Form Investigations…. Continued


After a short time, during which I seemed to be going round in circles with regards to how I should approach the form of the bench, I had a chat with Pete and a few others. The general consensus was that I was perhaps coming at it all from completely the wrong angle. From the images in the previous post, it can be seen that I have been trying to design a bench. As confusing as it may sound, this isn’t what I should be or indeed am aiming to do.

Several people were keen to remind me that I’m not a furniture designer, nor an environmental designer…. I’m a product designer. It is at this point I realised I should be designing how people are going to use this bench and how it will be interacted with, and the form should be a result of this.

So, where’s the best place to start when designing the interactions of a bench. Well… with a bench of course! I have spent the past little while getting to grips with what a ‘traditional’ park bench looks like, what it’s key features are and creating a platform on which to build my own design.

Where I am… Where am I??

When I flicked through my blog, I realised that it is full of little experiments and examples of work I have been doing, but there is little or no explanation of what my project has actually progressed into. I’ve been meaning to post a summary for a while now, but after a small panic attack about whether I knew what my project was or not, I decided now would be a good time to do this…. for me as much as anything.

Above is a diagram that roughly outlines the interactions I’ve been playing with, and the things I want my bench to do (click on the image to enlarge it for easier reading). The bench idea is something which I took on over a month ago now, and even it has morphed into something different to my original thoughts. Because of this, I have found myself getting very confused as to what it is, what it does, and why it needs to exist… I even asked whether it should be a bench or not, a question which concerned my tutor, Pete. However, I have recently climbed out of this rut, having answered a question that gives a clearer context to my work.

I have always considered myself a practical designer. I want to produce things that have a purposeful function and use. When I thought about my bench, I kept asking ‘why’! Why does it do this? Why does it need to do this? Why would people use it? Why, why, feckin’ why?!!

Then I started to realise, that unlike most of the other things I’ve designed, this bench doesn’t solve a problem, and nor does it have to. Its purpose is to ask questions… questions about its use, the people it encounters and the environment in which it is placed. It’s a social project. It captures the lives of unique communities, whether that is people who walk through a park, visit a museum, or anyone who comes across the bench… wherever that may be. I don’t necessarily know how people will use the bench, and it’s likely something I won’t really know until it is out in the public domain, but in this lies the beauty of the project.

Norwegian Coffee Experience

If you follow my blog, you will know that I have a real soft spot for the use of natural materials in product design. So, when I came across this whilst browsing my reader, I couldn’t stop myself from wanting to re-post it.

As part of a university project, several design students set about making the ‘Italian’ art of making the perfect blend more ‘Scandinavian’. The question they posed to themselves was, “what defines Nordic design?”. Their answer… “wood”.

I often show my classmates these kind of objects when I come across them, and they never seem to show the same enthusiasm as I do. I’m beginning to think it must be an acquired taste. As soon as I see beautifully crafted object made from organic materials… I can’t help but like them. This is particularly the case when electronics are involved. I find this contrast fascinating.

Form Investigations


Here are a selection of simple renders I have produced to help find a direction for how the bench should look. They investigate different aesthetics, including how a variety of materials could be used and locations of the various features.


Pit In

I was glancing through Street Furniture by Chris Van Uffelen, when I came across this. ‘Pit In’ is a beautifully designed street object that is primarily for use by cyclists. In order to combat the stresses of having to locate a place to lock up your bike or find somewhere to sit for lunch, STORE MUU design studio developed this bistro-like table to allow cyclists to stop off for a rest.

I particularly like the aesthetic of this product. It has been expertly formed using plywood to create a very clean and contemporary wooden structure. I would LOVE my bench to look something like this!

Panorama Chair

‘Panorama’ is a chair designed by Swedish/Spanish pairing, Cate and Nelson. Made from a steel frame, it sports a mirror as a back rest, which skews the reflection of the environment in front. The purpose of the product is to be a ‘reflection of everyday’.

