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product design

Talkin’ Toys with Kidrobot Founder Paul Budnitz

paul_budnitz

ARTGIANTS4FootDunnyArtist, designer, author, filmmaker, entrepreneur, creator of stunning titanium bikesPaul Budnitz is a man of many talents, but he is best known as the founder of Kidrobot. More than a decade after its founding, the company’s ever-changing family of limited-edition art toys ranges from blind-boxed, collect-them-all figures to a high-gloss uberDunny that stands four feet tall–and will set you back $5,000.

Budnitz returns to his toy design roots with a new twist on the DIY Munnys that remain among Kidrobot’s top sellers: on October 16, Skillshare will launch his “Beautiful Plastic” online class in toy design. We seized the moment to ask Budnitz how he got his start, the first toy he designed, and what toys have caught his eye lately.

How did you get started designing toys?
In 2001 I fell in love with some very early Michael Lau toys that I saw in Hong Kong. And almost simultaneously, discovered that Bounty Hunter was making toys in Tokyo. I thought they were beautiful–a perfect combination of pop-art, design, pop culture–just these amazing little sculptures. Because they were all limited edition, when they sold out they were gone forever. That made them precious. I founded Kidrobot in 2002 to make toys with my friends, mostly street artists and designers and graphic artists.

Do you remember the first toy you ever designed?
I think the first toy was actually Dunny, with Tristan Eaton. I have to credit him with the brilliance of that toy, he is one of the greatest illustrators alive in my opinion. We spent about a year on it (I think) trying to get the design right. The idea was to make it the best canvas possible for other people to draw on. That is why the face is so big and flat and round. It’s also got attitude. We put one foot in front of the other, and cut the shoulders at an angle, so when the head turns in looks a little menacing. It’s still Kidrobot’s most popular toy.

What is your toy design pet peeve?
I left Kidrobot several years ago to work on my bicycle company and do some other things, since I just felt like it was time for me to move on. I love the company, but it is difficult for me to see the direction it has taken. I know that the people over there are working to renew some of the original spark and originality. I encourage them to do so.

To me it’s sad when great things get watered down and become obvious and corporate. Creating magic through design is difficult to maintain!
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Beautiful Plastic: Creating a Great Designer Toy

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Hold on to your Dunnys and Munnys, design fans, because Kidrobot founder Paul Budnitz is making time in his new life as a maker of beautiful bicycles to guide Smorkin’ Labbit lovers–and anyone else who is interested–through the process of creating a great designer toy. Budnitz has signed on to teach “Beautiful Plastic: Creating a Great Designer Toy,” an online course that launches October 16 through Skillshare.

“The goal of the class is to help artists sketch their own toy,” Budnitz tells us. “I talk about the basic history of designer toys, since it’s important to know the medium in which you’re working. There’s also a discussion about appropriation and juxtaposition, two elements of design that are found in most good art (and toys), and some ideas of how to apply this to your own toy.” And of course, he’ll offer plenty of pointers on how to design and draw a toy, with an eye to getting it off the page and into into production.
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Watch: Rich Brilliant Willing on Ideas, Collaboration, and Avoiding Fisticuffs

As the talented and exceedingly charming gentleman of Rich Brilliant Willing (a.k.a. Theo Richardson, Charles Brill, and Alexander Williams) head across the pond for the London Design Festival, which kicks off on Saturday, join them for a video interview produced by our friends at Design Within Reach. Click below to watch the trio discuss their design process —which only occasionally calls for consensual “duking it out,” their way with materials, and how their own decidedly 21st century aesthetic resonates with that of midcentury masters.

I Spy: New Museum Opens ‘Privacy Gift Shop’


An Anti-Drone Scarf, part of a collection of “stealth wear” by Adam Harvey in collaboration with Johanna Bloomfield.

A temporary store for stuff designed to help users evade detection? Such is the lowdown pop-up now operating at New York’s New Museum, which has given over its ground-level selling space to the Privacy Gift Shop. Stop in through September 22 to stock up on clothing and accessories that protect against various methods of surveillance.

