The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

December 4, 2012

Going for a Laser Guided Spin: My 2012 Ferris Wheel Christmas Ornaments

Filed under: Design, Holidays — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 12:57 am

As you may know, each year at Thanksgiving my family does an exchange of Christmas ornaments.  Coming from a family where a number of people seem to be big on arts and crafts (to the point that several of my aunts run a crafting business that focuses primarily on home decor items using vinyl lettering) it takes some work to keep up with the creativity, but I think I’ve managed to do a reasonably good job of this.  For the past couple of years, I have taken advantage of the laser cutter available at Metrix Create:Space on Capitol Hill in Seattle for creating my own custom-designed ornaments, and decided to take the same approach once again this year, and the result of this project is the ferris wheel ornament you see above.  Although all that work that may sound intimidating to some people, in reality it isn’t nearly as difficult to do as it sounds, and anyone with the right tools (which are freely available open source software) a reasonable amount of understanding of how to create vector graphics could do 75% of the work it takes to design something like this fairly quickly.  Of course, the devil is always in the details, and it turned out that the last 25% worth of fine tuning to get everything to fit together properly took at least 75% of the time I spent on this project.  After the jump, I will go through the process of creating these, and hopefully I can provide some useful tips to anyone who might try something like this.

My previous laser-cut ornament projects:


November 29, 2011

Fun with Rockets and Lasers: Creating a 3D Do-It-Yourself Christmas Ornament (Some Assembly Required)

Filed under: Design — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 9:42 pm

In my extended family, there’s been a longstanding tradition that we have an ornament exchange which takes place at Thanksgiving each year.  Although the ornaments that come up in the exchange each year range from the mundane to the sublime,  there are a lot of crafty people in the family, which means that store-bought ornaments tend to get a bit outclassed.  Over the years, I’ve gone mostly with the store-bought stuff anyway, with a couple of ill-advised attempts at handmade ornaments thrown in for good measure as well.  I actually kind of enjoy making ornaments myself, although to be honest, when I try to make stuff by hand, usually the results don’t quite add up to what I originally had in mind.  To give you some idea of this, I tend to consider a craft project to be successful if nothing got set on fire or maimed during the process.

It is because of this tendency that last year, I decided to take a different approach to the problem.  As outlined in the post that I wrote about last year’s ornaments, I found a place over on Capitol Hill in Seattle called Metrix Create:Space that has all sorts of cool toys like 3D printers and laser cutters.  Although I’m pretty sure the 3D printers are a bit out of my league for the time being (at least until I manage to get some idea what the heck I’m doing when it comes to 3D modeling) I found that through a combination of open source tools and following instructions found in several FAQs posted on the Internet, creating a design that would work with the laser cutter proved to be a lot less daunting task than it might sound.  The ornaments which resulted from this project turned out very nice, and were very well received.  The only real problem I had with these ornaments was the fact that they ended up being far more expensive than I had originally planned on.  In fact, I think I spent about twice as much on the project as I had originally budgeted, and given the costs of laser cutting, I had planned on quite a bit.

As a result of this, although the tools for this year’s ornaments were pretty much the same as last years, the approach taken to the project was quite different, as was the end result.  After the jump, you’ll find a description of the process used to create my ornaments for this year’s family Thanksgiving ornament exchange.


November 25, 2010

Everything’s Cooler When You Add Lasers: Making Custom Laser-Cut Christmas Ornaments

Filed under: Art, Design — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 4:35 pm

It’s a bit hard to believe, but by the time this gets posted another Thanksgiving will have come and gone by.  I’m actually writing this several days in advance of Thanksgiving itself, but I’m saving the post until after the annual Thanksgiving get-together when these ornaments are handed out.  If all goes well, Thanksgiving should be a pretty typical family gathering with all sorts of turkey and trimmings, an inescapable Cowboys game on the TV (normally I can’t stand the Cowboys, but given the fact that they’re standing at a 3-7 record while I write this there’s not much point in flogging that particular dead horse at this point) and the annual tradition of exchanging Christmas ornaments.  As I may have discussed a time or two in the past, I come from a family of what could be considered very crafty people.   In fact, several of my aunts have actually made a small business out of their craft hobbies, creating a large variety of different decorative products through woodworking and a vinyl cutter.  This means that a significant number of the ornaments in these annual exchanges will be custom-made, often with quite a bit of skill (and these days, often with quite a bit of custom cut vinyl.)  

