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2011-03-23 Screwdriver Interaction Lab 001

I knew coming to Umeå Institute of Design would be hard work, and, well, it is! (Excuse the exhausted expression, I’ve just finished the weekly volleyball match and returned to UID at 12am to wire up my electric screwdriver for interim presentation – yeah so it’s not all hard work, but at least that’s why this blog went a tad quiet…)


Obviously this blog has missed out on my attention for a fair while, but I am still alive and kicking, and do intend to revive it in good time.

Where I’ve Been

I’ve never been so busy and so inspired at the same time, so simply the chaff has taken the cut. I’m currently squeezing in volleyball, learning Swedish, and some good nights with friends, but not this blog as well. And now barbeques are fighting for the remaining minutes, but at least the midnight sun makes more time!

In terms of my studies, it’s going great. I’ve developed my skills massively, and had a hell of lot of fun along the way. I’ve loved every single project, and this final project for the year is just as exciting. I’ve worked on a mail delivery vehicle for the Swedish postal service, an interaction/sound/light design project which is currently submitted for a competition, a realistic-for-manufacturing electric screwdriver, and now a home-monitoring system for asthmatics.

My Spring 2011 portfolio is hot off the press and available for viewing at alastairwarren.com, so you can check out the projects there.

What I’m Up To Now

So it’s now one month to go, before another awesome chapter to fill in. I’m taking a year away for internships, returning in August 2012. The details are yet to be decided, but no doubt it’ll be a blast and I’ll have the opportunity to live and work in some pretty exciting places. It boggles my mind that I’ve been away from home for 11 months now and it’s only just beginning.

In reality I expect to fire this blog back up in about September, so until then, ha det bra!

Cheers, Alastair

First Real Snow!

Took some cool photos during the weekend so just wanted to show them off!

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2010-10-23 Umea First Snow 051

More after the jump.

sketching, saunas, and snow…. and the Tap is done.

After about eight weeks Umea feels like home and it’s awesome. We’ve finished the first project and are now halfway through our crash course on Alias, and beginning our term project in just over a week. It’s been a few weeks since an update but I’ll be doing my best to post more often as we move into this term project.


WATER TAP PROJECT: DONE!Final Image B - cropped for blog

I’m stoked with how this project came out, both with the final result and that I actually finished everything I wanted to on time. That’s probably a first for me at design school, and a skill I learnt from a year working.

The tap project was a whole lot of fun, we didn’t have a brief to guide us and were encouraged to just let loose sketching and modelling. We also weren’t allowed to use a computer until the final poster layout, it was a nice change of process overall.

Going In

Going into this project I really wanted to focus on visually logical semantics. By this I meant designing mechanics for controlling the tap that intuitively made sense with how people expect the mechanics to actually work. For example by pulling a handle upwards and enlarging the spout opening, it seems to make sense that the water flow would increase.

I also wanted to create an honest design that avoided any misuse of materials, unnecessary technology, or gimmicks.


We started with a two-ish hour group research stage, with my area of focus being how water is used differently throughout the world. Basically my take-away from the research stage was water is universally associated with wellbeing, cleansing, health, balance, and calm. This was an initial direction for me, and furthering these positive aspects I also aimed to create a sense of delight from using the tap.


We really took a very loose approach to the design process with the tap, with my approach basically being sketch, model, sketch, model, and see what happens. I think I’m pretty methodical in my approach so I enjoyed just running with my thoughts instead and relying on this to solve any problems. This is also how I stumbled across my final direction.

Along the way I took inspiration from nature (leaves, waterfalls, rivers, bamboo etc.), from the concept of how a tap is really a valve holding off strong pressure/plugging a hole, and I kept moving back to this focus on logical movements. Along the way I also really tried to tie in a soap dispenser, because it seems almost everyone has a pretty nice tap on their basin, and then just a cheap plastic soap dispenser, and it seems a waste (and wasted opportunity). Unfortunately I just couldn’t make it work without compromising the aesthetics and ease of use of the final design, this is perhaps one area I didn’t truly finish—I still think there is a good solution I haven’t figured out yet.

Here’s a summary of my process from where my previous post left off:





2010-09-23 UID APD1 Tap Presentation 009

After making the second mock-up in clay it became clear it looked a lot better with no top piece at all, so that set me off on the challenge of still integrating a nice intuitive movement. Eventually it ended returning to a top piece that retracted inside when turned off.



