when I got out of the kayak to go and explore, I could take it off the deck with little fuss, put it on my back and head off.

Another motivation is that no matter whether I’m off on a Sunday afternoon walk, a five day hunt scout or a 2 week long canoe trip, there are certain items that I always want to have with me. Sweater, rain jacket, ground sheet, gloves, toque, spare socks, sun glasses, first aid kit, stove and pot, head lamp, TP and hand sanitizer, fire starting stuff, snacks, etc. The other stuff is what tends to change, or stuff that is superfluous if out for just a day. Amount of food, amount of insulation, hammock or a winter tent, etc.

I have tried a few approaches to this requirement – the Kifaru E&E, and I made the EscapePod™. Both were a bit too small for my needs. I had looked at the approach of Hill People Gear - one smallish pack on the outside to hold all those usual things, a pack bag for the changeable items, that is then lashed on to a frame. I like their stuff okay, but I wasn’t so keen on the zipper down the centre, and thought a panel loader would be better for my intended purposes. And, I just wanted to make my own, add my own little tweaks, etc. Good idea, but I’ll take it off in my own direction.

I knew my Kifaru PackFrame was going to be a component of this whole thing. I decided that I wanted this pack to be very integrate-able with it.

Carrying on an idea I started with the EscapePod™, instead of the usual PALS matrix, I’ve opted for tabs along the 4 sides, both front and back. (Or Thomas’ Attachable Bag System, or TABS.) I can add pouches along the sides, top or bottom, add compression straps, floating panels, route shock cord through it to stash a jacket, attach the YBDP to another pack, attach it to the deck of the kayak, etc.

The 4 horizontal and 4 vertical straps are to hold straps in place that I use to lash it to the KifaruFrame. I could have not put them on, but it helps prevent them slipping off.

Left and right side.
Top. Carry handle, but no hydration tube port. Two slightly different colour zipper pulls to make it slightly easier to determine if the zipper is actually closed.

Since this will spend a good deal of time on my kayak’s deck, I wanted it to serve as a large tray, to prevent anything from falling out. Hence the zipper was at the front rather than at the back. The panel allows me to open it a lot or a little.

Bottom. Added some 1000D Cordura for some added protection.
Back. I made part of it out of mesh, with the idea of adding some breathability. Don’t know if it will make much of a difference, or if I’ll regret it because it wasn’t so durable. Meh. It’s worth giving ideas a try, and if it doesn’t work, I’ll just make another one.

Oh and I took the lazy way out and used the padded Kifaru E&E straps that I got and never used for their intended purpose.

The mesh section also serves as a sleeve that the Kifaru CargoChair fits into. One, it helps act as a frame sheet of sorts, helps to give the pack some form and rigidity. Two, I can take it out and use it as a padded seat to place my delicate derrierre on. Third, it can attach directly to the Kifaru PackFrame.

I put two slots at the bottom for the points on the CargoChair that attach to the bottom of the PackFrame.
I also added some 1000D Cordura sections on either side of the mesh to help prevent wear in areas where it seemed likely to happen. The bottom of the CargoChair rubbing against my back seemed like the most probable spot for abrasion.
And at the top are slots for the points on the CargoChair that attach to the quick release buckles of the PackFrame. (I ended up having to go back and recut the hole, moving the bottom down at least an inch so I could actually get the buckle out.)
Closeup of the points where the bottom of the shoulder straps are attached. I put a triangle of very stiff webbing between two straps to help spread the load out. 
Since I liked Kifaru’s ChamberPocket just fine, I added loops so I could attach it inside to hold small things.
Turned inside out. Front, back, sides, bottom, top.
The 2 ½" webbing running down the middle is so that I can attach stuff to them. Given it’s meant to be mounted on a rocking, possibly windswept kayak deck, I wanted to make sure there was a way to firmly attach stuff sacks, pouches, etc. so they couldn’t fall out or be blown out.
You get the idea.

I decided to use some lighter nylon material that I had laying around - about 200 denier nylon I think, not certain. I used it mainly because it’s what I had, and wanted to get this project rolling. Not sure that it’s going to make that much of a difference as far as weight goes - a few grams maybe - the webbing and buckles certainly aren’t lighter - but it’s fun to play around with different fabrics. I doubled the fabric, but it is still pretty floppy. Had some doubts about it, but it survived the handling of me working it, and so far so good. Time will tell whether it is worth the effort, or if I wasted my time.

Oh, and the size of this is 45.75 cm (18") high, 30.5 cm (12") wide and 15.25 cm (6") deep. 

Using a formula of circumference being width plus depth times 2, divided by π, divide that sum by 2, which equals the radius. Then to get the volume, take π, multiply that by radius squared times height. Which got me a volume of about 30 liters or about 1860 cubic inches. That size is about the equivalent of a Kifaru X-Ray, or a bit bigger than HPG’s Highlander. It’s a bit less than three times the size of my EscapePod™.

Here it is with the Slurp’mups, and Ouch’mups attached to the sides.
Here I have a dry bag between the YBDP and the frame. While this is not ultimately how I want to have it set up, it demonstrates the general idea and what can be carried. I can carry a dry bag of some sort, a box, a barrel, whatever animal I bagged, etc. and still have this pack with essentials in it. I plan to make a pack sack of my own design, the same general shape, about double the volume, again with tabs on the sides and bottom. (The two side pouches definitely need to go on the main pack closer to my back when the YBDP is on there.)

The other thing about this is that I can carry the pack by itself, or attached to the frame. On canoe trips we often head out to explore on foot and use it as an opportunity to also gather firewood. Lash it to the frame, re-attach the pack and carry it back to the canoe. Go off on a hunt, have all the essentials in case you need to stay out overnight in the YBDP, but be able to carry the deer back, lashed to the frame.

Something else I can do with the pack is attach the ThomniBelt to it, lengthen the webbing at the shoulder straps and carry it lower down with the belt taking some of the weight on my hips rather than all the weight on the shoulders.
So, a little more about the CargoChair. I can either attach the YBDP to the frame with some horizontal and vertical straps.
Alternately, I can attach the metal tri-glides through the loops on the bottom of the frame....
....and at the top the quick release buckles are attached. One drawback to this method is that you can see how it falls forward quite a bit because I can’t tighten the strap enough. 
I can counter it a little by attaching some straps at the top, but that only helps a little. The whole pack sways quite a bit when carried like this. It’s attached, it won’t come off, but if I had to run for any distance, the swaying side to side would quickly become irritating. It was an idea I had, tried it out, and the reality was a bit disappointing. It works to a degree, but that is a part of design - sometimes you don’t know to what degree something will work until you get the idea into a physical form to actually try out. In a pinch, I’ll carry it like this, but I’ve found it’s not my preferred method. Straps to attach it seems to be the way to go. Or, with a pack bag in between the two seems to work a good deal better.

The issue of the straps will undergo some changes yet. At the moment it’s a little make do, but I’ll work out something better. One thing I’m thinking of making is a type of compression panel along the bottom, and press the pack against/into the frame. I’ve also become very enamoured of ITW’s G-Hooks, which will replace the National Molding Stealth Buckles I currently use.

Here it is with the Map’mups on the front, the Slurp’mups, and Ouch’mups attached to the sides.

So far, I’m happy with it. I suspect that I might tackle another one with some minor tweaks to it, some different material I suspect, maybe make the zipper a little longer, one or two other things, but all in all, it’s what I had envisioned. I will put it through its paces for a few months, actually try it on the kayak, and then I’ll see how far that iterative process actually needs to go. And the pack bag I plan to make may well play a factor in any changes to this pack as well.

Oh and wait for it, I sewed the whole thing by hand. 

There were a few places where it got a little nutty, along the bottom, and down at the bottom where the shoulder strap attachments emerge. Those I had to do with needle nose pliers, but everything else was perfectly manageable with just my fingers, and some rubber thimbles.