.Matrix

Adhityan Ravichandran
18 min readAug 1, 2021

Adhityan Ravichandran

4th semester, Industrial Design

National Institute of Design – Andhra Pradesh

This blog is the documented process of developing .Matrix a customizable desk organization system for designers and creatives.

SPD

SPD short for Simple Product Design is the course over which the product was developed. It was held over a course of seven weeks and the process was held in multiple stages of developing a product.

Deciding domains

We started the course by picking up objects that we liked from the things we own and from the web. We talked about what we liked about those products. So that we are able to figure out what is our own natural perception and direction when it comes to products

The products I picked up:

Some of the keywords to summarise what I liked in the products:

  • Elegant
  • Simplistic
  • Clever
  • Efficient
  • Minimal
  • Functional
  • Adaptable

Initially, I was confused to summarise everything I perceive in the products in a particular direction but after few Helpful class discussions I figured out a domain direction, Modern lifestyle Products.

And my initial prompt was on the lines of ‘Less is Good’

Research for further direction

Lifestyle Products:

Lifestyle products are aimed at embodying the interest and attitudes of a particular group of people. It inspires and motivates people to a particular way of life.

User-Based Design:

Designing something tailored to a particular kind of user, reflecting the user’s needs and interests maybe even being an extension of that particular user.

To better understand the Domain direction that I picked up. I collected a pool of lifestyle products from the web that interested me.

One particular product that really caught my interest was this product called MagEasy Folio and MagEasy Board by LHiDS Creative

It is essentially a magnetic surface that is aimed at organizing and holding the everyday essentials and productivity tools of a person in one place.

Simplification:

Looking at all this I was able to see that it is the simplicity in these products from various perspectives that really interested me. So I thereby aimed at proceeding in a direction with Simplification in mind.

Simplification is a concept I read from the biography of Jonathan I've. Simplification is not exactly minimalism, rather going for the absolute minimum simplification aims at having a balance between minimization and the ease of use for the user at the same time.

Modified prompt:

With that, I changed my prompt to ‘Simply Simplified’

Narrowing Down the Domain

Complexity vs Scale graph:

To get a clearer picture of the kind of products we had to work on we had the exercise of creating a Complexity vs Scale graph in which we would lay down some of the products that we previously picked in our research.

Now the realm of products in the Simple x Small quadrant were the kind of products we would be working with.

User Profiles:

Since I was basing myself on a User-Based Modern Lifestyle category, I made a few user profiles to set clear the kind of lifestyle of users I’m envisioning.

Getting to a Brief

Now that we have a direction in our domains. We aimed at formulating a design brief.

The design brief was meant to be vague in order to allow for flexibility, and for further narrowing down with research.

AEIOU

We got introduced to this method to formulate design briefs efficiently while still being clear in terms of the brief’s aim.

AEIOU abbreviates to

  • Activity
  • Environment
  • Interaction
  • Object
  • User

Thereby it tends to all the different aspects that are crucial in an initial brief.

Formulating the brief

To formulate the brief I made a table of AEIOU and a final brief column. Filling out the AEIOU columns addressing a particular problem brings out all the major details required which all can combine to formulate the brief

Choosing a design brief

Complexity vs Scale graph:

I started by plotting all the green-lit design briefs in the same Complexity vs Scale graph to visualize their category.

Placing the briefs in a complexity vs scale graph

Thereby discarding the Charging hub and Home gym kit briefs for its complexity.

Research

To pick a brief from the rest two. I researched further on each topic.

For the Camera equipment multitool brief I looked up things like

  • Tools used
  • Frequency of use
  • Situations
  • Existing solutions

The research resulted in a realization of the problem being a little simple to solve and not much challenging.

Whereas the Desk space organizer brief upon research had a lot of opportunities and challenges to be explored further like focusing on efficiency, increasing productivity, managing space, customization etc

So I chose the brief

To Design a modular organiser that helps in managing the workspace in a desk and provides easy access

Research Phase

Observing desk spaces

I started with observing desk spaces of different people from various fields that are primarily used for production needs.

I noted different elements like the organization, tools, arrangement, ease of use, usage, etc to have a broad understanding of different desk setups.

Brief update 1

Once I saw the different setups I realized that only an organizer that organizes tools is much too constricted to explore more of the entire desk setup to address more problems with it. So I modified the brief to remove the constriction of an organizer

To design a product that helps in managing the workspace in a desk and increases work and space efficiency

Environment classification

Then I started looking into the environment where desk setups are generally placed Primarily in a home and classified them based on distractions and how ideal it is.