Designed by artist Adam Harvey and fashion designer Johanna Bloomfield, the “stealth wear” on offer includes a metallized silk scarf (inspired by Muslim dress) that protects against thermal imaging surveillance, a dollar bill-sized wallet insert made of copper fabric to thwart would-be RFID skimmers, and an optical character recognition-resistant version of the iconic “I ♥ NY” t-shirt.
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Sneak Peek: Volvo’s Concept Coupe


(Courtesy Volvo)

When Thomas Ingenlath decided last year to take the position of senior vice president of design at Volvo, he began asking anyone he encountered to describe Volvo cars in a single word. The prevailing response: “nice.” “Not iconic or cutting edge,” notes Ingenlath, who previously headed up the Volkswagen Design Center in Potsdam, Germany. His first design sets out to change all that. “This is how Volvos will taste from now on,” says Ingenlath of the Volvo Concept Coupe (pictured), a bold two-seater that will be launched in Frankfurt next week after a hush-hush sneak peek in Gothenburg, Sweden.

“The last few years, car design has become increasingly standardized…and too often defined by cluttered and overly complex design,” he explains. “While other brands try too hard to look luxurious and muscular, Volvo Cars will stand out as the calm, confident, and naturally powerful challenger.” With new proportions and a face full of design elements (a floating grill, cow horns in the lower front) that reference the classic Volvo P1800, the new coupe is the first in a series of three concept cars that will each represent the next generation of Volvo models, starting with the New Volvo XC90 that is due out next year. As for the jaw-dropping interior, with its luxe leather instrument panel and hand-carved wood inlays, credit goes to design director of interior, Robin Page, who joined Volvo earlier this year from Bentley.
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Stylish Sleeping Bags for Urban Overnighters

Just in time for Labor Day weekend voyages, writer Nancy Lazarus surveyed the market for sleeping bags and got a sneak peek at the back-to-nature themes, trends, and colors that will be setting up camp come 2015.


Spoon-shaped sleeping bags from Dover, New Hampshire-based NEMO.

From the American Museum of Natural History’s Night at the Museum-fueled all-nighters to the recent “Citi Field Sleepover,” where 400 fans plopped down their tents and sleeping bags to watch a jumbotron broadcast of a New York Mets’ road-game, the sleepover isn’t just for middle schoolers anymore. Soon the age-old question of what to wear will be replaced by what sleeping bag to bring, so UnBeige went on a hunt for suitable choices.

While sleeping bag options for children abound, stylish adult sleeping bags for urban use are in short supply. Adult sleeping bags have mainly been designed for serious camping excursions. More innovations have been introduced in shapes and materials than in colors and technology, as detailed below. We’ve added a few suggestions regarding upcoming colors and patterns based on StyleSight’s spring and summer 2015 preview, to give enterprising designers something to sleep on.
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Seven Questions for Designer Dan Black of Black + Blum

With the megatradeshow NYNOW (formerly NYIGF) bringing mobs of product-seekers to Gotham this week, the hunt is on for the latest and greatest lifestyle and home products. A must-see stop in the cavernous, merch-stuffed Javits Center is the booth of Anglo-Swiss partnership black + blum. Designers Dan Black and Martin Blum joined forces in 1998 as a London-based design consultancy and soon began developing products such as an award-winning anthropomorphic doorstop named James (Black is brandishing one in the photo at right), a no-nonsense tape dispenser, and the “Brrrrr” polar bear ice tray. Black, a veteran of IDEO and Frog Design, paused in his NYNOW preparations to tell us about the personalities behind the products, their latest thirst-quenching hit design, and what the duo is debuting this week.


Punch up your lunch. Colorful sandwich keepers are among the black + blum products launching at NYNOW.

If you had to sum up the black + blum aesthetic/design philosophy in just three words, what would they be?
functional, soulful, and minimal

You’ve described a true black + blum product as “always a joint input of [your] and Martin’s personalities.” What are your personalities like?
We both like the same sort of products, whether they are contemporary new designs or vintage antiques. They will all have the same deep-rooted qualities. Although we have very different personalities, the inputs that we give to each design are actually very similar. Perhaps it is not so much our different personalities, but rather our tastes that influence the design. The most important thing is that it will never be only one of us that works on a design. We always find the final design will be a result of both our inputs and the end result is always better because of this.

What black + blum product has been flying off the shelves this summer?
Our “Eau Good” filter water bottle has been selling really well. The natural active charcoal filter is exposed inside the bottle. This can be a bit daunting for those who don’t what it is, but it becomes a talking point and allows users to proudly show that they are not drinking bottled water and helps spread the word to tell people that there is an alternative which is better for the environment.
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BMW Unveils i3 Electric Car, ‘Designed for Sustainable Mobility’

When we learned that the “first purpose-built electric vehicle made primarily of carbon fiber” would make its global debut this week, we dispatched writer Nancy Lazarus to take the UnBeige hovercraft (powered by orange peels and recycled periodicals) downtown for the big reveal.


