Rapid Prototyping

We haven’t said much here in a while but with Foundry 2011 drawing to a close I feel that there should be an update about what we’ve been up to over the past 2 weeks. First though, tomorrow we’re have a launch/farewell event/presentation discussing all things webby, thingy, smelly and Foundry and you are invited to come along! We will be showcasing the culmination of our 3 months with Mint Digital (but don’t want to give it all away just yet!).

For more information on the event, and to sign up, visit here: http://foundry2011.eventbrite.com/

Anyway, to fill in the chronological blanks, following on from Steve Jobs memorials and cardboard models we stepped into the digital and began 3D modelling prototypes. Using Google Sketchup, Ben and I knocked together a fair few digital model variations inspired by the forms and functions we had been playing with using card, glue and tape. After a bit of exploration, each of us had designed models which were aesthetically similar, however had different means of construction and interaction. We got both of these models manufactured at 2 different places using 2 different methods of 3D Rapid Prototyping. This gave us an initial run of 4 prototype models, 2 were produced using Laser Sintering while the other two consisted of a plaster/glue mixture. It quickly transpired that, though quite a bit cheaper, the plaster style models had a terrible finish, were incredibly brittle and justified the slightly more expensive (and more detailed) SLS method.

With the manufacture method chosen the four of us discussed things the two different designs so that Ben and I were able to go back to the modelling screens and produce a product that combined the best of both designs. There was still a bit of testing to go through, we wanted to try a friction locking, “lego block” approach however the output model showed us that the tolerances were tricky to get right and the material wore down  easily under friction meaning that the model quickly became loose.

So our final model uses a slide locking mechanism with very tight tolerances which works very effectively. It really highlights the perfectionism that goes into the most underrated interactions we have with objects We could easily spend another month working on the locking mechanism alone but we just don’t have the time (and it starts to get pricey with all these 3D printed models!)

Along with the construction method, the models helped us to define how the user interacted with smell input (which became a drawer) and the what the most effective logo is (which went though a few iterations to discover something that printed onto the model with a high resolution).

So as I write this, our models have been refined, then refined again and are at the 3D printers getting rapidly produced in time for tomorrow. On top of this, Chris and Genis have been busy working on a website detailing all you need to know about the project. This has highlighted the interesting challenge of, how do you visually sell an aesthetically subdued object that has a primary function of outputting invisible scents. Seems a bit counter intuitive but the guys are doing a great job and if all goes well the site will be launched tomorrow - keep an eye out for that!

So it’s been awfully busy and despite the inevitable last minuiteness of things, all is looking to be grand tomorrow for our launch. Come along and say hi, it’s nicer to meet in the physical than the digital!

-Tim


Oct 26
6:21 pm
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Prototypes

If you’ve been following our flicker feed you’ll have noticed that over the last few days, we’ve been knocking together quite a plethora of prototypes. Its been fun! It’s allowed us to develop (and generally just play around with) the look, feel, interaction and of our smelly device as well as explore what it could be made from and how it could be made. Anyway here’s some snaps of our ‘finished’ models with a bit of a description about the intention of each iteration. Enjoy.

So following on from the cups-and-vaporisers approach, we went out and bought a few computer fans. Our visit to ScentAir identified that fans and scent cartridges was the most common method they used within their electric automatic model (albeit not with computer fans but a similar effect). Plus we had been faffing around with the vaporiser for too long. The above image was the first working model off the back of this - pringles tub with a few drops of essence inside with a fan taped to the top. Plugging into the computer via USB, the fan activated and released the smell within and contained it nicely while it was off, perfect, but not all that pretty!

Meanwhile, Ben was playing around with a different fan and constructed this helix approach to pump the air out as efficiently as possible (below).

#8

Chris, using yet other fan, began playing around with a more towered approach. This development helped to look into how we can start layering the different aspect of the design - the electronics, the scent oil and the fan.

#3

#12

Getting an understanding what goes where was helpful in highlighting some design routes. The geometric restrictions of what we were using helped to open up some avenues that were not expected, like Tim’s design below where the device has a hinge for it to open and close allowing the user to change/replace the ‘smell cartridge’. The image below it is a further development which also incorporates housing and working connection for the arduino.

#1

We began to see a problem emerging with our model thus far which was that none of them were really oriented towards your nose - kind of important to experiment with if you what immediate, alerting smells! This one from Genis leans back, at such an angle that it fires smells directly from your desk to where you are sitting. Below that is one from Tim which rotates to allow the user to specify where it is pointing.

