Pamela Troyer – Emily Carr University
An ultra versatile, gem inspired structure with the ability to expand over surfaces using a dual purpose magnetic / electric connection. This product is a lightweight feature piece with the ability to achieve grand proportions from a few distinct points, whether symmetrically or asymmetrically, small or large.
Done under the instruction of Christian Blyt (Associate Professor of Industrial Design, Emily Carr University), with technological help from Thomas Martin (TKM Solutions), and photography by Lorea Sinclaire.
We didn't see this as a product so much as a bespoke design for installation in retail environments or large exhibition spaces. We were attracted to the crystallisation references and the idea that the light's components grow organically according to the whims of the user. We were concerned that it would be very expensive and that the panels on which it is mounted are too site-specific and inflexible. Its decorative attributes are appealing but its functionality as a light is questionable.
1. Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the challenge posed to you? Did it get you excited and why?
It's difficult not to get excited about a project that begins as self directed! There were a few potential problem spaces I wanted to tackle here: to develop a light that would suit unique architecture in a range of public spaces including ignored spaces like alcoves, entranceways and back spaces. To create a design devoid of visible cords or electrics for aesthetic and safety reasons, and to make something fundamentally playful that could be reconfigurable over time so as not to induce boredom. Another important aspect I was to consider is the product's assembly, the design was intended to be fun to put together!
2. What point of view did you bring to the challenge? Was there anything additional that you wanted to achieve with this project or bring to this project that was not part of the original brief?
There were many things that evolved from the brief, what ended up being the most exciting was analyzing the assembly of the product from the most minute detail in manufacture to the finished pieces working together as a whole. For example, the connector points are derivatives of magnetic purse snaps which have been sanded to a brushed finish and were at first not intended for conductivity in manufacture. Working with both the polarity of rare earth magnets and LED's simultaneously meant working with the laws of probability- for example, if a piece doesn't work one way, it will work on the other face of the same piece. It was these sorts of details that led me to an obsession with connectivity, conductivity and how to describe polarity visually.
3. When designing this project, whose interests did you consider? (Discuss various stakeholders, audiences, retailing, manufacturing, assembly, distribution, etc., for example.)
I believe I considered manufacture and assembly most strongly, for example the cost of materials is actually quite low. The lack of investment in one area allows funds to be allocated to production. Because this takes up the majority of the cost, the pieces can then be produced locally both to avoid outsourcing labor and to oversee quality. In the realms of assembly great care was taken to provide a product which someone could assemble cold - without any background knowledge of how things work. This goal led me to create detailed instruction booklets that do not depend on language besides visual cues and to take great care in the labelling of corresponding parts.
4. Describe the rigor that informed your design. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) If this was a strictly research or strategy project, please provide more detail here.
Materials research was done at the beginning of the project, but this distance from the subject matter was not nearly as useful as materials testing in the later stages of the project. In other words, finding out that things don't work as one expects and searching for valid ways of fixing material flaws became, quite understandably, crucial. 3D iteration was done primarily with low resolution materials like paper while developing the interior electronic circuits alongside. This was done with assistance from an electrician specializing in led's and installations (Thomas Martin). In the end four different types of LED's had been tested for light quality, brightness and diffusion. While Tyvek was the eventual material chosen for the outer shell, varying translucencies, thicknesses and material compositions were explored for resistance to heat, durability, sheen and luminosity. User testing was conducted both formally and informally along the way. Formally, a group of people (patrons, owners and staff) associated with a higher end bistro in Vancouver leant their time to test the product and give valuable feedback. This group of about ten people was chosen because of their connection to the perceived target user group, and of course due to a willingness to participate. The value of this encounter cannot be understated - it led to major changes in the outer shell and interior circuitry, but validated the aesthetic and fundamental aspects of the project (ie. its ergonomics, and mode of operating.)
5. What is the social value of your design? (Gladdening, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, labor-mindful, environmental, cultural, etc.) How does it earn its keep in the world?
The most important way this design earns its keep is through playfulness. The use of the magnetic / electric connection brings a sense of satisfaction, accomplishment and magic as the pieces illuminate and grow off of one another. This playfulness is also apparent when one considers the concept of dimming - there cannot be a more analog way to dim a light fixture than to literally remove fully formed crystals of light, and save them for their later replacement. In this respect the product functions as a conceptual model for how we use light fixtures in our day to day life. Aside from a sense of joy in assembly, the product is paradigm shifting as it not only makes use of emerging led technology but brings forward the polarity of the internal diodes without attempting to hide the positive and negatives as if they were something to be ashamed of. In this sense, the product is educational as it shows that it is in a way, allowed, to admit the type of technology that inhabits the aesthetic shell it dwells in. Finally, the product is sustainable in that it makes use of low voltage, long lasting led's (approximately 50,000 hours) and minimal materials compared to standard incandescent or fluorescent bulbs while generating almost no heat.
6. If you could have done one thing differently with the project, what would you have changed?
I would have done user testing earlier, for this led to the greatest advancements in physical form and conceptual validation. At the time formal user testing was completed, the timeline of the project was well into its closing stages in accordance to the school year. This is not to say, of course, that the project will not advance in the future based on conclusions drawn from this event.