(Photos Courtesy BMW)

“BMW’s i3 has unique proportions for the urban environment and is being sold for the mega-city, but it’s not out of place on the freeway,” noted Adrian van Hooydonk, BMW Group’s global head of design during Monday’s New York launch. BMW simultaneously unveiled the car at events in London and Beijing. The brand is counting on stateside sales when the car becomes available next year, since The U.S. is the leading market for electric vehicles.

“From sketch to street, it’s innovative in every aspect, including the customer experience. The i3 was designed for sustainable mobility,” added BMW board member Norbert Reithofer. He said the car provides solutions for urban lifestyles, such as easy access, smaller turning radius and more interior space. BMW is also eager to overcome skepticism about driving electric cars, mainly charging issues.

Design of the i3 started from scratch five years ago, according to van Hooydonk. “We pushed the reset button on colors and materials. Our new aesthetic is called ‘next premium,’ and the design language maximizes the effect with fewer elements. We used some familiar features, like the kidney-shaped grille, but also many new elements.”
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Lasvit Designs Tour de France Trophies


Designer Peter Olaf with (from left) the 2012, 2013, and 2011 Tour de France trophies.

The 100th Tour de France wrapped up yesterday in a spectacular “jubilee” burst of yellow near the Champs-Élysées finish line, where Kenyan-born Briton Chris Froome added to what’s proving to be a banner summer for the United Kingdom (see also: Andy Murray at Wimbledon, the highly awaited Baby Prince). In addition to the yellow jersey, Froome was presented with a hand-cut crystal trophy from Czech-based Lasvit.

Since 2011, designer Peter Olaf has masterminded the series of hand-blown, hand-cut trophies, which are produced for the overall winner, best under-25 rider, best sprinter, and best climber. Each trophy, the product of hours of sizzling glassmaking toil, is over two feet tall and weighs almost eight pounds, according to Lasvit. Among the special touches for the 100th Tour is a layer of opal glass that was ground using wedge-shaped cutters, revealing the crystal underneath and producing a decorative design with a strict, geometric shape.

Seven Questions for Designer Rama Chorpash, Director of Product Design at Parsons

Rama Chorpash has designed Swatch watches, furniture, and more clever kitchen utensils than you can shake a pair of grater tongs at. When he’s not creating cool stuff with the likes of Herman Miller and the Public Art Fund, he’s an associate professor and the director of product design at Parsons The New School for Design in New York. Recently, his Spiraloop potato masher made the cut for the MoMA Design Store’s “Destination: NYC” selection of designed-in-NYC, made-in-the-USA products.

“In 1936 MoMA’s exhibition ‘Machine Art’ featured just that: carriage springs, boat propellers, and so forth,” says Chorpash. “For the Destination: NYC open call, I wanted to redraw public attention towards reconnecting people’s consciousness to where things come from, and how they express their industrialization.” Having recently returned from a residency at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts (as cool as it sounds), he made time to tell us about his smashing masher, what’s next on his summer to-do list, and a memorable encounter with a Brazilian taxi driver.

What is the “Spiraloop”?
Spiraloop is a vegetable/potato masher. With so much pre-made food in New York City, I wanted to create a product (humble as it may be) that would encourage people to cook in their own kitchens.

Made of super quality 316 stainless steel, it features ergonomic spring tensile “spring-back” characteristics typically found with utensils made from multiple materials such as rigid plastics combined with soft silicon. Unlike Spiraloop, such co-injection molded materials are typically “monstrous hybrids” and cannot be separated and reclaimed. While Spiraloop will last a long time, it is also 100% recyclable.

What was it like working with manufacturer Lee Spring, founded in 1918?
They do great work, and it was a pleasure to work with them. While they are a successful global company with production and distribution across the United States as well as in Mexico, the United Kingdom, and China, my interest was in working with them locally, to shorten the supply-chain between design, production, and consumption. Spiraloop was designed in New York City, made in New York City, to be sold in New York City. I call this localized making “Manufacturing in Place.” Think of a farmers’ market, the locally produced produce (goods) are shipped the shortest distance and rely upon regional needs and constraints.

The walk down the hill from my home in St. George to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal looks across the bay to the BKLYN Army Terminal. In researching who would produce the Spiraloop, Lee’s locality was ideal. A short drive over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and I was at their headquarters. First founded in Brooklyn nearly a century ago, they really enjoyed to flex their manufacturing muscle locally.
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