Inspiration can come from anywhere! This presentation shows how as a designer I have drawn inspiration from a selection of unusual sources to make unique design products.
The Vessel Table is a great example of how the process of designing an object is a journey. Design is so much more than having a good idea! Turning an idea into a realised product is a very long journey. Design is just as much about solving the many problems to do with cost, materials, construction and sustainability that come with creating a new product. What separates a good designer from a great designer is the ability to solve these problems without compromising the integrity of your initial concept.
My initial inspiration for the Vessel Table came from looking at medical slides of human tissue and blood vessels. I was inspired by not only these beautiful images, but also the exceptional structural qualities of blood vessels. This goes to show that inspiration can come from the weirdest, most unimaginable places, but sometimes this can create really original concepts.
Here’s an example of some of my not-so-amazing drawings. This is less than 10% of the drawings I did for this project. Initial sketching and visual research is so incredibly important, just think of it as writing notes for yourself. Sometimes you will draw shapes without even thinking too much about what you are drawing and not pay too much thought to it at the time, but you just might revisit these ideas later on and find something worth exploring further.
Here’s a few examples of some quick 3D sketch models I put together. This is a fantastic way of quickly putting ideas into a 3D form and beginning to explore how they might work as an actual product. At this point you can start to think about how they might hold static or dynamic loads, support their own weight, or fit into a designated space. Because they are so quick and easy to make, at this point you can very easily change and evolve ideas, and work out better ways of solving the functional problems that furniture needs to address in order to become a successful product.
Here is an example of the Vessel Table after being drawn in Autocad, here you can start to see how it will look as an actual product in several different 3D views.
From Autocad I was able to import the file into a program called 3D studio max and very quickly do a realistic render of what it might look like as an actual product. At this stage I was able to play around with what it might look like in a variety of different materials, without ever having to physically make anything. Here is an example of what it might look like in a single material, such as painted MDF.
Thinking back to my initial inspiration of blood vessels and tissue samples, this render is example of what the Vessel Table might look like if it closely resembled living tissue, with a light coloured skin on the outside, and a fleshy, bloody-looking inside section. I decided at this stage that although this was visually exciting, it was also very dark and because I had decided to make the Vessel Table into a coffee table, people might not see the interesting shapes inside the table if it were a dark colour like this and at a low height like most coffee tables.
Here is an example of the final materials I decided would work best for the table. It is made up of 26 layers of cut birch plywood, with a walnut veneer on the top and outside pieces, which helps frame the intricate details of the internal structure. The lighter colour of the plywood highlights the internal structure of the table much better than if it was painted a dark colour, such as the previous render.
Again here is an example of how within the rendering and modelling software I was able to very quickly play around with the shape and structure of the table to see if there were other ways to make it use less material, or become more visually exciting. Even though I didn’t decide to use this version I think it’s important to explore all possibilities before you make your final decision.
Here’s a close up of the internal detail, again this was all the kind of detail I was able to explore before I began the actual construction of the final piece.
This is the 1:5 scale model I made on a laser cutter, made out of clear acrylic. At this stage I started to get a realistic idea of how the final piece might look and behave as a real object, and what issues I might need to resolve in its construction, such as how do I join all these layers together neatly, and how will it behave if weight is added to its surface?
Here’s an example of the cutting path I used on the CNC machine to cut 5 of the 26 final layers. As you can see each individual layer has a unique internal structure.
This is a CNC machine, like the one I used to cut my Vessel Table. The CNC cutter takes a shape you have designed in a program such as Autocad and turns it into a series of cutting paths. A CNC machine uses a range of tools to cut programmed shapes onto flat board materials such as MDF or plywood.
Here’s a picture of the finished Vessel Table. In the commercial world, the finished object (or prototype) is only a small part of the work involved in launching a new product. Materials costing, manufacturing processes, marketing and promotion are all hugely important in the creation of a new product. Design is hard work! Be prepared to fight and shed blood, sweat & tears. But the ultimate reward is being able to create a one of a kind thing, which becomes part of your legacy, that is what makes it all worth while.
This is another example of unusual inspiration; I was interested in human hair as a material. It’s very strong and abundant, we use wool and leather (which is essentially the same thing) very commonly as furniture materials and human hair extensions are a huge industry, but unless it’s being used for hair extensions, human hair is considered gross and unhygienic once it’s removed from the head. I was interested in exploring why we thought this way and wondered whether I was able the challenge this way of thinking.
This is the Hair Chair, in which the seat and back are made from human hair. Through this chair I hope people will think about why we have these strange perceptions of human hair as being dirty, gross or creepy. In fact it’s a very strong, renewable, beautiful and interesting material to work with.
A close up of the Hair Chair, showing the woven strands of hair.