Ceramics & Glass

Design Process

In collaboration with MiMOKO  for ceramics and Goodbeast for glass, each detail was carefully considered over a lengthy design period.

Join us on our journey of exploration and discovery during

the design process. 

 

 

 

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MiMOKO ceramics

Let me introduce Monique, the creator behind the minimal ceramic planter brand, MiMOKO, my partner in life, and in the world of design.

 

I have the wonderful pleasure of watching the first hand development of her work; a continuous careful refinement and an inspiring level of dedication toward bringing high quality designs into creation.

Inspired by a spinning top, the initial sketch for the lamp was a direct reaction to the simplicity and minimalism of Monique’s designs. 

 

With a focus on motion, it asks you to manually interact with the piece, turning the lamp over to dim the light. The sketch had energy, a sense of personality and I really wanted to test it further. 

Starting small, we bought a round bulb and modeled the first ceramic shape to fit the scale of the bulb. It was rudimentary but incredibly motivating to see such quick results, especially how softly the light was emitted.

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The ceramic process with drying and firing takes about two weeks from start to finish. In the beginning we worked with paper models so we could quickly test different rolling patterns and imagine how it would look in porcelain. For Monique, thinking about how it's made also played a big part in the design; making it feasible to throw on the wheel.

Later in the design process we actually found two weeks was a satisfying amount of time to reflect on each design iteration.

Nothing teaches you quite like getting directly involved, so I booked one of Monique’s wheel throwing classes.  Under her tutelage and after several attempts on the wheel, I began to develop an early understanding of the importance of form development that comes from throwing on the wheel. 

Clay is one of those materials that is incredibly simple to an untrained eye, yet it holds layers of complexity and exploration for an artist.  Even with the rapid advancements in daily technology the processes and materials used to make pottery are still relatively unchanged from thousands of years ago and yet the exploration continues.

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Testing Forms

Monique always had new ideas about how the shape should look and even small changes to the angle or length of a test piece could make a surprising difference. For this initial run of test shapes we disregarded the battery size and space required for internal electronics. The thought was that if the ergonomics and the experience of using the lamp would win our heart, we could figure out how to fit the battery in later.

⁠I’m smiling, writing this now with the beauty of hindsight and knowing how much the lamp changed again after the addition of batteries.

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Prototype 01

Although the shape was still a work in progress, it was time to build a working prototype of the battery and LED together with the ceramic and glass. This was also the beginning of testing the assembly hardware and understanding how everything would be held together. I had many ideas but again, it wasn't until we had the physical model that we could really test these concepts. 

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Simultaneously, we began to discuss the glass bulb with Goodbeast, colour naturally came into the conversation. Their portfolio of work includes some beautiful coloured glass pieces and Monique had also been testing some colour glazes in her studio at that time. 
As we were still testing different shapes, we used the opportunity to also test different glaze and colour applications.

The results were exciting to begin with, I really loved the richness of the red glaze and we both really wanted to use a smokey grey for the glass bulb but looking back choosing materials and colors individually was never going to work. The purist in both of us eventually won over and we returned to the natural white of the porcelain.
 
The angled forms of Monique’s work represent themselves much better as one tone, particularly when used as a lamp where the shadows on each face are accentuated.
The moody grey glass will have to wait until another project. 

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Prototype 02

Turning attention to the design of the electronics immediately gave the shape more defined design parameters. Knowing the desired run time for the lamp and how bright we wanted it to be meant we could define the size and amount of batteries we needed. I scaled the shape of the ceramic to suit and began to think more about how the electronics would be securely fitted inside.

To make this work I added extra internal support hardware and used the angled shape of the ceramic to clamp the glass bulb and switch plate together from both sides. It worked but felt a little convoluted. 

Now with a better understanding of the electronic parameters, I worked with Monique to develop a new ceramic shape made in two pieces. Being in two pieces allowed us to add a ‘shelf’ to which we could fix the glass bulb. This removed the need for the switch plate to act as a clamp, making the whole design much stronger and freeing up the design opportunities for the switch plate. For the ceramic, it improved the accuracy of the new larger shape and the overall proportion, breaking down the large surfaces into a more approachable design.

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As a potter manipulates wet clay into a rigid vitreous form. The drying and firing process means shrinkage of 15%, making it incredibly difficult to get continually accurate pieces and even more difficult to integrate electronic parts, which are accurate to 0.01mm. That said, it's also the beauty of working with handmade ceramic - each piece is unique. 

From the beginning, our philosophy for this project was to let the handmade take center stage while the machine-made goes almost unnoticed. However the 'unnoticed' was actually proving to be the difficult part. For the electronics to be compact, efficient, durable and then just disappear into the background, it required a surprising amount of attention and careful thought.

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I started dubháin to instigate collaboration with local artists, display the process and their skill. A pleasantly unexpected side effect is how this has exposed my inherent protectiveness for the design philosophies that I have built up. 