I’ve actually tried the handmade ornament approach before, but the results have been decidedly mixed, mostly owing to complications related to the possession of a Y chromosome.  While I must admit that decoupage does provide some interesting design opportunities in the right hands, I’m pretty sure I am not in possession of said hands.  There’s also the fact that the acquisition of such materials generally requires an ill-fated excursion into one of the several arts and crafts stores found around town.  These, as you quickly find out upon entering, tend to smell like potpourri.  Strong, unmistakable, soul-scarring potpourri, the kind of stuff that can cause floral-scented nightmares for any man who gets exposed to the stuff for too long. Fortunately I’m pretty sure the stuff can’t actually kill you, only make you wish you were dead (or, if you happen to be female and/or domestically inclined, it can really help add that special touch to a room.)  The whole experience is a lot more survivable than I’m making it out to be here, but as a guy and an occasional nerd, I figure there’s got to be a better way.  Sure enough, it turns out that if I can manage to throw enough technology at the problem, there is.  Roughly a year ago, a place opened up on Capitol Hill in Seattle that provides hobbyists access to a number of various machines they might not otherwise be able to easily find anywhere, including a laser cutter and 3D printers.  While 3D printing is just a little bit out of my league right now, I actually found out that with free software and a quite reasonable learning curve I could actually put together a project that I could “print” on the laser cutter and create my own completely custom-made ornaments without having to go anywhere near a craft store. 

I should probably add the disclaimer that this post is not necessarily intended to provide a how-to for the process of making ornaments like these or other similar items, but I’ll try to share what I learned in the process and hopefully help out anyone who might try something like this in the future.  I’ve found that the available information on the Internet regarding laser cutting can be a bit spotty, and there were a few things that I had to figure out on the fly.  That said, if you can manage to find your way around a vector drawing program it’s actually not that difficult to do.  After the jump, a detailed look at the process behind the custom ornaments you see above.


December 8, 2008

The Choke of a New Generation?

Filed under: Advertising, Design — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 12:59 am

In case it hasn’t reached you yet, it appears that in an effort to throw a brand identity with a long and rich history down the proverbial toilet and somehow try to gain back some lost market share in the process, Pepsi has unveiled a major brand overhaul of their core products, which should be making its way to your local supermarket soon, if it hasn’t made it there already.  The old familiar Pepsi logo that has existed in one form or another since 1950 seems to have been abandoned for some sort of vaguely recognizable facsimile that looks like the result of the old logo getting extremely drunk and engaging in illicit relations with the logo of some obscure Asian airline, and the lettering on the cans and bottles has been replaced with a font that seems more at home on a $6 bottle of vaguely exotic fruit flavored designer fitness water than it does on the packaging of the second largest cola brand in the world.  All this in an effort to compete with a brand that seems to be doing just fine with a logo that has hardly changed at all since Grover Cleveland was President of the United States (not to say that Coca-Cola hasn’t also had their share of blunders along the way…)

To be honest, for the past couple of years I’ve been pretty much sitting out the cola wars entirely, since I have stopped drinking caffeinated beverages of all types.  Back when I did still drink the stuff, I generally opted for Coke over Pepsi, and I suspect I’d probably be one of the ones to flunk out on the Pepsi challenge if such things were still happening though.  I suspect that there’s probably a lot less difference between the two products than we might suspect, and for most people it doesn’r really matter which they drink as long as they manage to get their daily dose of caffeine and sugar water.  Most of the people out there who happen to drink Pepsi mostly because it isn’t Coke will probably continue to do so, regardless of what sort of half-baked new age design they stick on the can (assuming they can still actually recognize it after the mangling that the logo has received.)  I can certainly understand the need to tinker with things every once in a while to keep the design fresh (for example, Pepsi’s simplistic 1980s and early 1990s can designs  worked quite well for their times, but both of these would look incredibly dated sitting on a modern store shelf.  The more recent can design that was just replaced by this new logo is obviously a bit flashier than the older red and white can designs, but by now it’s familiar enough that it tends to fade into the background.  The new can seems to be going back toward the more simplified look (which, to some extent, seems to mirror a similar move by Coca-Cola to revert back a a simpler design after spending a number of years cluttering up their cans with various background noise) and sticks with solid colors on a basic blue background. 

