David Rockwell and Surface Magazine's The Diner installation was a crowd favorite at this year's Milan Design Week. Housed in the empty warehouses of Ventura Centrale, Rockwell Group in collaboration with design studio 2x4 were one of the few exhibitors to completely transform the blank, concrete canvas they were given into a completely new environment. In this case, the new environment was a fully operational pop-up restaurant celebrating classic American Diners. Diners are a very specific type of environment to choose as a focus point for an entire installation, so we asked Rockwell to speak about his thoughts on diners and why they are so important to design.

Image by Michele de CandiaCore77: So, why diners?

David Rockwell: Well, this is Surface Magazine's 25th anniversary, and they approached us about creating an installation in Milan. So much of the work that inspires us is the intersection of hospitality and theater. Diners are amazing because they, as an archetype or image, have been part of culture for a long time and have survived many different interpretations. They are very durable and optimistic concept because they're about welcoming everyone. Diners historically have been inclusive, multi-generational places—they're the epitome of a certain kind of American optimism.

Image by Michele de Candia

They also represented,...

During the madness that is Milan Design Week, Lexus gave the public a space to meditate and refocus their thoughts. Set this year in the Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia's Cavallerizze buildings, the sixth edition of the Lexus Design Awards focused around the prefix "Co-". With an impressive 1,319 entries from more than sixty countries, designers were asked to focus on the keyword and its inclusive meaning but first and foremost on the catalyst potential of design for empowerment and social change.

However, Lexus was not only challenging emerging talent to reflect on the notion of 'Co-', but also commissioning Japanese architect Sota Ichikawa of dNA (doubleNegatives Architecture) to design the exhibition. Creating a dramatic and immersive installation stimulating all five senses, Ichikawa takes you on a sensorial journey through almost pitch black rooms, where you are invited to clear your mind and focus. After a lollipop of Bergamot, Licorice and crackling candy, specially created for the event by culinary designers Altatto (Giulia Scialanga, Sara Nicolosi and Cinzia De Lauri), you then enter into the last part of the show. Made up of 12'000 hanging strings that were each individually lit up by a single, central laser, this part of the installation aimed to symbolize, with poesy, that, "no one should be left in the shadows".

In front of store on Spring Street in lower Manhattan, we see this object.

A hole has been bored into the side of it to admit a chain. The chain is attached to the bracket holding the on/off lock for the roll-down gate.

The top of this object has been tightly covered in gaffer's tape, to prevent passersby from filling it with trash. Even so, someone has tossed a discarded tissue on top of it. 

They had a dirty tissue, couldn't be bothered to wait until reaching the trash can at the corner, saw this thing, and dropped their tissue on top of it. Also, if you zoom in you can see someone has stuffed their cigarette butt into the hole that admits the chain. This is why I don't like people.

So: Any guesses as to this object's function?

I understand that you don't want your smoothie messing up your moustache, but plastic drinking straws are stupid. They're not recyclable, and it's absurd to use something once that then gets thrown away. Drinking straws are easily carried off of garbage piles by the wind, so it's no surprise that they wind up in the ocean, where aquatic creatures choke on them.

The UK is mulling a plastic straw ban; one estimate has them responsible for placing 8.5 billion straws in the trash each year. The U.S. is of course far worse--we go through 500 million straws a day--and thankfully U.S. cities like Seattle, Miami and Malibu are banning restaurants from distributing them.

Then there's FinalStraw, a folding, cleanable metal straw that might sound like a silly product design, but which has far-reaching potential:

Incredibly, and hearteningly, at press time FinalStraw had netted $433,823 in pledges on a piddling $12,500 goal! And there's still 25 days left in the campaign.

[If you missed Part 1 of this interview, it's here.]

Jonathan Ward is talking about old-school custom car styling shops. "If you were a baller in the 1920s, '30s or '40s," he explains, "you didn't go buy a Cadillac. You bought a Cadillac, and you sent it to one of the boys, and they built a custom vehicle just for you on that platform."