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I’m really happy with the final outcome. It’s a reasonably conventional form factor except that the control lever is pushed into the base to turn the tap off.

To turn it on the user simple taps the retracted piece and it pops out and begins flowing at a medium water flow setting. This flow setting can be adjusted by the user (access to adjustment is inside the basin), but the intention is this means people immediately get the flow setting they prefer to wash their hands with, which is what the tap is used for 90% of the time. It can be adjusted for other needs by simply sliding the lever further up and down, and rotating to either side to increase the warmth (from cold – for a New Zealand market tap cold water is fine for hand washing, and more energy-efficient).

I’m particularly happy with the action of turning off the tap, in that it has a very visual action – you see the tap being plugged. I think the sliding motion also successfully accomplishes this intention of visual semantics, one can imagine sliding the lever up and down is increasing the opening in the valve to allow more water flow. I also hope controlling the tap gives a feeling of satisfaction – it is a very tactile movement.

As for the aesthetics, I think it achieves my goal of a clean, balanced design, it’s not trying to be anything more than an elegant dispenser of a wonderful resource.

apd1_final1c_alastair_alwa0008 for blog

2010-09-29 Clay Model in Photo Studio 006 for blog

2010-09-23 UID APD1 Tap Presentation 072

So that’s my project—if anyone’s read this far I’d love to hear some feedback and criticism!


Tap Pub

We hosted an exhibition pub on Friday so everyone could come and have a gander at what we’ve been up to. Nice way to bring on the weekend.

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2010-10-01 UID Tap Pub 021

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2010-10-01 UID Tap Pub 123



Right now we’re halfway through an intensive course on a software package called Alias, which is the industry standard for designing cars, and is also one of the main packages used in industrial design (Rhino is the other main software for surface modelling). It’s good fun, although a seriously buggy program and a test of patience until you accept it. Really though I just want to find out what we’re doing for the term project and get into it!



Right now things are reasonably relaxed with the Alias course, so we’ve had plenty of barbeques, parties, saunas, and so on. I’ve joined the gym here which apparently is the biggest single complex gym in Western Europe, it is amazing (and also cheap). The indoor beach volleyball courts will be keeping us sane in winter…Speaking of which, it’s now snowed a couple of times, and is getting seriously cold. Expecting –8°C tomorrow night and some days don’t hit positives. Looking forward to my snowboard arriving!

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Ume River (Umeälven). This is further down from our campus.

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Marco’s birthday fika.

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Jiawei’s tea fika. (Yep we do a lot of fikas.)

Cheers for reading.

Flying Tron Bikes and Bathroom Taps

So we started getting down to business this week, getting into our semantic water tap project. I’ve really enjoyed the sketching and am already seeing a pretty decent improvement I think.

Tomorrow we’re getting into the clay concept modelling which will be good fun. We spent a while last week just getting familiar with the clay, it’s called Kolb Grey Clay and is a softer, quicker alternative to automotive brown clay. It’s good for smaller scale objects and quick models, versus the more refined models the transport kids create with brown clay, which are better for assessing surfaces and making final models.

Here’s my very first sketches from the tap project:

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2010-09-10 Umea - Sketching, Bikes, Saab in Workshop 012

And a couple of days later:

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2010-09-10 Umea - Sketching, Bikes, Saab in Workshop 007

Really enjoying the sketching and there’s so much inspirational work happening around here. Can’t wait to look back in another few weeks and months.


Life Drawing

Today we had a student organised life drawing class, here’s 45mins of my first attempt ever. Think it came out ok except for the creepy dark faced girl, where I thought shading out my mistakes might help…


Things Get Serious: The Cardboard Machine “Race”

2010-09-03 Umea Icarus Bike 012

Me explaining the extremely methodical development of Icarus, our Tron bike with flapping wings…

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Unfortunately the handles weren’t strong enough to move the beast, as it turned out. Plan B in action.


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This was my favourite machine, the only one that really met the difficult brief. By alternately stepping on two different plates this thing actually walked forward, and pretty quickly if you were keen.


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Spot the Kiwi. Wearing the good old singlet and shorts (no one wears shorts), Anton’s from Massy University as well, but the Albany campus. He’s starting MA Transport, and a damn fine sketcher.

First photo by Jiawei Zhang from my class and the rest by Erik Rydell from MA Interaction 2.