The problem with this is that if they’re trying to use this redesign to attract more attention to their product, making the packaging look more generic on a shelf already filled with hundreds of different varieties of Pepsi, Coke and store brand products as well as a number of small but growing upstart competitors is not the right approach to be taking here.  Pepsi seems to be betting on the radical redesign of the logo (and presumably whatever major ad campaign they’re throwing at it) to attract attention, and for better or for worse it seems to be doing so on the Internet.  The problem is that the vast majority of soda drinkers out there (you know, the ones who actually DRINK the product rather than debate endlessly about it on the Internet and never actually touch a can of the stuff) are probably not going to start drinking more Pepsi because it comes in new packaging.  For that matter, the people who complain about redesigns like this (I wonder where you might find those?) probably aren’t going to change their soda drinking habits one way or another as a result of this either, so in the end the whole thing becomes something of a zero-sum game.  I suspect that the  declines in Pepsi’s sales which prompted this change are probably more the result of changing habits and overall reductions in the amount of people drinking soda in the first place than they are about any sort of image problem that might have been helped (or exacerbated) by this redesign.  Nonetheless, it’s probably not such a good idea to be giving people reasons NOT to drink your product, and I have to wonder if they might be doing just that with this new design.

(For some more comments on this new design and a few old Pepsi commercials from YouTube, be sure to check out today’s Bleat as well.)

March 21, 2008

New Cereal in Old Boxes

Filed under: Design, Food — Tags: , , , , — Brian Lutz @ 2:23 am

If nothing happens to grab your attention while you’re passing through the cereal aisle at your grocery store, it’s certainly not from lack of trying.  It seems these days that cereal boxes keep getting more and more ostentatious in an effort to grab the attention of easily distracted youngsters.  On the other hand, the contents of the cereal boxes themselves haven’t really changed a whole lot over the years, and a lot of the brands of cereal we have on the shelf today happen to be the very same brands that our parents ate while they watched Saturday morning cartoons back when they were kids.  Perhaps in an effort to stand out by bringing back memories of a simpler time, General Mills has recently started putting a number of their most popular cereals in throwback packaging.

These two packages go quite a ways back.  Based on looking at vintage cereal box pictures found on this site, I’d say that the design on the Wheaties box is probably somewhere in the late Forties to early Fifties, hearkening back to a day before they started using pictures of real athletes.  I wasn’t able to find an example of the design on which the Kix box was based, but if I had to guess, I’d say they used a very early design, perhaps  even from the Thirties or Forties.  (Kix was first introduced in 1937, and was in fact the first example of the now popular “puffed” style of cereal to be introduced.)

The designs on the Lucky Charms and Golden Grahams boxes are somewhat newer,  Golden Grahams cereal was first introduced in the Seventies, and the very Seventies looking design on the package (which survived largely unchanged well into the Eighties) reflects this.  In fact, the rather more generic packaging used for Golden Grahams these days kind of tends to get lost on the shelf As for the Lucky Charms box, that particular design seems to have been used through the late Seventies and early Eighties (Here is a picture that shows this box design with an offer for Star Wars stickers, and another one on the site shows a similar design with Battlestar Galactica stickers as well.)  Interestingly enough, there are some subtle changes to the Lucky Charms box.  The picture of the cereal on the box reflects the current lineup of  marshmallows, which is far more diverse than the three or four shapes that the cereal had back when this box design was current.   The text has also changed somewhat, so that the modern box reads “frosted toasted oat cereal with marshmallow bits”, where the old box reads “Sugar frosted oat cereal with marshmallow bits” (although the word “sugar” was later eliminated on the older boxes as well.)   Currently there is also a vintage box in this style for Honey Nut Cheerios as well, but I don’t have a picture of that one right now, and to be honest, the packaging of that particular cereal has changed surprisingly little between now and then.

As you’ve probably noted from the pictures, General Mills is currently offering a set of T-shirts at this website in conjunction with these throwback boxes.  Unlike the T-shirts offered in some promotions, the ones from this one actually look like the type of thing that a sane person might actually wear out in public.  I suspect you could probably even find similar tees in one of those goth-infested pop culture outlets at your neighborhood mall, at a significantly higher price than the $5 (plus shipping and handling, of course) that these ones are being sold for.  In fact, there’s just one tiny little problem with the T-shirt offers…


It seems that when someone copied the front of the box onto the design used for the back of the box, they didn’t bother to remove the T-shirt offer.  I guess I can see their point though.  Looking through the cereal box archive linked above, it is  surprisingly difficult to find a cereal box of any vintage that doesn’t have one special offer or another plastered on the front of the box.  I guess this means they’re just keeping with tradition, right? 

March 4, 2008

Can’t Wait Until Casual Friday?

Filed under: Design — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 9:57 pm

“Gentlemen, since 1986 we’ve been selling khaki pants all around the world, and they remain as popular as ever.  Still, I can’t seem to shake this nagging suspicion that the whole thing is getting a little… well… boring.  We need something new, something fresh, something – Yes Johnson?”

“Why don’t we try making khakis out of denim?”