Ward is, in the modern day, one of the boys. He's got the same unerring sense of aesthetic as a Giuseppe Figoni or either of the Bertones--but he's also got access to 21st-century manufacturing technology and materials sciences, and the benefits of learning from the past hundred years' worth of engineering advancements. He can create vehicles far tougher than anything that came out of a 20th-century factory, which is important given the company's 4x4 roots; Icon's vehicles are not meant to be shown off at car shows (though that may happen). They are meant for you to beat the hell out of them.

Another thing that informs Ward's designs is that he's thought the user experience through very carefully: What happens if my client throws a connecting rod in Bahrain?...

In order to maximize free space, the photo studio I run on the side contains almost no furniture. Different crews fill the space with different things, from racks of clothing for a catalog shoot to tons of lighting equipment for a documentary interview. And sometimes they build small sets in there. So space is at a premium.

However, one thing the studio badly needed was a table. Something big enough for a crew of four to eat lunch on (far as I can tell, the models don't eat lunch, or any meals at all), and big enough for a product photographer to spread items across.

I wasn't going to buy one of those plastic folding banquet tables because I am trying to lower my plastic usage. But fortunately a crew recently built some backdrops, and after they left I salvaged all the 2x4s they intended to throw away. So I got to experiment with building this thing, which I wanted to try for a while.

The form factor is designed around the hardware; I had a crapload of butt hinges from an old project that I dismantled. (The white paint you see on them throughout these photos is from that project, a defunct tool cabinet.)

This project uses 12 butt hinges in total.

This is the best of what good industrial design has to offer. The Paperpot Transplanter, a Japanese invention for farmers, lets one person do in minutes what ordinarily takes an hour:

Transplanting with the Paperpot Transplanter from Permaculture Voices on Vimeo.

As cool as that tool is, what's even more impressive is how the designers thought through the loading process. This is a great example of harnessing the properties of materials--in this case, paper and Plexiglass--and shaping them in such a way as to make what would be a tedious task into something precise and easy:

Starting Seeds from Permaculture Voices on Vimeo.

This thing makes me want to farm. I want to sit in a shed and load that thing up over and over.

Here in Part 2 of his series on Bondo basics, industrial designer Eric Strebel shows you how you can use polyester body filler to go straight from sketching to hands-on, to create complex 3D forms for prototyping.

If you don't have access to a 3D printer, or prefer the tactility of shaping an object by hand--as all designers once did--this is a great way to go, as you can make changes on the fly without having to edit the file and wait for the print all over again.

Strebel also gives you a bunch of his signature tips, from the application of glazing putty, to how to form smooth fillets, to using Bondo to bond Bondo to Bondo (never thought I'd type that!).

From corporate to freelance to side hustle to small, energetic company, Steph Hoff has experienced just about every type of workplace culture through her career. Her innate sense of style and a savvy awareness of street culture give her a unique lens that she uses to filter and focus corporate initiatives into provocative campaigns. 

Through it all Hoff has stayed true to herself by making career decisions based on her personal interests. She's worked across Canada and the US with companies including Aritzia, Topshop, M5 Showroom, Hudson's Bay Company, and The Creator Class, and moved between both coasts, urban areas and rural organic farms. She founded her own homeware collections under the brand name of Credo, creating handmade quilts on commission. Today Hoff lives in New York and works as Creative Director for Canadian outerwear brand Moose Knuckles, and occasionally taking a quilt commission on the side.

We sat down with Hoff to get a run-through of her career, and along the way learned some valuable lessons about maintaining your own individuality while working in any type of environment.

How did you get your start in the fashion industry?

Steph Hoff with a few of her quilts from the Credo collection (photo credit Luis Mora)

When I was first starting out, I fantasized about working for Aritzia, which is a women's fashion brand based in Vancouver. I thought that working for them...

When it comes to making models, few materials are as diverse (and yes, smell as bad) as Bondo. It sets up quickly, can easily be machined and shaped and sticks to just about anything.