#4

#10

That’s not to say it was all fans and function, Ben made this bellow style approach which was certainly the most effective smell puffer but we struggled to work out how it could operate electronically whilst also being silent

#11

Where are we not then? We’ll there’s a few more prototype photos on the flicker page with some more weird, wonderful and primarily cardboard models for you to check out. On top of that we have been discussing some development ideas for what the smell cartridge actually is and what the most effective way it could plug into the device is and there are undoubtedly a few more card models to follow. Plus there a whole web connection to sort out… The cogs are still turning within the the Foundry!


Oct 6
12:32 pm
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4 Guys, 3 Smelly Cups

Last week I was mostly in Denmark exhibiting at a new technology event called NEXT. This was for my personal work so I was a little out of the loop with The Smell of Success progress but it was great to get back on Friday and see what the other guys had been up to in my absence. There had been a lot of talk of pushing what Smell of Success could be - exploring how the inclusion of odours can enrich interactive systems and what specific effects they can have on us. This was all sounding pretty exciting so I wanted to get involved with some further idea development.

Previously, we’ve been playing around with a few different techniques for idea generation surrounding the basis of having a starting point on a sheet of paper - either a concept, insight or question - and then passing this around between the four of us to each further develop, refine or expand upon the starting point. This has had mixed success but I thought I would try out a new idea generation technique I had picked up from a workshop I attended in Denmark where I was in a group alongside Ted Howes - Former Global Lead on Sustainability at IDEO - the kind of person you want to pinch idea generation techniques from! There where a few formal rules to the process but I forgot to note them down so in summary it was, get some post-its, start churning out ideas, be quantitative, share your ideas and insights (but do this quickly) and then collate the ideas into coherent groups. This seemed to work really well as it allowed us to collectively work on various tangents of which one in particular started to sound really interesting, that of synaesthesia. We started asking questions like, can you smell colours, what do smells sound like, are bad smells heavier than pleasant ones.

I thought it would be fun to do an experiment surrounding this so I put together three mystery smells made from stuff in the Mint Digital kitchen. Starting with 3 cups each containing rooibos tea, a smell which I figured would not be too familiar, I then added to one cup a spoonful of strawberry jam; the next cup, a dollop of HP sauce; and the final cup, a mix of orange juice and washing up liquid (warning was provided that they should be smelt and not tasted). The guys where unaware what was in each cup so I asked them to consider the mysterious, and unique smell through a series of questions:

  • what is the colour of the smell?

  • what is the shape of the smell?

  • what kind of personality does the smell evoke?

  • what memory does this conjure up?

  • what are the ingredients of the smell?

Strawberry Jam and Rooibos Tea

Though not a wholly indistinguishable smell, the spice of the rooibos effectively disguised the fruity, sweet, identifiable strawberry. Ben and Genis both related to it a reddish colour, explaining assumptions that there was berryish smell to it. Chris however chose a light green as, for him, the smell recalled notions of summer time, flowers and iced lollies. This was an early insight into how smells are easily interpreted in different ways, perhaps even more so when the smell is unfamiliar.

The shape Ben chose was numerous circles grouped together which was really interesting as he assumed that there was some raspberry ingredient in the mix however did not consciously make the connection between the shape he created in his minds eye and the fact this shape very closely resembled a raspberry. This may help to explain how easy it is for a smell to trigger a memory or thought – perhaps faster than you can consciously comprehend. This notion of memory triggering was furthered by Genis who explained that the smell reminded him of a sweet from his childhood, memories of primary school and a particular person, a bit of a bully, who he had not seen for 15 years. An interestingly specific memory - Genis went onto explain that though he did not recognise the exact smell of strawberry, they were something he ate a lot of when he was young so that may be why his memory harked back to Primary School.

HP Sauce and Rooibos Tea

Imagining that this is not to most pleasant of flavours (did not try it) the smell of this had a real spice to it through combining both the musky spice of the rooibos with the fruity spice of HP sauce. The colours chosen for this smell were auburn, burgundy and maroon. It’s interesting that these colours are all very deep, rich colours, not dissimilar to the dark brown of HP sauce. Not sure what the conclusion is from this but either HP sauce uses colouring because we commonly relate the smell/taste to a particular shade of brown or perhaps it’s vice versa, our notions of the colour are derived from previous experiences of the smell/taste – that is what brown sauce should smell like.

The sauce highlighted a cultural divide in our group too. Genis was completely unfamiliar to the smell, it was not part of his Catalonian background and therefore quite literally foreign to him. He said that the smell had an ugly personality. Ben almost guessed the ingredient right as he said it reminded him of a friends father who used to smother everything he ate in HP sauce though Chris had no idea what the ingredients were and claimed it reminded him of Christmas time and wintery spices. Perhaps this could be a festive rebrand route for the sauce… In contrast to Genis though, Chris said the smell also had a spicy and masculine personality and possibly also wore a smoky jacket – very sophisticated! Interesting how different backgrounds can affect interpretations of smells though, can you create a completely unique smell that can be universally recognised? We got talking about how coca-cola is such a massive global brand but could people distinguish the smell without the logo?