“Why, that’s a BRILLIANT idea!  Levi Strauss himself would be complimenting you on your ingenuity if he were here now.  I wonder why nobody has thought of such a thing before…”

December 7, 2007

You’d fall for it too

Filed under: Design, Food — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 2:29 am

At a Papa Murphy’s Take and Bake pizza near here the other day, I found this bit of decoration on the floor:

Of course, the point they’re trying to get across with this is pretty clear, and even if it wasn’t, they’ve conveniently provided a sign to explain it.  Let’s try to figure this whole thing out:

  •  Apparently the floor of this particular establishment is unable to bear the weight of an average person when it is combined with the weight of one of the pizzas which is sold here.  This leads to one of two conclusions:  Either the floor of this establishment is woefully inadequate for the purpose it was designed for (in which case, a building inspector would probably have a field day with all the code violations they could presumably find here) or the mass of the pizza in question exceeds the load bearing capacity of the floor.  Although the impression that they would like to present suggests the latter, the nature of the damage to the floor, combined with the unusually wide spacing between the floor joists seems to suggest the former scenario is far more likely.
  • In spite of the fact that I have never seen one of these places in anything besides a single-story building, it seems that this particular location happens to have an unfinished basement underneath it, unbeknownst to any of the customers until one of them found himself crashing through the floor in a freak pizza-hauling accident. 
  • Speaking of our hapless victim, through some miracle he appears to have emerged from this ordeal surprisingly unscathed, as has the product he was carrying at the time of the accident in question.  Given the fact that the figure depicted on the warning sign placed next to the hole (where it does absolutely nothing to prevent an unwary passerby from falling in) has apparently been flattened by one of these freakishly huge pizzas, this is especially miraculous.
  • Finally, in spite of all this, nobody in this particular establishment seems to have bothered doing anything to either assist him in getting out of the hole or contacing emergency services.  For all we know, he’ll be stuck down there for days, trying in vain to get someone to bring a ladder and surviving on unbaked Chicago Style Stuffed Crust pizza.

Anyone care to count how many potential lawsuits this little vignette contains?

September 28, 2007

Designers Who Don’t Get It – Part 1

Filed under: Design — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 11:34 pm

One of the things I see a lot of in the course of my wanderings is bad and/or questionable design.  In a lot of  cases, it can’t be helped (this is usually because there’s some perpetually clueless manager out there running the show and telling them what to do.)  On the other hand, there are times when it’s clear that someone is overpaid and out of touch with reality, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out.  As I see examples of this on a regular basis, I plan to make occasional posts chronicling these examples of questionable design.

 First up, we have a promotional display for the line of PGA Tour licensed apparel made by Perry Ellis and sold at JCPenney.  See if you can spot what’s wrong with this picture:

…But not good enough to keep the approach shot out of the bunker, it would seem.  Here it’s also interesting to note that in spite of the PGA Tour branding used for these items, most of the items in the line do not actually have any visible PGA branding, which is rather unusual for licensed items.  Given the fact that few of us aspire to play golf professionally (or in my case, adequately) I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing.

Second, we have this, seen in the window of MNG by Mango, another of the many interchangable and seriously overpriced womens’ fashion stores at Bellevue Square:

Call me crazy, but I don’t forsee this becoming the hottest new fashion trend anytime soon.  They already tried this style (or something resembling it)  with Catholic Rosaries back in the Middle Ages, but the people responsible for that particulat example were more interested in punishing people who fell asleep in church than they were in following the latest fashion trends.  As long as we’re on the subject of bad design, this particular store’s website   provides a textbook example of mystery meat navigation, and a CPU-melting full screen Flash UI.  I’ve got to give them a couple points back for the Roomba in the corner though, even though it might have just been left over in the backroom from the Brookstone store which used to occupy this particular space in the mall.

Finally, we come to this display in the window of the mall’s Puma store, representin’ the old school and not doing a particularly good job of it::

I’m not even sure where to start with this one.  First of all, the TVs look exceptionally fake, almost as if some designer Googled for pictures of old TVs, couldn’t quite figure out how they worked, and decided that the knob on the front was there just for decoration. The “rabbit ears” in the back are made of clear plastic, and look a whole lot less convincing in real life than they might seem from this picture (and if you were watching Yo! MTV Raps in the first place, you’d have cable and wouldn’t need to use the TV’s antenna anyway, unless you were bumming videotapes off your friends.)  What’s even more puzzling, however, is the “TV” on top, which is displaying a video loop on what appears to be about a 6″ LCD screen embedded in the middle of the fake TV.  Not only that, but what appears to be the controls for this LCD are embedded in the middle of the TV screen as well.  I don’t remember ever having a TV with the controls in the middle of the screen, do you?

More examples of questionable design as I find and collect them.  I suspect it shouldn’t take long…

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