Unit 97 - Product Design (Upcycle)

Product Design Process

Product design is the process every new product, that is to be sold by a business, must go through. It is the development of ideas and concepts which eventually leads into the production of a new product. The role of a product designer is to use a combination of art, science and technology to create new products. The development of technology and particularly digital tools has allowed product designers to communicate, visualize and analyze in a way that would of taken much more time and the involvement of more people in the past.

There are various product design processes which focus on many different aspects. The process however has experienced huge advancements with the rise of the 3D printer. The design process is made of three main sections: Analysis, Concept & Synthesis. The process is usually a continuous loop and the last two sections are often revisited depending on the amount of revisions that are made to the product. Feedback is a key component in the design process.

In the initial stages of product design, a business would issue a design brief to the designer/agency.  This brief would include information such as;

1. The requirements of the customer following research.

2. The market for the product (including potential growth trends, pricing range and influencing factors on the market.)

3. Product attributes and specification (including purpose, aesthetics, performance and cost.)

4. Timescale (must be a realistic milestone and take into consideration the complexity of the design process, the amount of teams/people involved in it and the process being used.

A few other things to consider in the brief would be quantity, competition, distribution, size, disposal and patents. A design brief may change throughout the design process, this in turn may have a ripple effect of changes, for example if a material within the product is changed this will affect the manufacturing cost which may also affect the selling price.

Following receipt of the brief the designer would then start phase one of the design process; market research, concept generation and patent developing. This is very much a brain storming process in which the designer will generate ideas based on the findings of their research.

On completion of their initial designs and concepts the designer would then meet with the people involved in the production and manufacturing of the product. The design would be shown to them in order for them to refine any of the components in line with the manufacturing process, develop a 3D model and also produce a prototype which will be subject to many tests.

Once a product has been developed and finalized from the design stage the process is completed with branding (i.e. packaging, brand development), design for manufacturing (i.e. logistics). The product is then, depending on the quantity required, sent into production on a large scale, quality control is an essential component in this final process.

Product Design Brief Analysis

The design brief is an essential part of the product design process, it communicates to the designer from the client exactly what is required. It usually focuses on the required design results rather than aesthetics. The brief is useful for both parties as it allows the client to translate their requirements in a way in which the designer can understand. It ensures any problems and issues are appropriately addressed before the design process begins.  It aims to give a clear outline of the project including deadlines, essentials for the final result, specific colours/materials etc to be used.

There are three examples of product design briefs below, I will analyse the possibilities and constraints to each of these briefs.

1) Clock Design Brief - This brief has a lot of constraints with the dimensions, colours and materials already stated. The brief is very specific in the theme for the design, "Reflect Glasgow old and new" this does not leave much room for the designer to be imaginative. Although there is advantages to the limitations of the brief in that the designer knows exactly what the client is expecting from the product, this could also be problematic for the designer because they may have to limit the creativity of the design in order to create a high quality product to fit all the specifics.

2) Empower Cancer Patient's Brief - This brief is not asking for anything specific it is simply identifying a problem and calling for a solution. It is very open-ended and is available for interpretation. I am not sure if it is asking for a product or service or even something completely different. I think the creative possibilities are endless with this kind of brief. This type of brief does however have it's disadvantages, there are no specifics to what type of product, size, quantity, it also fails to offer any insight as to the location or distribution potential of this idea, is this a local business idea or worldwide?

3) Serving Plate Brief - The brief is very specific. It states the purpose of the product (large scale production), how many components are required, the material in which the product should be made. This brief even states how the client requires the design to be presented (3D digtal models and high resolute rendered images). Although creatively the brief is quite open, the restrictions are clear. This is a product that will be mass-produced, therefore a design that needs to be handmade with intricate work would perhaps not be feasible.

My Product Design Brief

I have created my own design brief specific to the project. This outlines the request that has been given to me as the designer. The brief is neither constraining nor open ended, it has a specific request and some constraints but it is left to me to decided what product I wish to create in line with the brief.

Statement of Intent

I intend to make a product to meet the requirements of the brief "New Life For Old". Having already considered the product I will upcycle I have decided to give a new life to hard backed books. Due to the increasing rise of the digital book, printed books have become less used and are often left sitting on bookshelves. I have therefore decided to incorporate them into the new digital era by using the books themselves as covers for the e-readers/tablets.

I have decided to make an e-reader/tablet cover because they are practical and functional. People of all ages use tablets now therefore I have not limited myself to a specific audience. My product will therefore appeal to a bigger market.