A few other bits and bobs about what we’ve been up to:

2010-09-10 Umea - Sketching, Bikes, Saab in Workshop 003

Someone borrowed the new Saab from the dealership and parked it downstairs a couple of days ago. Rumors went through the building and half the school came down to give it a good critique. Personally I liked a lot of the details but it felt a bit slab sided and almost SUV-like from the bulky front. It seemed the transport guys liked it a lot and considered it well proportioned, whereas the product guys weren’t so convinced. The LED lighting that refracted along some plastic strips at the back was a favourite touch with everyone.


2010-09-06 Umea Football 028 cropped

A bit of casual footy to break up the day, snapped by my classmate Simon Fredriksson. We’ve also had an awesome night of beach volleyball on the lake that’s here. Luckily we’ve got a huge gym here (which is apparently the biggest in Western Europe!) so we can move there for beach volleyball once the snow starts.


2010-09-02 Umea Lake 002

We had a leaving barbeque for someone heading off on internship, this was the spot for it! Amazing.

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2010-09-01 Umea Lake BBQ from Eric 107

Was a good night and cool to meet the second year and BA students. These last two pics were again snapped by Erik Rydell.


So this week we start on the clay tap models, and also have our workshop course and the university sports day. Should be good and busy.

Also if you thought Theo Jansen’s work from my last post was interesting, I stumbled across this TED Talks video of him which is seriously 100x more amazing:

Cheers for reading.

One Week In

In summary: awesome.

This place is amazing. Sure Umeå’s near the arctic circle and has no sunlight in winter, but we’ve got students from 29 countries and I’ve never been anywhere with such a buzz in the air. Such a cheerful, motivated and talented bunch of students and teachers, we finally got cracking into a short project today. Right now we’re doing a get-to-know-everyone exercise building human powered “walking” machines from cardboard… Inspired from the following incredible work by Theo Jansen, and Ben Hopson, who has invented a field of design called “Kinetic Design”, and is over here advising us through the exercise.

So that’s due this Friday, working with people from all of the courses here.

Here’s a quick glimpse of UID (the Umeå Institute of Design) itself:

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Here’s our shared studio of Advanced Product Design 1 & 2 and Transport Design 1 & 2 (it stretches around the corner). Some of my APD1 classmates in the photo.

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The view out the windows is over Umeå river, sort of unfortunately we’ve got a 7 story design museum being built right in front of us, as the campus is being turned into a full fledged “art campus”. Below is the new architecture school, starting this year. Absolutely everyone bikes here, it’s awesome. That’s maybe half the bikes of mostly the UID building.

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Back inside we’ve got the atrium, where it’s pretty much compulsory to take fika breaks throughout the day, both staff and students. Fika roughly translates to sitting down and chatting over a coffee.

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Next is the corridor leading to our studio, with the epic work of last year’s class on the wall. Nick’s is in there top-right, plenty to live up to on those posters!

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And last but certainly not least, the enormous 5 axis router, complete with a tiny car model. Can’t wait to use the beast and also see what the transport guys create with it. It’s big enough to cut full size cars!

And here’s the city:

2010-08-26 Umea 001

Having just left a sunburnt stay in Paris, finding an ice sculpture on arrival wasn’t promising. Apparently it’s unseasonally bad weather and an early Autumn, but today we finally had a morning of sunlight before the cold and rain showers arrived. Most days are about 10°C, and it’s beanie and gloves weather at night.

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The city centre. The main street is pedestrian and bike only.

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The Swedish burger chain advertises it’s carbon footprint for everything. These burgers are special low-carbon options. Here considering the environment isn’t some sort of afterthought or feel-good option, it’s just day to day life. A pretty cool perspective to have.

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Looking into the city centre. For 75 000 people, the city just disappears in the trees from some angles.

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The cycleway I take into uni every day.

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The Swedish way of arriving for opening of the new Umeå train station.

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The Swedish Queen (in pink) and King (behind the pedestal), and some awesome dude having a blast holding up the sign (far right).

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I think this is the Umeå Symphony Orchestra. But more importantly they’re playing Star Wars, and a few songs later they play one of the Bond themes. Sounds so cool with a full orchestra cranking!

So that’s it so far. This walking-machine project is no doubt going to have a hilarious ending (it’s a race), then we really get going into a clay-based form project for the next 4 weeks. We’re designing a tap with a focus on semantics according to the rumors.

Cheers and hope that’s interesting! From now on it’ll be more about the work we’re doing.