Here industrial designer Eric Strebel kicks off his series on Bondo's basics, demonstrating how he mixes, tints and molds it, what it can (and can't) be applied to, and how he does it. There's also some good backstory on the stuff.

Joseph Herscher never ceases to amaze with his Rube Goldberg contraptions, and this is without a doubt the most inventive one he's done so far. It involves danger, babies, fluids, open flame, butter…ah, you get the idea, just watch it:

How does he come up with this stuff?

Remember MycoWorks, the company that developed leather that can be grown from mushroom roots? Now another company, Bolt Threads, has also cracked that biomaterials mystery and is bringing out its own version.

Called Mylo, the offering from Bolt--a company that got its start by developing synthetic spider silk--appears to be created using the same method as MycoWorks', and of course offers the same environmental benefits:

Mycelium is the underground root structure of mushrooms. It grows as tiny threads that form vast networks under the forest floor. We developed Mylo™ from mycelium cells by creating optimal growing conditions for it to self-assemble into a supple, sustainable material that looks and feels remarkably like animal leather. Mylo™ can be produced in days versus years, without the material waste of using animal hides.

Bolt's production methods were developed in collaboration with mycelium-minded Ecovative, who we last saw at the Biofabricate conference. The material they've come up with is strong, abrasion-resistant, can be imprinted with a variety of patterns and its overall dimensions, including thickness, can be controlled.

Mylo will first be shown to the public this Saturday, as the constituent material of a Stella-McCartney-designed bag to be shown at the Victoria and...

The Hyperqube is a modular cubistic lighting system out of glass. The LED light engine is dimmable via App or DALI. The modularity offers countless possibilities in color, size and form. The hyperqube is a pendant and floor light which can be customized for interior projects in restaurants, hotels and everywhere else.

View the full project here

Today I had the opportunity to chat with a customer about dovetail saws, and he asked me the same question that I get all the time: what makes one saw better than another? Of course, since TFWW makes the Gramercy Dovetail saw, I have a pony in this race. We're lucky to live in a time in which people have a lot of good choices. There are many great modern makers of dovetail and backsaws. I know a lot of thought went into the Gramercy Tools dovetail's design, so I end up talking a bit about those features, and what they mean to woodworkers.

We tout our saw's high hang handle and its light weight, which makes it easier to saw straight. This isn't a useful feature for anyone who has spent a lot of time with other designs and has learned to saw straight accordingly. The Gramercy Tools  Dovetail Saw has the smallest handle on the market, but we think it helps with the sawing. It's rare that anyone has an issue when using the normal three fingered grip - most people find it very comfortable, just different than what they expected. A review in the woodworking press noted the small size of the handle as if it were self-evidently bad, which I found very frustrating. The handle isn't cramped or uncomfortable to use. It would be a shame if this...

Every designer's dream is to create the exact object they envision, unhindered by accountants, marketers and planned obsolescence. Industrial designers among you, think of every project you've worked on where the best engineering and materials were prohibitively expensive; the style needed to be compromised to appeal to a market you had no interest in; and the object couldn't be too durable, because the company needed the customer to come back and buy a new one in five years.

Jonathan Ward has found a way to sidestep these obstacles and, as far as I can tell, he gets to live his dream over and over again. 

Each year Ward and his company, Icon, produce several dozen obsessively-executed four-wheeled design objects with vintage style and 21st-century technology, created from a Bill of Materials so uncompromising that any CFO would march down to your office to have the pleasure of firing you in person. 

Ward's CFO is his wife Jamie, and thus far his job is safe. Twenty years ago the two of them started TLC, a Land Cruiser repair and restoration center that's now the largest in the country. Ten years ago they formed Icon, where Ward could satisfy his urge to create new vehicles precisely the way he wanted to create them, absent compromises. He fixates on every last component...