Fresh Orange Juice, Washing Up Liquid and Rooibos Tea

A surprisingly not-disgusting smell (though one which was again not tasted) this had zesty notes which complimented the rooibos spice and the fresh (apple?) odour of the washing up liquid. It was also slightly bubbly when stirred and had a bit of a horrible murky brown colour. Chris said the the smell had a bit of a “fake natural” personality which perhaps was due to the real smell of orange mixed with the artificial smell of the washing up liquid. Both he and Ben related the smell to hygiene, cleanliness and medication however, conversely, it reminded Genis of adventure and going trekking with the shape being that of a kind of palm tree.

I think this smell threw the guys off a bit as it was pretty weird but again, the diverse responses were interesting. We discussed if interpretations of smells could be used more widely as personal identification – such as a password reminder being a specific smell which only you would understand based on how you respond to it.

Conclusion

I am not too certain what to make of this experiment. The concept was devised in about 20 seconds, lasted around 20 mins and has taken far longer to write up so perhaps a bit of pre-consideration of the outcome would have helped but here is what I think we have gained a better understanding of:

  • Your sense of smell of a very unique quality and open to very specific interpretation for each particular person. Perhaps it is that odour information has not gone through the same semantic enlightenment as visual information (whereby a smell could be designed in a specific way to trigger universal interpretation). If it is relevant I would like to call this research scentmantics because I love bad wordplay.

  • Our diverse interpretations of smell should also be something to embrace. Smells, unlike much other sensory stimuli will often trigger a memory of how you know the smell before you interpret what the smell actually is. This link between smell and memory is really cool territory however will require some hefty reading to make proper sense of beyond pseudo science speculation.

  • Quick and impulsive ideas are great and can lead you down unexpectedly intriguing paths so embrace them and go with the flow!

And that’s me done now! This was an unexpectedly long post so well done for making it this far, go have a cup of tea but give it a sniff before you drink it.

-Tim


Sep 6
11:03 am
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Discovering Arduino

This week, after two weeks of brainstorming and idea generation, we have started to look for more concrete ways to connect the Internet to a particular object. It’s such a fascinating process how digital data can, for instance, move a physical object or activate a particular mechanism. All this requires joining two different worlds such as computer programming and electronics, a gap that can be unified thanks to one little device called Arduino.

In essence, Arduino is a board with a microcontroller that can receive different kinds of inputs from a wide range of sensors, and then generate an output, such as controlling lights, motors and basically whatever you can possibly think can be plugged in. This allows us to send Internet data into an object and control it according to that data.

Those of us less experienced with physical computing have taken some time to learn not only how the board works but also the necessary coding which runs it. It’s in this context of first contact with this platform where we have created some small machinery (from a blinking led to a monkey toy which throws bananas on switching on a button). Maybe these little experiments won’t be related to our final product but definitely they make a difference in our understanding of Arduino and the different uses and possibilities that the technology offers.

Photograph: London Hackspace

Our research this week has been mainly in this practical vein, although we have also found time to do some field research. We visited the workshop at Hackspace in Shoreditch (lately we always seem to go to the same area no matter the reason) - a truly unique place where you can find 3D printers, a workshop area with lots of tools among which stands out a laser cutter, retro videogames… simply a geek paradise. The main part of it though is the community of developers and designers that are using this space to exchange knowledge and help each other. 

We are pretty excited about how our project is starting to take shape and quite sure that Arduino is going to play an important role on it — and, as the coding gets more and more confusing, most probably the smart folks at Hackspace as well. 

- Genis


Aug 25
11:06 am
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A Brush with the Riots

Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images 

This past week or so, it has been impossible to avoid the subject of the riots in London and across the country. Every media outlet has been saturated with a maelstrom of wildly varying opinion and critique, sometimes to the point where it became very difficult to make sense of what had actually happened.

A couple of days after the worst of the rioting had subsided, we were given the task of thinking about designing something that would relate to this recent event - perhaps something to help the people affected by it, or increase awareness of the potential root causes of the violence. Already by that point, a number of other campaigns and websites had started emerging.

Some of the most successful initiatives have been more focused on particular stories of individuals affected by the riot, creating small websites allowing visitors to donate money directly to them. These cases have usually been previously covered in the mainstream media: the 89 year-old barber whose shop was looted, the Malaysian student beaten and robbed in the middle of a riot, or the Hackney shopkeeper whose shop was ransacked too. These simple donation sites have raised huge amounts of money in just a few days, something that would have been almost impossible in London’s last heavy riots in the 1980s.