Not entirely similar, but this doesn’t fall to far from the area I’m looking into with my Tweeting Bench. The ‘reflection of everyday’ is an interesting concept, particularly when my initial intentions for my project were to enable people to follow the ‘everyday life’ of the bench.

QR Codes… Part Deux

After considering how I could use QR Codes, I wondered if it would be possible to laser cut a code on to the bench. I wasn’t sure if it would still be possible to read it, so… I tried it. It turns out that it works. Below you can see my beautiful assistant Phil demonstrating the laser cut wood using an app on his phone. Excuse the insanely slow internet in our studio today!

QR Codes

One of the problems I’ve been trying to overcome is how to direct people to the Twitter feed of the bench. I initially toyed with the idea of having a screen in the bench displaying the feed, but this was going to prove both complicated and expensive. I also feel that it takes away from the simplicity of the interactions with the bench.

I had been happy to move along assuming people would note the Twitter address of the bench and check it when they return home or have a look on their phone whilst they are there. However, Tim kindly brought to my attention QR codes, something which I had thought about using for a previous project.

A specific QR code could be situated on the bench, allowing smartphone users to scan the code, which would then direct them to the Twitter feed of the bench.

Try it out! You should be able to scan this code from the screen.

Test Bench

Just a quick shot of the camera mounted on the bench. The pole is a little high at the moment if the intention is for people to sit and use it, but I don’t want to cut it just yet in case I need it to be taller for future models!

Just A Thought…

So, over the past week I have been investigating the potential interactions for my bench. Most recently, this involves two cameras which take both a photo of the user of the bench, and what they see. I have also been trying to decide whether the user should have control over this interaction, or should it be automatic when they sit on the bench.

After making my model camera, it has led me to consider whether the bench is necessary at all. Perhaps this project could be a updated/modern version of those public scopes that you find by the seaside or in scenic places. Instead of paying to get a ‘telescopic’ view of where you are, you could take images that would be uploaded to the camera’s Twitter feed. Therefore, people can see who has been using the camera and what they’ve been looking at, and users can also refer people to the images they have taken and even download them for themselves.

Making A Bench More Than A Bench

Now that I’ve been looking at various cameras and functions, I need to consider how these are actually going to fit on to the bench. Where will they go? How will the be integrated? How will the user interact with them?

I began making some simple feature that could support whatever the device will be… whether that’s a camera, viewfinder or something else. In doing this, I have started to realise the scale that this project is. I am going to be working with a rather large object, something which I haven’t had a lot of experience with in the past. It’s actually quite exciting!

View Finder

It has been discussed that perhaps the user doesn’t have an actual camera to take the photos, but a view finder. This would enable them to frame their own view, and in doing so, they are taking a photo that lets others see what they have.

Above is a quick model I have produce from card and acetate which suggests the kind of form that this object may have.


My ‘user testing’ in the studio. if you can call it that, did actually raise one issue in particular. Some of the images taken by the two cameras seemed to have a delay. One image may show someone sitting on the bench, and the other would show them standing again.

To enable some troubleshooting, Phil and I came up with an ingenious way of testing the time lapse between each camera. Unfortunately, there was no conclusion as to why in some rare instances the images seem significantly apart with regards to when they where taken. Our test showed a difference of 0.2sec on almost every occasion, which doesn’t seem all that long. At this time, we can only assume that perhaps on those few instances there was a processing lag caused by the computer… who knows!?

User Activated Camera?

Now that I’ve began looking at this idea of having two cameras, it has raised more interaction questions. Should it be automatic, in that when someone sits on the bench it instantly captures an image of them and their view, or should the user have the option to take a photo? And, if so, should they be able to have control over what they take a photo of? If this was the case, would this make the Twitter feed more valuable because the images will all be different?

A lot of questions, but to sum up… I made a camera! I fitted a webcam into a card model and hooked it up to arduino and processing so that when a button is pressed an image of the person and what they see is taken. Above is a test shot, in which you can see just how happy Phil is to be part of my experimenting.