This led to a better understanding of the situation of the desk setups and things like the Cognition and Interactions for the users with these setups.

Interviews

Apart from observation and interpretation, I also actively interviewed people from different backgrounds. Some of them I interviewed were

  • Engineering student
  • Music producer and Coder
  • Engineer
  • Design students
  • Industrial designer

Designer’s desk setups

I found out for people who are mainly dependant on computing from their desk setup the requirement is drastically different ie,

  • Maximizing screen real estate
  • Keeping analog stuff to minimal
  • Clearing the things that get piled up over time

Whereas for designers it held much more challenges

  • Organizing various kinds of tools, materials, books
  • Optimizing space for a diverse workflow
  • Keeping track of the various aspects of the work
  • Along with the general problems that come with a desk setup

So as a challenge I specifically chose to focus on a designer’s desk setup

Brief update 2

To design a product that can organise the workflow of a creative’s desk setup and increase the efficiency of workflow.

Observation experiment:

In order to understand the multitude of elements that get into a designer’s desk setup and also to see how it clutters up over time. I devised a self-experiment.

Before starting the day’s work I started by arranging all things that are essential in my desk in what I considered to be the ideal and efficient organization and documented it.

Then I spent the whole day working on the project and documented the setup the next morning

I was able to notice how different elements are brought in for a single use and gets piled up

also how things are rearranged to facilitate a particular use and are not arranged back due to lack of spacing awareness.

Second space

Another key element that I noticed was that there’s always a secondary space that holds the essential but not so quite frequently used products. In my case, it was a second desk surface but upon inquiry, I realized it can be a cupboard, drawer, shelf for different people but the main element in it was the proximity.

I made one of the requirements to reduce the need for this secondary space and bring some of the elements stored in this space back into the main workspace to increase the efficiency of space and productivity.

Activity Breakdown

By this time I realized there were a lot of categories with a multitude of different elements to serve the same purpose.

And also I noticed that there were a lot of little interactions that go on in a desk setup

Truly a lifestyle domain.

So in order to capture all these details, I started by listing out all the tiny details that go on in each of these activities

  • Computing
  • Stationary
  • Accessories
  • Work process
  • Lifestyle
  • Seating

Computing

Stationary

Accessories

Work process

Lifestyle

Seating

Rich observations and inference

All the tiny details that were captured during the activity breakdown aided in creating some rich observation and inference of interaction in a desk setup and gave a better insight into the overall process that goes on in a desk setup.

Breaking down activities into chunks and understanding their combination
Understanding the process of 1. setting up a desk setup and 2. Cleaning a desk setup
Some of the problems that I noticed to not have been addressed
Capturing some of the behavioral aspects

Cognition

One thing that really came through while doing the activity breakdown was that how much cognition plays a role in the activities that we do in a desk setup.

But still, there were a couple more specific things that I needed clarity on how cognition affects a couple of activities and how it can be utilized as well

  1. Boredom activities
  2. Behavioral aspects of cleaning a desk setup
Boredom activities
Behavioral aspects of cleaning a desk

Linked systems

Most of the activities that happen in a desk system mostly stay inside the desk and the supplement space(storage and miscellaneous processes).

But there are two major elements in a desk setup that connected back with the other bigger system outside the productive space

  1. Food
  2. Waste

In order to better understand all the nuances that concern the desk system. I first started out by listing out all the different little elements in that particular system based on which I made observations

Food

Breaking down the different elements in the food system
The observations and concerns that rose up in the research

Waste

Breaking down and analyzing the waste system in a desk setup

Study of the current versions of desk organizers

Though I was looking at organizing the entire workflow of a designer’s setup, I still wanted to get insights from observing the current desk organizers and figure out their pros and cons and understand where they lack.

First I started with collecting different types of desk organizers

Then I categorized them into major types and listed out their pros and cons.

Tools used in a desk setup

In order to organize the workflow of a designer. I had to first understand the major kinds of tools that get used in a designer’s workflow and this is where the possibilities exploded due to the

  • Various disciplines of a designer
  • Differing workflow of a designer

Potential space utilization in a desk setup

To fully utilize the desk space and increase space efficiency I needed to understand the various potential spaces that can be utilized in a desk setup.

