Even a design concept needs sensibility behind itself

Sometime when I meet with a designer, or a designer-to-be, it boggles my mind what views they have. Sometimes it is because their approach to design is something great, something that is just out there and manages to make an impact, be whatever sort of design they do. Other times it is because the person just, to be completely and utterly blunt, fuck the core idea of the very basic idea of design.

I met a person who is attending a social design contest. Social design at its core is simply the approach the designer has during the process, where he is aware of his responsibilities to the society at large. The design may have potential to change the society to some extent, but the change is dependent on the success of the product. Just like any other highly used terms within industries, social design has a number of variations of itself, but this seems to be the basic idea behind all the explanations.

Well, what sort of design was this person to toss into the competition? A personal air filter for the population of highly polluted cities. Now, you most likely know that there’s a lot of this sort of stuff already. I’m sure we all know the image of an Asian person with a mask on his face. This designer had a great idea how to make things better; the person air filter would sit on the user’s chest from a scarf or something, filter the polluted air and push the clean air to the user to inhale.

The problem is with this thing is that this person had nothing else after a week worth of designing. Just that.

A normal person would start asking questions about the product. First would be How does it work? and How much power would it use? These are valid questions which this person had no real answers. The research this designer had done consisted of two pieces of arguments based on existing technologies.

The first technology that was behind the two arguments is the Air-Purifier Bike, which would filter the air as the cyclist moves. A person who has ever cycled realises the first problem here; adapting this technology is essentially impossible. The air that is being filtered through the bicycle’s air filter system is not actively moved through the system. Rather, the air move through the system because the cyclist moves onwards. It’s like putting a pearl into a thread and moving the pearl through the thread end to end. It’s not the thread that moves. The same applies here. In order for the air to move through the small personal filter on the user’s chest would require the user to move fast enough to encourage circulation through the system.

The problem with the Air-Purifier bike is that it is a concept, and concepts are not proofs that the idea works.

The second technology was the same used in any filtered mask. Respirators. The problem here again is the circulation of the air. With most respirators the air is moved through the filter with the user’s respiration. It’s a passive system, where there is no bells and whistles to screw how things work. Because it is the user’s respiration that moves the air, the personal air filter can’t adapt this without additional tubes, hoses or masks because it would defeat the overall function of the design.

These are the only two things this designer had ‘researched.’ I can’t call it properly research as both points are extremely apparent and anyone trying to come up with a proper personal air filter would push aside first.

Perhaps the main problem in this situation is that the person here in question doesn’t seem to think that it is the designers’ duty to design how their product work. Just how the look. With this person’s words, a designer is not an engineer and doesn’t need to concern oneself with the function, that this isn’t product design but social design.

I’ll skip all the personal insults, but I have to ask If this isn’t product design, then why are you holding a number of initial drawings for a product?

This sort of mindset is toxic. We, as designers, have a responsibility towards the consumers. Before and after the product is put into use, how the product could live on anywhere.

Let’s assume that the personal air filter this person was putting on paper would be made, that it would work just as intended. The first problem here is the filter system needs to be miniaturised to a large extent to properly work. Then, you need sort of device to suck air in and blow it out, a fan of sorts. Small fans may work, but in order to keep the filtered air mixing with the polluted air too soon, the fan needs to be strong enough to have a strong air flow with a well directing nozzle. The power this fan then would need wouldn’t fit into the casing in order not to be too heavy or too noisy, so we would need to have a revolutionising new technology in both material and battery technology. Then we have the problem with the filter. A device this small, especially for filtering polluted air, would need to have a lot of spare filters the user would need to carry with him. That poses two new problems; the user needs to change the filter often and carry with him, and then the issue with discarded filters. Could these filters be recycled or are they of nature friendly biomaterials?

If all these points would be successfully achieved, then what would be the price of the product be? It would be a very high-tech device in its simplicity and would cost a lot. This here is what would break the camel’s back. It would be a very costly product for few to buy, and would do its job worse than those white masks. Expensive does not equal high quality, a thing the designer actually seemed to completely disagree with. Well, I hope we won’t be talking about cars with this person. The lack of research and logical thinking this person lacked as a designer doesn’t tell a pretty tale. If this is the mindset of upcoming designers, we can say goodbye to good, customer driven design in our products. Perhaps this would do good to proper craftsmen, who would then be able to meet with the wants and needs of the society at large.

The problem this person was trying to solve, in all actuality, was that the white masks didn’t look nice. Think about that for a moment.

The problem of air pollution in major cities is something that can’t be solved with a simple personal air filter. The only real way would be to turn your attention to the actual problem which would be the objects that pollute air. Designing these objects, be it cars or factories, so that they would lessen the pollution in some manner would be one of the answers. Removing the pollution would be ideal, but that is almost impossible at this moment in time. Designing such thing would be difficult and would require a lot of research, hard work and trials and errors.

But if the person with the drawings for the personal air filter is any indication, the people who have a need for all the above mentioned things in their every day work don’t want to do any of the three. It would seem that even that lack of common sense is abundant. Perhaps it is true that common sense has become so rare that it is a super power.