I also set it up in the studio to see how people would use it. Tim provided a vivid reminder of the fact that your designs will not always be used in the way you intended!


Up to now, I have managed to get my bench to upload a photo to Twitter when someone sits on it. I had also investigated potential inputs that would allow users to submit their own content (eg. Video or audio). However, this was proving a little complicated. The recording of video posts or short audio clips isn’t really that difficult, but being able to upload them to Twitter is more so.

Some of the feedback I received following the PLAY submission was that perhaps my bench would have more context if it was to be placed in specific locations, rather than just “public areas”. Suggestions of National Trust sites or ‘spots of natural beauty’ were made. In doing this, I felt there was an opportunity to look at new interactions between the bench and the users.

One which seemed to be met positively by the people I discussed it with was the idea that the bench captures two images, one of the person sitting and another of what they can see at that time. This would allow people following the Twitter feed to not only see who is using the bench, but also view the surrounding environment at different times. This seems that little bit richer when you imagine the bench placed next to a lake or in a country park.

To do this, I was going to have to get processing to work with two webcams. Surprisingly, after mixing and matching some of my existing code with that of others, I managed to get this working rather quickly. I am yet to be able to control each camera individually, but it currently takes a photo from each camera when a button is pressed, and it even puts them together in one image.

Once I got this all up and running, I hooked it up to my bench and got people to use it. Above you can see Jamie and Andy shot from two different cameras as they sit on the TweetingBench.


At the end of last month we reached the climax of the PLAY stage of our project. To recognise this, and in order to show our progress so far, we had a hand-in for which we had to submit a technical prototype, a visual concept and plan for the next stage of the project. Similar to Ideas Day, we took over the 1st and 2nd Year studio to display our work, and we each were given a 5 minute slot to present to the tutors.

Having now studied product design for nearly four years, we have all done our fair share of presentations, and are therefore well rehearsed.  However, this was slightly different to any other that we had done before, and for this reason, there was a strong sense of nervousness about all day as people waited for their slot. We had just 5 minutes in a room alone with the tutors to demonstrate our prototypes and explain our concept. Sounds fairly simple, but when you are relying heavily on very delicate and often temperamental electronics, it is extremely unnerving.

Several people throughout the day fell victim to failing electronics, me being one. Unfortunately part of my prototype didn’t work, despite functioning perfectly well all morning. However, luckily I was able to show Tweets the bench had made earlier in the day in order to assure my assessors that it does actually work.

With over half the project behind us, we are now moving into the next stage. Ready, steady… MAKE!

Technical Prototype

As part of the MAKE hand-in we had to produce a technical prototype that shows how we intend our product to function. Although everything is not definite just yet, it was to show the technology we have worked with throughout this stage, and how we have applied it to our idea. As much of it should work as possible, however we were allowed to create experiences for interactions that weren’t possible to produce at this point.

My prototype successfully uploaded an image to Twitter when someone sits on the bench. I also produced an experience for posting short video messages and uploading them to the bench’s Twitter feed.


As part of the PLAY hand-in, we were to produce a visualisation of what we envisage our end product to look like. It isn’t necessarily the final form, but it is the building block on which we will refine and detail the design.

Here you can see the 3D models I have produced using Solidworks. They were rendered with Photoworks.

(This gallery will not work in readers. To view, open the post on my website.)

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Form Investigations

For this part of the PLAY stage I moved back into more familiar territory. I got my sketchbook out and started using my cutting mat.

After spending a short period of time drawing, I realised I really wasn’t getting anywhere. For this reason, I decided to put my pens aside and start working in 3D. Using cardboard, I put together some small models. With each one I did, a new idea came, and as a result… another model. Below you can see some of these models.

(This gallery will not work in readers. To view, open the post on my website.)

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Cincopa WordPress plugin

Here are a collection of images showing the bench being prepared to trigger the webcam when it is sat on. To do this, two push buttons have been placed on top of the bench, along with a layer of sponge. The sponge will support a wooden panel on top, which when sat on will compress, allowing the panel to press the buttons.