As an architect my method of design is quite pragmatic, Monique on the other hand studied in art school and has a much more expressive style. She easily jumps right in, being creative for art's sake as opposed to my more rational and analytical approach. I love the battle of the pragmatic brain and the creative brain, it really feels like you leave no stone unturned and reinforces the importance of paying attention to the process without a premature ideal for the final design. 

It's easy to get stuck believing that what you have produced is the best it can be, right until someone you respect radically questions your decisions!

We love the idea that the design is portable. Physically turning it over dims the light and thus changes the atmosphere. But turning it over it means there is no top or bottom to the lamp, making it important to design the shade in a way that it feels natural and comfortable to use from all sides. 

Some modifications to the design looked great on paper but it wasn’t until Monique made them that we were really able to make a decision. We slightly increased the width of the middle section to accommodate for larger batteries but also to make it nicer to hold - about the width of a wine bottle. :) 

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Normally you get a chance to hide screws at the bottom where no one looks but this encouraged us to make a feature of the fastening method. Working together with the porcelain shelf we created earlier, the nut would be the last piece to be assembled and also act as a visual queue to how the lamp is designed for disassembly. 
The programming of the batteries and LEDs are specified for longevity but if anything ever breaks, even glass or ceramic, the parts can be easily replaced and repaired by the owner.
 
The switch had many iterations but the ceramic shape played a large part in the design. Initially we wanted a form of analog, click or twist switch but the ceramic needed to increase in size to accommodate. The proportion started to suffer so we changed it to a touch sense switch. The light touch that is needed definitely suits the lamp much more and still allows space for batteries.

Running with the touch sense theme, I initially designed the switch with a textured surface but again simplicity won over in the end. Returning to our main objective, the handmade ceramic should take center stage. 

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As the ceramic form developed, the glass changed with it. I didn’t think the round glass shape worked as well on the now larger lamp, it felt a little disconnected from the ceramic. What I really enjoyed at the smaller scale was the space between both ceramic and glass as they converged toward the center. 
Working with this in mind I developed a shape that felt more homogenous with the ceramic shape and emphasized the point where ceramic and glass meet. From here I could take measurements and work with Goodbeast to produce a mold for the glass to be blown into. 

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Goodbeast are no stranger to working with coloured glass and produced many different samples, shapes and finish textures. Although the amber coloured glass was one of my favorites, the emitted light was less than favorable. The opaque white produced a beautiful diffuse light and the frosted clear glass had an ethereal quality, similar to a misty morning. So we tried to combine them. The result is even better than I could have imagined, a thin layer of opaque white glass surrounds the inside of the bulb while the rest is clear glass and later frosted. The acute angles of the new shape work brilliantly here allowing the thickness of the glass to shine.
Through discussions with Goodbeast we confirmed the importance of using a mold for consistency but also to be able to accurately achieve the acute angles we wanted.

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Prototype 03

I love spending time exploring options so we made countless prototypes, refining with each iteration. We spent a lot of time working on the larger side of the lamp. Its circumference is a key moment in the design where the crackle glazed exterior stops and becomes raw textured clay on the interior. 

  1. The crackle glaze works best when finished on a sharp edge however a sharp edge will be more vulnerable to chipping. We tried making the edge thicker to solve this but it created issues with uneven drying of the clay. 

  2. Next attempt was a beveled edge on both sides but due to the nature of a hand thrown piece it accentuated the inaccuracies. Strangely, a single bevel looks great and we use this to finish all the other sharp corners but unlike the top edge they don't have the inside face visible. 

  3. A rounded edge lacked the crispness that the rest of the piece achieves but it did make the edge appear thinner offering a lightness to the overall design. 

  4. Through some acute observation Monique used a small bevel on the outside edge to catch the glaze and appear as a sharp edge, she then tapered the inside face toward it. I was skeptical as I feared it would have the same effect as a rounded edge but once she applied the crackle glaze we both knew it was solved. 

 

The real beauty of this edge design is when the glass bulb is inserted. The tapered edge now leads your eye in towards the meeting point between glass and ceramic. 

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With each test of the large circumference, Monique made a full prototype. This gave us a great opportunity to also play with proportion and glaze application. Over the course of five or six full scale prototypes we were able to establish the dimensions that formulated the final design. 

 

Working with Monique at this level of detail it's clear that it's never a production line in the MiMOKO studio, there is always something that needs to be adjusted or modified that ensures a continuous and consistently improving level of high quality. 

 

The beauty of working with hand thrown clay means every piece is unique but also means each piece can vary in size by over a centimeter. Combined with the precision of CNC milled Aluminum and electronics this means we will custom cut each central bolt to fit the ceramic.

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Final Prototype

Before we could call it complete we needed to make one final prototype and assemble all the last design iterations. 

It became important to make the final refinements to the electronics and really complete the user experience. Small adjustments to the brightness and touch controls softened the lamp even more. 

The next step is to commission a wooden mold to blow the glass, everything will then be ready for a small production run. 

I have learned more than I could ever have imagined during this process of collaboration and I'm already getting excited for the next.

Piro will be a limited production with each piece handmade to order and

numbered 1 to 10.

Production will begin in February 2023.

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We look forward to sharing our next project in as much detail. 
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