Conceptualisation Phase

Before we begin:

Factors and Features

Before jumping into ideation I set a list of factors and features that the product has to meet in priority order based on the research done so far on user, environment, usability, systems, etc

Final Brief

To design a product that aids in organising the workflow of a creative according to their own process in a desk setup. That also manages the workspace efficiently.

Benchmarking

We also look at some of the products that are available and figure out the strengths and weaknesses to have a reference point.

IKEA Pegboard
MagEasy
Program

Concepts

Concept 1: Modules

The concept was that there would be different modules for organizing that the user could essentially buy according to their needs and just put it together as per their liking

These were some of the modules I ideated.

Set of modules for holding drawing tools and tiny supplements
A module that works as a non-spill water cup for painting and the lid turns into a tiny color palette
Modules of drawers that can be stacked up
Modules to organize loose sheets and books in both vertical and horizontal alignment
Few modules prototyped and how they might look grouped together
Mockup for the tiny color pallet (7.5x7.5x2cms when closed)

Strengths:

  • Customizable according to need
  • Personalized

Weaknesses:

  • Separate clever products but no cohesion
  • Not space-efficient as everything is still laid on the floor

Concept 2: System kit

A system of accessories that can be attached to a desk setup to organize the various aspects of the workflow

Strengths:

  • Can address all the problems individually

Weaknesses:

  • Will create a fleet of individual products

Concept 3: Sideboard

A board that can be fitted on the side of the desk that can be in turn fitted with modules as per the requirement to aid in organizing the workflow

Strengths:

  • Removes the need for a second space
  • Customizable according to need
  • Highly space efficient by utilizing the un-utilized space

Weaknesses:

  • The reach is not good. The user is expected to get up and access the space every time they need it.
  • The placement of the space might not be ideal for most environments
  • Not all kinds of desks might be able to support it

Concept 4: Mats

A Mat of Tessellated plates that can be folded to create organizers and dividers

The top is a magnetic mat version and Bottom we have a tab-based tesselation

Strengths:

  • Very low profile
  • Intuitive to use

Weaknesses:

  • Just acts as a surface to keep things on
  • Even if the folding feature is used, it can only create a section divider

Concept 5: Tiles

A tile that can be connected to form structures that can in turn be used as organizers and a support system for modules

This concept enables creating customizable surfaces layouts that can be stacked on top of each other to be space-efficient and the holed grid can also be used to fit modules according to the user’s requirement.

Tiles with holes that can be fitted together to create structures

I explored some of the ways in which the tiles can be fitted to facilitate various use cases

Ideating the kinds of structures that can be created with the tiling concept
even traditional organizer like structures can be built with the tiles

Strengths:

  • Space efficient
  • Customizable
  • Modular

Weaknesses:

  • Need for mechanism
  • Initial setup time and understanding required

Selecting a concept

Out of all this the Concept 5: tiles felt like the most promising one as it allows for customization and organization according to workflow. While also being flexible and space-efficient by using vertical space and wall surface.

Developing the Tile concept:

Initial version

I started with a concept of a 7.5cm x 7.5cm surface surrounded by a 1.5cm border with a hole in the middle of every 1.5 square centimeters

The border of one unit can be kept adjacent to another unit’s border or even the surface and can be joined with the help of a bolt and nut on the rear side

A single unit of the tile
Representation of how the tiles might be utilized

The bolt and nut mechanism felt very uncomfortable as it requires both hands to make the connection and the user is required to flip the entire grid to properly make the connection

So I started ideating few fastening mechanisms that can solve this problem

Ideating the mechanism for connecting the tiles

I made versions where only one hand is required, mechanism is present, mechanism less, faster working, etc but it felt like removing the need for a fastening element would be the most ideal

Magnetic version

In the quest to remove fastening elements I first looked toward magnets.

I had an idea of tiles with magnets on their edges to tesselate into a grid. I ideated a pattern in which both polarities of the magnet can be arranged to allow tesselation

Ideating the pattern of magnetic polarity that allows tesselation. The reds are North and Green is South.

Below is a mockup representing the layout of the magnets. Two adjacent sides will have 4 magnets of the same polarity placed on the running border of the tile near each end.

Mockup of how the magnets would be aligned in a tile

Then I ideated how a setup might look like with these magnetic tiles.

Sketching out a potential structure for the magnetic concept

Since the magnetic connection can’t provide much structural strength. If placed vertically can only support some small light objects. Apart from that it just leaves it with a magnetic surface that can support modules.

