Developing a new product family quickly using @blender
My blog’s been pretty quiet of late as I got ready for @shapeways at the Maker Faire http://bit.ly/10z8u4V And here’s why…
As you know I’m really into designing typographic cufflinks… but I’ve also been working on something a bit more accessible to a wider audience (who aren’t type geeks or cufflink wearers, which is a pretty small audience to be fair).
Introducing the “Neckbangle” (I wasn’t sure what it was, it’s not a necklace, it might be a choker, it’s like a bangle hence the new product framily name is neckbangle).
Here’s the basic concept - I built it using Blender (which is awesome for rapid development). It’s a contoured, spherical wrap around one-piece design. Styled to sit at the base of the throat…
This took about a day to work out the specifics… it’s an asymmetrical slice through a hollow sphere - which gives the base structure a close-fitting, natural look which should fit most female necks. It’s got a 76mm aperture at the back which allows it to hook on without too much trouble but not fall off. In theory anyway…
Then I took a couple of hours to experiment with the form and create two other versions… the ancient neckbangle (inspired by the metalwork styles of old Saxon / Roman jewellery)
And the Shoredtich neckbangle - a punk themed version:
Cutting holes in an asymmetric slice of a sphere ain’t easy… you really need to do it by eye, changing the slice angle by -1 degrees on the X axis, regular (ish) rotation increments around the Z axis and adjusting Y axis coordinates by instinct. Blender is awesome for that - the controls for rotation around the object’s origin mean you can quite literally click away in each axis until it looks right on the little control box, no complex movements necessary. Also, for each hole or spike, just <shift><d> duplicate the last one and move it again… easy really.
What’s next? Well I’ve got a few prototypes in plastic and steel coming, so gauge the sizes with some real women… then it’s a matter of working out how to attach pendants and, of course, mount typography on it.
I’ll keep you posted ;)
This retro gamer cufflink took minutes to make in Blender… I took the STL of my type cufflinks, the STL of my pendant model and joined them. The result… geek chic
One for @bartv and the @shapeways team - new prototypes, more wine, learning the lessons of articulation, 0.2mm tolerances and materials
Spore prototypes arrive: 2 piece interlocking design (thanks @shapeways)
The Spore is my first experiment with interlocked printed components. It’s a 12 point hollowed-out conical star inside a 2mm thick spherical shell with 24 holes cut in it. It was a material test as much as anything - I wanted to get a feel for alumide, transparent plastic and sandstone.
As you can see, it’s worked out quite well. The really interesting thing is how sturdy and usable the sandstone is (the white one) and how good the definition of the alumide is (the grey one).
The next step is working out how to link them so I can 3D print a whole necklace… stay tuned ;)
New project: Typographic cufflinks…
Type cufflinks are nothing new, but I wanted to address the typography angle and the ergonomics.
One major problem with type cufflinks (and typographic jewellery in general) is in the mounting of the type on the housing structure. The thing is, type floats in space (on a screen or on a page) it doesn’t link together. That’s great for graphic designers but in the 3D world you’ve got to attach the type somehow. I learned from my initial experiments that you can do this by connecting the letters to each other by extruding the characters, but that means the type changes it’s typographic identity, it works ok with italic, chunky fonts but really spoils the look of traditional serif and san serif characters.
Unfortunately, connected the dot to the ‘i’ is still a necessity. I could have done this with a central bar rather than a full width connector to give it a proper 3D impression, but given the small sizes of such a connector, I’m concerned the little dots would break off to easily. It will need more testing.
A lot of designs avoid joining the individual characters by extruding them out from a back plate, but then you’ve got a back plate, and I think the letters should have a face from all angles rather than only the front perspective. Also the back plate approach affects the light cast on the type and it diminishes the elegance of the letter forms.
These experimental designs have taken the approach of mounting each individual letters on individual supporting arms. That way you minimise the amount of material connected to the letters, making the type appear to float. But this approach has it’s flaws. To get the supports thin enough to leave the letter forms more or less intact, you need multiple supports - otherwise the letters will break off the cufflink structure or bend out of alignment.
