Process: Writer's Block

Over the course of 5 weeks from November - December 2014, I independently designed and manufactured my own product from scratch in the Stanford Product Realization Lab.

Initial Ideation

After sketching many concept ideas, I began to converge on a series of design guidelines—I aimed for the product to be geometrically interesting, simple, delightful, and interactive. I decided to create a tree-shaped structure with four branched compartments and a spinning base, to hold writing utensils:

Product Story

This is for the meticulous but passionate creative; the visual dreamer, the writer, the doodler, and the perfectionist. The kind of student who refuses to turn in even a problem set until it feels beautiful.
This is for the mind that hears the music played by the perfect writing instrument – today, a black, felt-tip PaperMate Flair in medium thickness; tomorrow, the perfect shade of blue selected from an assortment of miniature Stabilo Pen 68’s.
But most importantly, this is for the restless thinker; the mind that breathlessly sprints on a self-induced high of creativity, and branches out in a thousand different directions.
It’s about time that we stop letting our writing utensils commit the crime of subtlety, blending passively into the rigid, tired-looking set-up we call a workspace. Our pens, pencils, and markers deserve more than to be zipped away into the sunless wells of priceless, zip-tie bags, or to be arbitrarily and helplessly stuffed inside the cramped constraints of an old-fashioned pencil holder – which is really nothing more than a mediocre, lidless box – with the butts of their tarnished eraser heads peeking out the top for a breath of dear life.
This product is architecture for the desk. It does not simply “hold” writing utensils -- it cradles and presents them as superior tools for innovation, in four cleanly welded, wide-lipped compartments made of mild steel, in a design that marks the wedding of smooth lines and sharp edges.
Each geometric compartment extrudes from the base as if branches on a tree -- a purposeful design that celebrates the mind as fertile ground, and the writing process as one of natural growth and divergence in ideas over time. As our mind spins with the birth of nuanced ideas at the desk, this product spins around seamlessly with it.
This product re-invents and reminds us what our desk experience means to us – not reddened eyes and a sleep-deprived back slumped over a mess of papers, folders, and books, but a space designed for innovation, creativity, design, art, and exploration. It’s about celebrating the inspiration we discover when we write, draw, and dream on paper. And finally, it’s about treasuring the intellectual growth we experience as we embark on the writer’s journey, and honoring the writing utensils that make our artistic adventures possible.
Meet Writer's Block.

Low-Fidelity Prototyping

To test a few early questions about functionality and make tangible the design fundamentals of my project, I began building low-fi prototypes out of simple materials. This included prototyping a potential spinning mechanism, where I created ball bearings out of plastic axels, perforated ping-pong balls, hot glue, and clips, plus a wooden circular disk as a platform and base. I also prototyped the overall structure of the pencil-holder using bristol paper and tape.

CAD (SolidWorks) Model

High-Fidelity Prototyping

First, I used the cold saw and horizontal band saw to cut rectangular steel tubes into various sizes and angles.

Next, I prototyped a few different ways of cleanly and effectively attaching the compartments onto the steel base, including fillet brazing, oxyacetylene welding, tig welding, and more.

After prototyping a variety of techniques, I settled on tig welding for the project. Then, I spent 2 weeks gathering as many hours as possible practicing my hand at tig before I pursued the final product. 

See the evolution of my tig welds over time:

Refining the Final Product

Before sending my final product in for powder-coating, I hand-sanded and sand-blasted the structure.

Sneak-peek at the final product inside the sand-blasting machine.

Manufacturing the Lazy Susan wooden Base

While waiting for my product to finish powder-coating, I manufactured the wooden lazy susan base. I picked up a few slabs of tigerwood (Goncalo Alves) from Southern Lumber, ordered a galvanized steel lazy susan bearing from McMaster-Carr, and bought some flat-head wood screws from Ace Hardware to construct the spinning base.

The series of photos below document the manufacturing process for the lazy susan, including gluing and sanding the wood, drilling pilot holes into the base on both sides, and screwing in the lazy susan bearing on the bottom.

Final Assembly

Voila! See the many different "faces" of the final product: