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Forays into the physical with thoughts on industrial design from frog's product design team.

CCA Junior Critique

Last week was the culmination of a 16-week Industrial Design junior level class from the California College of the Arts (CCA). The class was divided into two groups with two different subject areas for the students to choose from. Myself, Max Burton from frog and Karson Shadley from Shape Field Office taught a segment on ‘wearable sound’ and Chris Luomanen of Thing-Tank and Rob Swinton from Huge Design taught a segment on ‘personal mobile safety.’ To enhance the level of realism and to develop connections with the local professional design community, we held the final presentation of the students’ work at frog design in our San Francisco studio and Lunar‘s head office in Potrero Hill with many local industrial design professionals as guest critics.

The course is intended to emulate a real-life design project. Students go through the entire design process from choosing an end user and discovering opportunity areas through design research. They then go onto concept exploration, sketching, model-making, 3D CAD and rendering and final presentation. We put an equal emphasis on problem solving and a rigorous design process as we did on the final physical form factor. In today’s competitive marketplace for industrial design it is essential that students demonstrate their capacity for original-thinking and problem-solving skills as well as the high mastery of skills that are fundamental to be a successful industrial designer.

This year the overall level of the work was high, but as always there are some student’s work that really stands out. Joanna Gallacinao designed an MP3 player around the unique needs of the visibly impaired. The product was distinctive in that the headphones could gradually switch function from playing music to a ‘super-human’ mode of an enhanced ‘listening’ ability that helped the visibly impaired users to acutely listen to the sounds around them while navigating through a city. This enhanced listening ability along with tactile audio controls that were super-easy to use for people with or without sight issues and her product demonstrated an original solution to solving a real life problem.  Joanna also designed her product to be so cool that anyone would want to own this product therefore not stigmatizing the blind.

Jean Lin designed Arm Ray, a wrist device that illuminated the wearer for nighttime use. Her insight centered on wheelchair users who can be difficult to see at night and who are often forced to use the road to navigate through a city. The devices were suitable for all types of people who needed to be seen during the night such as runners and cyclists.

Walter Tien designed the Mobii, an interactive game and media console for children to use while travelling as passengers in a car. Parents are all too aware that children traveling, as passengers can be a dangerous distraction especially when they get bored. The Mobii that Walter designed was more than just an Ipad as it had a three dimensional interactive user interface that not only fun for kids, but was also a brilliant learning tool to help them develop their dexterity and cognitive thinking.

Nari Hwang designed ‘Genie’ a bracelet for the elderly who were living in assisted residential care homes. This unique band was not only used to help identify the owner, but could be used by the senior citizen as an keyless access to the senior citizens residential care facility, their personal mailbox and their individual apartment. There was also an optional “life alert” module that slid onto the bracelet that seniors could use to get immediate help from medical staff. An ingenious feature of the bracelet was a fold out key for access should the electronic system fail in any way.  The addition of the traditional key along with the use of leather and metal demonstrated a lovely mixture of analog and digital that is an appropriate solution for senior citizens who may be not as technology-savvy as a younger population.

Henry Wu and Yanika Tinaphongs teamed up to answer the unmet needs to the street musician. They designed a watch that doubled as a guitar tuner and an amp that was specifically designed to be portable and folded out for tips. Music and cords could be stored inside the amp during transport. The most impressive aspect of their work was the high level of craftsmanship demonstrated in their physical models and the cohesion in design language between their products and their brand identity.

Candice Lin interviewed wheelchair users for the invention of her product the Para Pak. In her interviews Candice discovered that wheelchair users had a need to store their personal belongings with them while getting around. Her insight was that wheelchair users are currently using a work-around solution by using existing backpacks on the back of the wheelchair seat. This current solution is awkward as the pockets are all in the wrong place and very difficult for wheelchair users to gain access to their personal belongings while on the go. This is an area ripe for innovation and Candice was able to uncover many problem areas and resolve them through good design.

Charles Weber took on the challenging space of disaster relief and preparedness. He designed a wall-mounted unit that lives in a prominent part of the home. During most of the product’s life it functions as a center for important information such as the weather and local news. In a disaster such as an earthquake, it doubles as an emergency information center along with a light, local maps with a GPS that shows important information such as the location of local disaster relief centers or hospitals. The product is easily programmable for the different languages of the local community. The design was simple and refined in its form making it suitable for public parts of the home such as the kitchen or living room all year round.

Sneha Cyriac designed the Museo, an interactive museum guide specifically suited for children. Through her research with children her insight was that current museum audio devices are adult centric, which usually meant that kids are quickly overwhelmed and then bored. With the Museo children can learn about art in a more fun and playful way while at the same time illustrating their own art book. Sneha thought through the entire experience from picking up the unit at museum entry, through to using the Museo in the museum and even the idea of a take home art book that could be proudly presented on the family fridge. Sneha showed how product design today is as much about designing experiences than a stand-alone object.

Full list of presenters and projects
Kiran Lakhani
Yixin Yuan
Christine Kim
Jean Lin
Hugo Kuo
Rocco Xiaoke (jacket for moves)
Cris Orozco
Alok Bhandarkar   
Nichole Rouillac
Scott Ross (walkie-talkie hand unit for firemen)
Mark Lee (wireless speakers and MP3 controller)
Ava DiCapri (wireless drum kit)
Abha Dasgupta (Medical practitioners note taking kit)
Joanna Gallacinao (MP3 for the visibly impaired)
Henry Wu + Yanika Tinaphongs (
Bennett Gershkow + Galen Chinn (ultramarathon headphones and replenishment reminder)
Shiv Kehr (hospital doctor/patient privacy)
Sneha Cyriac (kids' museum audio guide)
Eduardo DePaulis (snowboarder inter-communication)
Nari Hwang (elderly forgetfulness)
Charlie Weber (emergency transmitter)
Justin Crandall (portable latrine)
Candice Lin (wheelchair backpack)
Ken Chen (wheelchair communication)
Cindy Chiu (wallet/purse for loss prevention)
Daeun Kim (air filtering cycling mask)
Walter Tien (backseat driver game for kids)

Guest Critics
Norio Fujikawa (creative director at astro)
Jesse Madsen (lead designer at astro)
Pablo Pardo (owner of pablo)
Tung Chiang (senior designer at one&co)
Joseph Becker (assistant curator at SFMOMA)
Christopher Kuh (senior designer at ammunition)
Justin Porcano (owner of upwell)
Jessica Lisagor (Arch 1 at perkins+will and cca)
Mara Holt Skov (cca)
Steven Skov Holt (cca)
Colin Owen (cca)
Will Loor (Lab 126)

Wearable Sound
Max Burton (Executive Creative Director at frog)
Karson Shadley (Owner of Shape Field Office + friend of Lunar)

Mobile Personal Safety
Chris Luomanen (Owner of Thing Tank)
Rob Swinton (Lead designer at Huge and ex-Lunartic)