Angela May

Exploring Product Design

Posts Tagged ‘mini projects’

Progress Update

I haven’t updated this particular journal in awhile but it’s not for lack of working on Exploring Product Design! Quite the opposite in fact!

Spring is convention season, and I spent the spring months promoting my first book, We Are The Engineers. Conventions are always a ton of work – coordinating flights and accomodations, getting all of my display in order, making new merchandise, promoting the event itself… I’ve cut back on conventions significantly compared to last year but those first few months are still packed solid with work.

The Summer I spent completing my Professional Engineering application. This was a huge goal of mine for the year, and meant taking my Law and Ethics course, studying for and taking my professional practice examination (I passed!), and completing my Work Experience Report – a 24 page report detailing all of the work I’ve done since I entered the world of professional work. I just finished wrangling the last feedback form from my managers and colleagues (8 total!) so I am DONE… it’s just a waiting game now.

In between all of that work I still managed to make make time for self-directed product design education.

Three mini projects that I spent time working on (none of which are that big of a deal, but I want to use this space to log ALL the little things that I end up making).

1. Improved Fly Trap

This one was an easy build from existing components, but I have been ‘testing’ it throughout the summer and it works great! The best fruit fly trap I’ve discovered so far was this shallow mixture of vinegar and dish soap (to reduce the surface tension of the vinegar). There are fruit fly traps of similar design for sale, but I couldn’t find one locally and it was less effort, I figured to just make it myself!

This is the prototype – easy enough for anyone to make, a water bottle with the top cut off and inverted. You need to tape the seam so flies can’t escape out the sides, however, so disassembling it for cleaning is a bit of a pain. I wanted a similar assembly with an easy to remove lid for cleaning.

A quick trip to the Daiso next door and I picked up these beauties… simple glass jars with a soft plastic lid top.

Quick integration with a funnel and… presto! DIY Fly Trap.

2. Improved Button Display

At conventions I sell buttons with my art on them – individually and in packs. I’ve experimented with various methods of display for these buttons… bowls, dishes, clips. The most advanced that I’ve come up with so far is an old picture frame covered up with black fabric. This way I can pin all the buttons on and people can easily see the designs that are available.

There were a few problems with this display. The first is that it wasn’t tall enough. At conventions it’s best if you can keep your display at attendee eye-level. Second, over time the fabric was getting worn out with holes all over it. Third, setup (pinning all the pins to the board) was a bit time consuming.

Finally, for some reason, the second people see buttons pinned to this board their first instict is to pull them off. Of course it is very tricky for people to get the pin off the fabric, and it’s a pain for me to replace. I decided that I wanted to facilitate this behaviour.

My design criteria for the button display were (in order):

1) Lightweight, compact and easy to set up and disassemble. My entire display kit needs to fit in a rolling suitcase, and the suitcase needs to be under 50lb or I get charged overages on airlines. The more weight taken up by display, the less merch I can bring! Assembly is also critical because I have to tear down and be out of the hall as quickly as possible – minutes matter.

2) As tall as possible, bringing the merchandise as close to eye level as possible

3) Easy to pin and remove display for button singles AND packs

4) As clean elegant as possible.

The major epiphany for this project came when I realized that pin-backs stick great to MAGNETS. I forget how I discovered this, but I have yet to see another convention seller using this technique to sell their pins. What I needed was a GIANT MAGNET! This was probably the most difficult part of the project. I found an 8.5*11 sheet at Michael’s but it wasn’t thick enough to hold the pins reliably. In the end I had to go with an online source and get the thickest magnet sheet I could. This thicker sheet works like a charm.

The display itself is just a piece of wood board (thinnest I could find) painted white. Works fine, but I might move to a lighter acrylic. The prototype feet are foamcore and this arrangement (two feet + stabilizer) worked really great.

The display was very stable and quick to assemble and disassemble. Next I’ll re-make the base in another material. The racks at the top are re-purposed folder hangers attached with hot glue. With this arrangement I can feature up to 9 different button packs.

Here is the button display in action. The magnet works GREAT, people grab the pins without thinking about it. When it comes off they think they are magnets but quickly realize they are pins. At the base is a small basket of pins (yet again for unknown reasons, people LOVE running their fingers through bowls of pins). People want to take the button packs off the racks, too, which is a pain, but at least it’s replaceable. So far the biggest problem has been the racks snapping off in transit.

There are definitely improvements I’d like to make to this display for next season, but I’m probably going to discontinue selling button packs at shows… maybe buttons altogether. They seem to have fallen out of fashion.


I have an old salt lamp with an incandescent bulb that I wanted to convert to solar. My first attempt was the coward’s way out (gotta start somehwere!) – repurposing a cheap solar garden lamp. Disassembly of the old lamp was easy, but the lamp is VERY cheap (only $3 I think?) and while I was trying to solder longer connections, I damaged the board. My experience with electronics isn’t good enough yet to figure out how to fix it, or how to best salvage the remaining components, so my next step is to try to build the circuit myself from scratch. I’ve bought all the components and gotten a good set of instructions, I just haven’t had a chance to sit down and do it yet.

During the summer I also made it down to Vancouver’s inaugural Mini Maker Faire! I really enjoyed this event, it was awesome meeting vancouverites making amazing things. I used the opportunity to pick up my very own Arduino kit, and I’ve started messing around with it. Next post!

I’ve been amassing a good collection of Industrial Design books that I plan to go through to teach myself the principles of good design and sketching. In my collection so far are:

The last design book I finished was “Change by Design” by Tim Brown, founder of IDEO. I really enjoyed the book! I want to re-read it and write up a mini-review.

Finally I registered in a few more Emily Carr Industrial Design courses. Starting immediately: Rapid Visualization and Product Rendering, and later in the winter: working with Rhino.

Whew! Reading that list you can hopefully understand why my life is a constant battle with exhaustion. I’m really trying to move forward with product design as best as I can but the full time job and my webcomic audience of 10,000+ can be very demanding :)
Posted: October 11th, 2011
Categories: Journal
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