Social media have played an important role on both sides. On the one hand, Twitter and other social networks have been used to spread the word of destruction amongst looters, but they have also been used to great effect in clearing the mess and helping the victims of the violence. The most famous example is the simple use of a Twitter hashtag, #riotcleanup, which provided a platform for people to get in touch and get together to clear up the streets. The images of the Clapham clean up were an uplifting example of online activism turned to real world change.

Photograph: Twitter via @Lawcol888 

Less than a week after the rioting was in full flow, the operation of cleaning up London’s streets is more or less complete, which is a testament both to the action of local authorities and these networked, self-organised communities. What remains, however, is the task of helping those affected get their lives back on track, and the even greater task of trying to work out how to solve the deeper social and cultural problems that led to this sudden outpouring of violence.

We felt that by the end of last week, to an extent, we had missed the boat to do something small and specific. Sites like Keep Aaron Cutting worked so well because they could be built and implemented very quickly, and had a simple and achievable goal. The kind of problems that are now left to solve are far greater in scope and complexity - and require time to consider and reflect on what has happened. Its trying to find ways of turning events like the clean ups into more long-term social change. 

We haven’t worked out how to do it yet. But we’re thinking on it.

- Chris & Genis


Aug 15
10:38 am

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Hello from Foundry!

So this is it, the first post from Foundry - a team of designers from all walks of life, working together at Mint Digital, with the goal of producing web-connected physical objects that don’t exist on screens. 

This blog aims to document our research, process, outcomes and all the other exciting things we encounter along the way. All comments, praises, slurs and criticisms would be much appreciated - especially the criticisms.

Our first collaborative project is this site you are looking at right this second and the various social media outlets we have tethered onto the sides of it. It began with the creation of our identity - a name and brand which reflected the intentions of our project as well as our individual personalities. Thanks to our lovely “clients” at Mint Digital, that name is ‘Foundry’. 

(We would like to take a moment here to thank Mint Digital for successfully steering clear of any mint-related-puns including prospective gems such as Minterns, Fresh Mints, Mint Seeds and Softmints to name a few).

So to kick things off we thought it be suitable to explain a little about the process that took us to our new identity. After getting the first ideas out of the way (think Bauhaus + bad metal band + investment banker) we settled roughly on a bold layout of four blocks with a nice simple bit of type in the middle. Four blocks representing the four of us.

This produced quite a surprising response in the fact that the-powers-that-be (Utku and Tom) reckoned it all looked a bit corporate for such a motley crew of fledgling Designers. They weren’t wrong. To try and soften the edges a little, we decided to experiment down the route of hand drawn text.


Run Out Of Space

This approach  provided some valuable results and set us off in a productive direction. For a start, it was off the screen - something that we’d been discussing and getting excited about from the outset. It was interesting because it was not as if we were completely ignoring the computer - far from it - we were using it as a tool alongside other design techniques, as it should be used for. We used tracing paper, printers, kitchen chopping boards, tape, scanners and a whole lot of pens to explore a more hands on and human approach.

Tracing


Part of why we’re here at Mint is to do stuff that Mint, as a digital company, don’t really do. We want to take a step back from the computer screen, the mobile phone screen, the ipad screen and explore how we can create physical objects that exist alongside these everyday digital interfaces but, in turn, enrich our daily lives because of their tactile nature. Real world design demands concentration and a physical relationship with the tools being used; copy/paste means doing everything all over again and CTRL+Z simply doesn’t exist so there’s got to be a real passion in what you do and we want to reflect this passion in our outcomes.

But that’s not to say were neglecting computers, they’re actually quite useful! For instance, we’re aware that the documentation of what were doing will be primarily shared though digital screens and coming back to our logo - when we got the drawings scanned and onto the screen, they just didn’t work. The problem was that its tricky to tell that something is hand drawn when its 16x16 pixels on a twitter avatar. Were we wasting our time? 

We don’t think so.

The whole process of drawing, tracing and going though the iterations of developing the logo by hand had a massive impact on the entire aesthetic of the identity - one which we jut could not quite manage to find through computer design alone. The intensifying grid of lines within the blocks are a subtle reference to the graph paper we were using to draw on. The gradual gradient of complexity also signifies our own mixed disciplines, expertise, interests and the development we look forward to though working with Mint Digital (we’re actually all recent graduates, but shhh don’t tell anyone!). Had we not taken that step into the the physical world and gone through this laborious, messy but wholly enjoyable process, we may still be in the realms playing with garish color swatches on illustrator (though we would have developed a kickass logo for an upcoming investment banker heavy metal band!)

We look forward to whatever comes next!

-Ben, Chris, Genis and Tim


Aug 8
2:10 pm
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Foundry is a research team at Mint Digital.
Foundry is all about exploring physical objects which connect to the web though digital technology.

We are currently working on:
The Smell of Success

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