The customer can fight this by supporting the products that he sees the most fitting for himself in every regard. Voting with your wallet still hits hardest, and no industry can deny the impact an aware customer can have.

Comparing the two X-Wings

With the new Star Wars movies coming up, I’ve been waiting to see a glimpse or two of the new and old designs we’d eventually see in the movies. This is mostly because Star Wars’ designs make little to no sense when it comes to progression, as we’ve seen with the Prequel Trilogy. I hope that the upcoming Sequel Trilogy will do better in this regards, but it can be argued that it is easier to take an existing product and refine it further to meet the modern standard.

Just recently we got a full body view of the new X-Wing Starfighter, and it’s an interesting piece by all means. Let’s put it against the good ol’ Incom T-95 X-Wing Starfighter.

The newer, sleeker design fives hopes for practical effects, but only a little bit
The newer, sleeker design fives hopes for practical effects, but only a little bit
The old X-Wing is iconic and well loved everybody expect the Imps
The old X-Wing is iconic and well loved everybody expect the Imps

First of all, the overall size of the new X-Wing is smaller. The dimensions compared to the pilot and the director are more compact than what the original legends had. However, compact is not the right word to describe the overall look of the new fighter. It’s smaller, more sporty but also sleeker, and in some regards, more tactically aggressive and nimbler. It’s not as long as its predecessor and has more slopes and curves, which gives an impression of a smaller bird of prey, but just as deadly as its older brother.

The smallness also brings in some in-universe problems, as it loses space to hold more proton torpedoes and luggage as well as other things. It could be that this fighter has been made to rely on carriers more, but it’s still a good sized ship to have a hyperdrive. Of course, a lot of things could have been miniaturised further, thus leaving more space for other things. Because of the length being shorter, the proton torpedo chutes are directly under the cockpit rather than starting directly under where the original’s cockpit glass ended.

I’m glad to see the aforementioned slopes and curves, to be honest. The Original Trilogy had a very industrial feel to its designs with daily grit etched to them. This spirit is carried by the ship designs as well, where the Y-Wing is most likely the most prominent example with exposed parts everywhere. This new X-Wing carries a familiar taste, but because of the more softer shapes applied to the design, it gives off a bit more younger, fresher breath. Something like stepping outside the workshop after a long day, where you still have that smell of steel and snoot, but with the fresh air. The wingtips actually have a curved design, where they curl up to the laser cannons.

The curves have been applied to make the overall silhouette of the fighter smaller, as the aft of the fighter curves inside to the centre. The nose has that familiar X-Wing design, and you can even see the same extra tidbits alongside the fuselage. The intakes are the largest step away from the original X-Wing, but are true to Ralp McQuarrie’s concept design. You could say that the new fighter is a cross-bred between the original movie fighter and McQuarrie’s concept. The engine nozzles at the back don’t seem to be completely well thought out; they’re just sticking out in an able from the main construction. It would have been nice to see them grow from the form naturally, but they do give that slight industrial taste to an extent.

Do note the difference in the Tie-Fighter as well. The dimensions are slightly different
Do note the difference in the Tie-Fighter as well; The dimensions are slightly different

The wings are the most different from the original or the concept. At first I thought that the wings wouldn’t separate, which would have meant that this fighter would have continued to follow Z-95 Headhunter’s way of thinking. This is because the wings themselves are thin and do not hold any seam that two separate wings would make. It would have been an interesting twist, but luckily my old friend informed me that the wings do indeed open, but in a different manner. Rather than splitting alongside the wings’ length, the wings open in from the middle, splitting the wings’ depth. If you look closely to the left wing’s top, you can see a line going in the middle. Another point is the curled wingtips, as you can see the back wing going behind the front wing and leaving a distinct seam. This is the seam where the wings split. The front part of the wing turns downwards and the aft turns up.

Speaking of the laser cannons, they have a slight redesign as well. The new X-Wing share’s the same basic design with the original. In the new fighter the half-pipe shaped protectors (or something like that) are slightly thinner and have a blob design in the middle to conform with the barrel of the cannon. The overall design is the same otherwise with similar minor adjustments or additions.

I’m not all that good with colours, but the X-Wing line has always had subdued colours, from the original’s earthly red to some Expanded Universe ships. The choice of blue is a safe bet and the applied decals look as they should. The overall image of the colouring is very controlled. Giving this X-Wing a new, attacking colour scheme could make it look more eye catching as well as far more threatening. I hope this is one of the things that looks small, but packs a punch. I’m already expecting to see one in outrageous yellow with falcon design, or a royal paintjob of reds and gold.

There’s also one possibly positive side on this X-Wing; it seems to be easier to draw. This is because the design is simpler and doesn’t require the drawer to align four different spherical engines properly with each other and maintain their relation to each other and to the main body. However, when the wings open this might go out of the window depending on the geometry they introduce with it. From what we’ve seen, the changes don’t seem to mass to anything worth noting, but it wouldn’t be the first time something with variable form capability could surprise everybody.

I’m eager to see this one the big screen, or more of its builds. Concept illustrations would be a great thing to see in the near future. Perhaps they’ll release a lot of concept illustrations before the release of the movie, like they did with Phantom Menace.