We're two days into Milan Design Week, and although we haven't hit the big shows yet, we've discovered plenty of smaller wonders within or near La Brera and Ventura Centrale, ranging from wooden marionettes made from chairs to electric vehicle sketches:

"Giants with Dwarf" for horgenglarusPanda GiantAffe GiantBiene Giant

Swedish furniture company, horgenglarus dug into their archive to create Giants with Dwarf, an installation filled with gigantic wooden marionette creatures designed by Stephen Hürlemann. When looked at closely, visitors notice that each critter is assembled with horgenglarus chairs from the past. The creatures move when the giant wooden rings sitting in front of each one are gently pulled on. If you're going to destroy furniture dating as far back as 1880, at least turn it into giant pandas, bees and monkeys.

nendo for Atelier SwarovskiAtelier Swarovski by nendo's 'Softpond' collection only uses one piece of material per item Atelier Swarovski by nendo 'Softpond' collectionAtelier Swarovski by Nendo 'Tangent' Collection

One of the hurdles that virtual reality designers face, in trying to bring their Ready Player One immersive worlds to fruition, isn't virtual; it's physical. It's to do with the fact that VR headsets currently require a physical tether, and that the wearer cannot stray far from that tether. Even if the tether eventually disappears, there is the larger problem of mobility: How can someone walk around limitlessly in a virtual world, when in reality they're in an arcade?

The designers of Hologate, a VR shoot-'em-up game I played at the World's Fair Nano, solved this by placing you in a relatively small fortified position--imagine standing atop a circular castle battlement--while virtual enemies came in from all sides. You could physically circle and sidestep in real life within this limited space and it was convincing in the game. However, I can see it getting boring over time.

Another developer of a horror game in Japan tackled the mobility problem by placing the gameplayer in an actual wheelchair. Within the game, your character is correspondingly confined to one that is motorized, providing the illusion of rolling around within this world while not actually moving in real life. Clever, but still a band-aid.

The answer would be to create an omnidirectional treadmill. A company called Infinadeck is working on one, and their approach is interesting:

Explanatory video:

This is an awful story that automotive designers should take note of.

On Tuesday afternoon last week, 16-year-old student Kyle Plush went to his minivan in the parking lot of his Ohio high school to retrieve some tennis gear. He never returned. 

Around 9pm that night his father, looking for him, located the minivan. Plush was dead inside, having suffocated.

Plush's car was a 2004 Honda Odyssey. The third row of seats in that car are designed to fold backwards into a storage position. This illustration produced by a Cleveland news organization explains what happened:

Just awful. Even worse is that Plush managed to reach his phone and made two 911 calls, connecting both times, yet officers never found him due to a bizarre confluence of events.

This does not appear to be a common cause of death, and one could argue that there's simply no way the designers could have foreseen such a freak accident; but now that it's happened, all automotive designers working on similar features ought be made aware of it.

Reuters reports that the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has contacted Honda and "will take appropriate action based on its review."

We're publishing a third and final excerpt from Brutally Honest: No Bullshit Business Strategies to Evolve Your Creative Business, the "tell it like it is" career advice book specifically catered to designers. Written by Emily Cohen, the book compiles honest business insights and strategies the seasoned design consultant has been preaching to design firms over the years. The book's campaign ends tomorrow, April 18th, so if you find yourself wanting more, now's the time to hit that pledge button on Kickstarter.

This excerpt goes over how to write the perfect cover letter for various recipients, ranging from existing contacts to from a conference speaker you admired:


Cover Letters— Content Examples

The following are very generic examples of the first and last paragraphs for a variety of different types of cover letters. Obviously, the final versions should be further customized (or entirely re-written) to reflect your firm's unique voice and personality as well as your relationship/knowledge of the recipient.

These examples are meant for inspiration only.


Existing contact whom you haven't spoken to in a while (over 6 months)


Since it has been awhile since we last worked together/spoke, I wanted to reconnect. We really enjoyed working with you on [XXX] project and continue to be very proud of what we...