Firstly I will research what exactly up-cycling means and what impact it has on the environment. This will be followed up with research about other successful up-cycling ideas from famous artists and designers, including any primary research. I will then look deeper into the e-book cover idea. including any examples of previously up-cycled hard books and market research. The market research will help me identify my audience more specifically, for example it may show that females prefer thin patterned or floral e-book covers whereas men may prefer a more chunky and plain cover. I will also draw out some sketches to explore the various ways in which I can create my book cover i.e ways in which I will fasten the e-reader inside.

I plan to make the cover from a hardback book which I will cover the inside in craft felt. I will be using elastic to hold the e-reading in place and I will decorate with lace. I will be using glue to stick my felt, elastic and lace as it is both reliable and safe.

My work will be evaluated in a series of crits and discussions with peers and tutor. I will develop on comments made through both of these evaluative processes.

I will plan my time according to deadlines and scheduled assessment reviews. My sessions at college will be spent doing practical work as all of the tools and materials are there, I will do any research and written work at home on my own computer. I aim to keep my costs low in this project and I will hopefully run to time with my final product in line with the brief.

What is Up-cycling?

Up-cycling is the act of using waste materials, useless or broken products and turning them into new items or something of better quality.

The term up-cycling was coined by Reiner Pilz, a German businessman, in an interview regarding demolition waste. The concept was the title of a German book by Gunter Pauli in 1996, it was later incorporated in a book in 2002 by William McDonough and Michael Braungart. In this book they state that up-cycling aims to prevent wasting useful stuff by making use of existing materials.

Most variations of recycling involve taking a product that may be broken, ceased to be useful or simply discarded and turn these into different products.

Recycling and up-cycling reduces the use of raw materials which has a positive affect on environmental issues such as energy use and pollution. Developing countries, such as Africa, where raw materials are expensive, up-cycling has become common practice and they have even started to generate an income from other countries from this. There has been an increase in up-cycling globally due to social media/blogging, websites such as Pinterest are very useful for finding up-cycling projects.

A company called Tarracycle, asks consumers to send in their old food wrappers (they pay for your waste) which they turn into backpacks, notebooks and pencil cases.

Up-cycling has a great impact on the environment and helps preserve resources. For every ton of textiles reused, 20 tons of C02 is prevented from entering the atmosphere. It also promotes creativity and provides time for crafting.

While the environmental benefits of up-cycling are immense so are the social and personal benefits. People who up-cycle and those who purchase up-cycled products get a sense of pride as they contribute positively to the environment, consumers also get a unique item that is handmade.

Although a lot of up-cycled products are both functional and aesthetically pleasing, some products do not turn out this well and therefore they are just still rubbish. If this is the case then are we not just delaying the inevitable of it going in the bin? For example, you may up-cycle something and it may turn out ok, but what happens when you are done with this product? Do you up-cycle it again or throw it away?

I think done for the right reasons and for a positive outcome up-cycling has huge benefits to both designer, consumer and the planet.

Households and business are not the only ones who up-cycle, artists throughout history have been known to re-use items of a more everyday nature in their work. For example, up-cycling could be related to the "Ready Made" series by Marcel Duchamp. This series was a collection of ordinary manufactured objects which he re-positioned and signed to turn them into art work.  Duchamp used his "Ready Made" series to challenge what is and what is not art.

Pablo Picasso created a piece of artwork from a found object in 1942, this was a bulls head made from a seat and handlebars off a bike. Picasso described the art work to a photographer saying "Guess how I made the bull's head? One day, in a pile of objects all jumbled up together, I found an old bicycle seat right next to a rusty set of handlebars. In a flash, they joined together in my head. The idea of the Bull's Head came to me before I had a chance to think. All I did was weld them together... [but] if you were only to see the bull's head and not the bicycle seat and handlebars that form it, the sculpture would lose some of its impact."

Bulls Head (1942) - Pablo Picasso

Simon Rodia created a sculpture using found objects. His towers are a collection of 17 towers interconnected, it took Rodia 33 years to complete. They are made from steel rebar with concrete and wire mesh. They are decorated with porcelain, tile and glass. Neighbouring children brought pieces of pottery to him to incorporate into his structure. Popular green glass drinks bottles i.e. 7 UP can been seen within his sculpture. The towers were constructed single-handedly and he had access to no machines or construction equipment only hand tools.  This piece of art is purely a representation of one mans will to build something sizeable.

Max Zorn is a Dutch artist who uses street lamps to create his art. Armed only with a roll of brown packaging tape and a scalpel he creates beautiful street art in the style of film noir. He has been working on this art since 2011 and it has quickly become a popular. He was inspired by a friend he saw working on car design. He chose street lamps as his background because a lot of art is visible during the day but when night comes there is nothing to be seen. He aimed to create art work visible at night, street lamps of Amsterdam provided him with the perfect setting. His art is unique and so simple in that you only need two materials to create it, a light source and some packaging tape. The detail in his images using just the two materials is astounding.