I’ve opted for a mix of supports, some based on circular designs (to distribute pressure along the letter evenly, if knocked) and secondary straight supports where a circular 2 pronged approach would be visible outside the edges of the face of the character, for example, on an ‘s’ you can’t attach a circular support at all, because you see it through the curves of the ‘s’. With an uppercase ‘G’ you can only hide a circular support behind the thick curve of the letter, you need a single bar to connect the inner end of the G or you’ll see too much of the support… etc.
Obviously for strength, these supports are connected to a central bar, which is visible from the front of the word - but less so than a back plate, and distance from the characters is increased by the use of the supports, so it recedes into the background nicely.
The second issue I have with cufflinks is the link structure itself. Round bars enable the face of the cufflink to rotate in the buttonhole, so it needs to be flat to keep everything oriented correctly. But I can’t be too wide or it won’t fit the buttonhole properly. Adopting the strut approach, I tried to make a strong form of connected struts which will, as the cuff expands, give the lateral stability to prevent the word rotating in the button hole.
This structure couldn’t be solid because I’ve carved out the Unique Plastique UP logo mark in the button end, and I wanted to keep the letters clear. It also spells ‘up’ as a handy reminder to put the cufflink on straight.
The net result is a clearer, floating typeface of distinct, unadulterated letter forms, and a mounting structure of interconnecting struts that has an architectural vibe to it, functional and designed to be strong without being bigger and weightier than the word it’s supporting.
The font is Helvetica, the cut is bold because the thicker characters are essential to give them visual impact and create a strong enough base for the mounting structure… I’m going to try some other faces and words over the next week and post them.
Next step… do some material tests to see how it prints, plus experiment with the sizes… right now it’s about 50mm deeper than most cufflinks, which might make the links too long, on the other hand, it might make them easier to insert and less likely to break under the stress of repeated use… or fit people with big wrists. I have an idea on how to fix that if it does, more on that as the project develops ;)
Phase 1 of the Unique Plastique experiment is over. I’ve explored the potential of using typography and simple 2D linework to create 3D objects, which has worked well. It’s tested the materials, got a feel for tolerances and the way fonts work in 3D. Now it’s time to move on to the next phase - vases, chains and more complex models.
Tests underway! Plus a quick review of Shapeways so far
Finally, two weeks after the Unique Plastique project got started we’ve got the first designs in production… and you can buy one too at our new shiny Shapeways shop http://www.shapeways.com/shops/uniqueplastique
It’s a very simple service. Log-in (I used my Twitter ID @killdozer to log in via Oauth) and upload your model. I used a couple of test STL files I’d created in Illustrator and then modeled in Blender. Within a few minutes they’d checked the files, identified I’d set the sizes too small (duh) and so I fixed the scale and re-uploaded. Then the models are in the system and you can add them to the shopping basket for on-demand printing in a variety of materials.
The dimensions of the model means not every material is available, but it’s easy to configure and order the stuff. Then you can set up a shop (took about five minutes) and now the model is live to the world, for sale. There’s only the “Yummy Mummy” for sale at the moment, which is a pretty niche product for people who like left-field fashion statements, but there will be more added every time a model gets uploaded.
It’s an agile way to test the printing services… originally these designs were never intended for sale, but why not put them out there and see if someone wants one? There’s nothing to lose.
Shapeways is a great automated service. The finished items are due back in mid-Feb when some decent pictures can be taken and we can update the online shop with lots of pics which is the best way to increase the possibilities of someone actually buying them.
The main thing is, Unique Plastique is finally progressing - and two weeks from start to production gives a very encouraging insight into how the 3D process radically changes the way manufacturing can be accessed. These first prototypes were designed by a web designer, in Illustrator and a steep learning curve in Blender (still a long way to go). Next on the project list is to start experimenting with 3D scanning…