Thereby not being space efficient and not meeting much of the factors and features devised before starting the ideation process

Problems: Magnetic version’s stability

So at this stage, I closed exploring further on the magnetic tiles and took a step back into the initial idea.

Butterfly screw

Meanwhile, with faculty feedback, I discovered a different kind of fastening called the butterfly screws

This made it possible to have a one-handed mechanism that doesn’t require any mechanism of its own. Though still, the other problems with the concept existed.

Thinning it out

I also realized a tile height of 1.5cm is still thick especially when it’s on the surface of the desk.

So if I could convert the butterfly screw to be operated by only the pinch of the thumb and pointing finger, I can reduce the height to 1cm.

Experimenting with the size

Over the course of a few discussions and research on the size of general desk surfaces, I was able to see that a tile surface of 7.5cm x 7.5cm is too small.

So I thought of increasing the surface of the tile which in turn can reduce the complexity of the system by reducing the number of tiles required.

I made few mockups of different sized tile sets to better visualize their scale and select an optimal size

10cm x 10cm tiles with a pen and cutter for scale reference
12cm x 12cm tiles with a pen and cutter for scale reference

Over experimentation I found out 10cm x 10cm would be the ideal dimensions for my concept

Amalgamation of concepts

At this time I had a breakthrough.

Like the magnetic tile concept if fit protrusions on two adjacent edges of the tile and corresponding incisions on the other two edges I can fix them together like legos and can tesselate them and if the protrusion/incisions are matched with the grid of holes that are in the tile it can be fixed vertically also

As an addition if the tips of the protrusions are fitted with strong magnets and the corresponding polarity is placed inside the incisions that would create an even stronger joint.

Reducing the need for mechanism, while also being very easy to use and faster. Also, a major point is that it enables both sides of the tile accessible for further joineries and modules.

I made a mockup to figure out the placement of the holes, protrusions, and incisions. Every intersection in the grid points a hole in that point and the points in the edges where the lines touch are the points at which protrusions and incisions will be placed.

The distance between each hole in both the axis is always 2cms

To visualize how the tiles connect I made a rudimentary model with square tabs and holes to depict it

Mockup representing how the tiles will connect

Then I made a mockup with the proper aimed dimensions and tolerances to visualize its working

Modules

Since the hole matrix grid allows for modules to be placed I Ideated few modules that can be used

Ideation sheet depicting Modules for holding general stationery (top left), Small clock(top Right), Clip to hold small pieces of paper like a todo list(Bottom right)
Ideation sheet depicting modules to hold a post-it pad(top), peripheral storage(bottom)

I also saw that the tiles don’t connect on every preferred section at times. In order to facilitate that I conceptualized a thumb screw without a thread and a magnet at the end that can be used to fix the tiles

Technical specification

Instead of having sharp corners, I wanted a rounded aesthetic for it and upon trial and error I found 5mm radius corners looks the best

To better communicate the details of the product here’s a labeled cross-section of the tile

Manufacturing:

Materials

1.Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS)

The structure of the .Matrix tile is made of ABS plastic for its robust and Stress holding properties

2.Steel sheets

To be used in thin layers in between the main body to better hold the magnets.

3.Neodymium magnets

A strong permanent magnet that can be manufactured in small sizes is utilized for its magnetic properties. The magnetic grade can be between N-40 to N-45.

Manufacturing process

  1. Steel sheets are punched to shape with necessary holes in a dye press
  2. The cut steel plates are placed in their position inside an injection mold with the help of pins
  3. Similarly, Magnets are also placed in the protrusion parts of the tile
  4. Mould is closed and melted ABS Plastic is injected
  5. Once cooled the tile can be ejected out
  6. Corresponding magnets can be fixed inside the incisions with the help of glue-like fixing agents
  7. Product out

.Matrix

The product's appearance as a dot grid when tessellated on a surface made it apt for the name .Matrix (Dot matrix)

A single tile of .Matrix tiles along with the thumb bits

Here are some of the ways in which the user can configure their own organizational systems

Setup 1
Representation of how the thumb bits would be used
Setup 2

Acknowledgments:

This project was done during the course of Simple Product Design

Duration: 7 weeks

Guided by: Amaltas Khan, Kishen Patel

Semester 4- B.Des, Industrial Design

National Institute of Design – Andhra Pradesh

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