On a recent visit to East Park in Hull, I came across a beautiful set of sculptures which were created from old pipes, exhausts and other strips of metal. These sculptures were made into working musical instruments. I was very impressed with these sculptures and was hoping to find out more about them. They had a plaque on which stated a website address for the people who made them but the website unfortunately is no longer accessable.

Hardback Book Up-Cycle Research

When looking at my hardback book idea I consulted Pinterest, which is a photo-sharing site that people upload a lot of their craft projects too. This site proved to be very helpful to me in displaying the many different variations of how I can turn a book into an e-book cover. A lot of people appear to of had this idea before me so I was able to see the many different ways in which people covered their books, held their tablets in place and kept their covers closed when not in use. The image below is a screenshot of my Pinterest board specifically dediacated to hardback book e-reader covers.

Further to my research into this idea I decided to conduct some market research regarding e-reader covers, specifically what materials people like them to be made from and also what colours. I produced a survey on SurveyMonkey (a website that allows you to create online surveys to distribute) and asked 20 people to fill it in to allow me to get a good representation of the various demographics. The results of this survey are below:

The results of this survey showed that most people who own tablets/e-readers would choose to have a cover for it. Although most people would prefer to have their cover made from a hard-wearing material such as plastic or rubber, a significant amount also liked the idea of having an eco-friendly/recycled material surrounding their e-reader. The results of the colour question however were not all that definitive. Although most people did prefer to have their cover in basic colours such as black and red a lot of people liked the idea of having something patterned.

The results have proved to be very helpful in that I now know that their is a market for my up-cycled cover and that perhaps with the basic colours of my covers they may be also be quite attractive to those wanting a plain cover.

Further to my research and development of ideas I have drawn out some sketches to show how I plan to fix my e-reader inside the covers. Each design uses a different fastening. I have taken into considering 2D and 3D elements to the design. The colours will be chosen in response to the results of the survey. The shape and size of the product will be chosen in order to fit the purpose (to cover a e-reader).

First E-Reader/Tablet Cover - Test Model

I first started with the full book. I removed the outer sleeve and cut away the pages inside with a craft knife.

NB. Safety note: The craft knife was very sharp I was careful to make sure my free hand was away from the path of the blade. When the knife was not in use I folded it back up.

This then left me with an empty shell. I then covered the inside of the cover with felt and glued this down. I had bought some floral lace to decorate my covers with so I decided to place a strip of this on the inside of the cover to make it more aesthetically pleasing on the inside.

I chose to use the traditional elastic in the corners to secure the e-reader/tablet to the cover. I super glued the elastic to the felt in hopes that it would be strong enough to secure the tablet.

Having completed the inside I then decided to work on the outside as this appeared bland with just the book title on the side. I decided to put a layer of felt along the spine and then overlay this with lace. I think this looks a lot more pleasing to the eye.

Evaluation - I planned to make two covers using this particular process and materials. However, the glue that I used to stick the felt to the book made the felt discoloured when dry. This made the inside of the cover look very low quality. The empty book cover also feels quite fragile. The inside with the elastic straps is very untidy and also does not feel very secure. Overall, this particular way of making the cover is very poor, I was not impressed with the outcome and will not continue with this method on my next design. Although this cover did fit the brief I will look at other ways in which to convert the book to an e-reader cover, particularly the way in which I secure the e-reader inside the cover.

Alternative ways would include - using Velcro tabs on both the cover and tablet, carving pages out of the book so the tablet fits into the pages of the book and create a pouch inside the felt. 

Second E-reader/Tablet Cover

I have decided that with this cover, instead of cutting the pages out I will keep them inside the book and simply stick them together. This will then create a solid mass of pages which I can then carve into the depth of a tablet/e-reader and place the e-reader inside. I started with my book, with front and back cover and pages intact. I then drew around my tablet in order to get the correct size to carve out.

I then mixed a solution of 80% PVA glue and 20% water and washed this over the sides of the book, over the page ends. This was then left to dry under a heavy weight in order to stick the pages together.

The above process was repeated a few times before the pages were fully stuck together. I then used a craft knife to cut into the pages inside the book and pull them out.  I was careful when using the blade and cut slowly so as not to do injury to myself or cut too deep into the book. Once the pages were out I was left with a hollow section inside.

I then brushed the insides of the pages, the exposed page and outside pages with the glue and water solution. Some of the pages still didn't stick so I used some super glue on these particular pages. This then completed my second design.

Evaluation - This process was much easier, less time consuming and also more practical. The cover feels thick and of high quality. The stuck together pages almost have a wooden texture to them with the glue binding them into a chunk. The cover itself is both black and red. The e-reader/tablet sits inside the book perfectly and feels very secure inside, there is no possibility of it falling out as you read. It is comfy to hold and protects the tablet much more. This particular design is also multi-functional and could be used to store many things and not just an e-reader. The outside appearance of the book still appears solid therefore it would sit on a bookshelf as a secret storage compartment. Overall, this design is very good and I am very happy with how it has turned out.

Presentation and Evaluation

Presentation and Feedback

My products were presented to the client on the deadline date. The product was well received and positive feedback was provided regarding the design and quality. The client made a suggestion that they would like to see more of my designs and for me to branch out to all age ranges. This would perhaps be to use a Beatrix Potter hard back book for a young girls cover as the two I have made probably appeal more to an adult audience.

Having taken the feedback into consideration I then went on to make 3 more covers. The first one is made from a children's book (Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events) . Due to the size of this book I was unable to create a e-reader cover out of this one, I therefore decided to cut a gap inside the book that would comfortably fit a smartphone. The second additional book was made from a female romance book, I was particularly drawn to this one as the cover was a vibrant turquoise. This book was also too small to use for an e-reader so I followed the same design as the children's book and decided to use it for a phone instead. Finally, my last design was made from a brown fake leather bound book which would appear to both genders, the book is large enough to house a e-reader.

A further suggestion was made that the client would perhaps like a more personalised book cover. In response to this I was not really sure if the addition of anything to the front cover would be aesthetically pleasing. I thought over this request and even considering not putting something on the cover but on the inside of the cover instead to personalise it a little more. I eventually settled with some simple decorations on the front covers. Nothing too cluttered but enough that it was just a bland book cover anymore.

To the first cover I added some old style music paper, this worked well with the old brown leather cover. The book appears sophisticated and rather mature. I think this one will suit an older audience.The cover looks alot more personalised and I think that it probably looks alot more appealing.

The second was a more feminine book, I had already placed some paper inside the book to decorate it. Further to this, I covered the front in various pretty papers. This cover did not turn out as well as I hoped. The paper slipped around and left gaps, I tried to cover it up but this was a failed attempt. Although the design looks quite abstract and arty, it also appears messy and poorly done. I think the addition of the paper to this cover has decreased the value and marketability severely.

The third and final cover I personalised was my original cover, my favourite. I didn't want to ruin this one in anyway so I simply glued on my floral lace to the front cover. I think this adds to the cover in a very subtle way. I do think however, the addition of this lace has now excluded any potential male buyers thus reducing the chance of selling it by half.

Overall I think the idea to personalise the covers was successful, they no longer look bland. They have character to them now and each individual book cover has it's own story, not just inside but on the outside too. Each of these covers now has a more bespoke feel to it.


In response to my statement of intent I have produced two products that are fitting to the brief supplied. The products are upcycled from everyday objects (hardback books) and are given a new life as a e-reader/tablet cover.

I made a huge change in the middle of the production of my product as my test model did not turn out very well. The quality of the first product was very low, it felt very flimsy and the material and elastic inside looked messy. Once I identified the problems with the first model and then revised the design, the second e-reader cover was of much better quality overall. The subsequent covers were also to a high quality.

The final product and design was very successful, it looks to be made to a high quality and is a lot more functional than my test model. The cut out pages cushion the e-reader/tablet and protect it much better than the original design.

I think my design idea has received a positive response from both tutor and peers and I think the e-reader covers are very marketable in a retail environment. The design is also very flexible in that the space inside the book could be used to store something other than the e-reader.

I have set out everything I intended to do including a series of different e-book covers to cover both genders and age ranges. I have also played around with the design a little more by leaving the top few pages loose and place the e-reader more to the center of the book. If I had a little more time on this project, I would also of consider using bigger books to make covers for the larger tablets.

I have worked independently on this project and with little input from tutors I have created 4 products befitting to the brief. The quality of my work has been high and I have followed my given brief to the best of my ability.

This unit has been helpful in that I now understand the product design process. I have learnt how to analyse and create my own product design brief.

Overall I found this project very hard, I didn't really understand how to approach this unit. I think given the opportunity to re-visit this specific type of design again I would probably decline. Although it was useful for me to see product design briefs, to analyse them and also to create my own. I felt that the other parts to the project were too technical, especially the product design process.