Product Design

Fake it before you make it

quirky, keyshot, luxion, solo, product rendering

Renderings drive sales at Quirky’s social media design site

Growing product ideas out of social media is just one of the unconventional aspects of the business model at Quirky (  Another is the speed of development.  New marketable designs germinate at an unbelievable rate.

“We can build two products per week.  It may seem radical, and it is,” says Quirky’s head of engineering, John Jacobsen. “Although the designs are not fully developed at that point, we are still taking the community ideas to a certain level of refinement.”

Rendered images of these designs incubate on the Quirky website for further input.  Its community members are typically ordinary (if not slighty more opinionated) household consumers. These photorealistic previews spread through members’ social networks and attract cool-gear shoppers to Quirky’s catalog page, where they can pre-order Quirky inventions at a discount rate. The items that meet a given threshold of advance sales go to the factory first.

“The visual feedback is definitely a necessary component. The better the imagery and higher the fidelity, the more compelling the product is to consumers,” says Jacobsen. “People can appreciate the idea behind the innovations, but it is really the image of the design gets the customer excited enough to follow through with a purchase.”

For many proposals, Quirky posts the rendered images before the objects are even made.  Jacobsen and his team employ a design application called KeyShot by software developer Luxion, considered a pioneer in the new generation of automated rendering tools. Once you get past the fact that the images of some of Quirky’s recent projects like the Snow Dozer ice scraper and Ripple sink strainer are not photographs, you would think that the smooth-talking, studio-lit product shots must have taken days to perfect.

“What we are working with now is lightning fast. I have a laptop equipped with multiple processors and I am able to get high-resolution images from an engineering model in a matter of seconds. For our group, time is of the essence, so this kind of capability is crucial,” he says. “I don’t think we would be able to do what we doing at Quirky without these tools.”

The speed of the processing that keeps Quirky staff in their a high-paced schedule and allows for more numerous and varied product shots. Jacobsen can rotate the object within the studio environment in real time to find the most dramatic highlights and shadows.

Rendering used to be an afterthought, a task after design and before physical prototyping. As the technology has become more interactive, designers are looking at product components in a photo-real environment early and often.  Now consumers are, too.

“It’s becoming another means of evaluating the design itself, a way to judge the forms, materials and finishes. We use it internally to make those decisions. We often find something beautiful or mysterious about the design that we wouldn’t have planned, but we find along the way. High-speed rendering now makes that happen much faster.”

See more Quirky products at
Find out more about advanced product rendering at

written by Brett Duesing, Obleo Design Media


Storytelling through Rendering

Pensa and the new art of explaining products

Any one with new ideas has the same essential problem: convincing other people that they’re great ideas.

A single picture can sometimes convey the essence of a product design, but more often new ideas need multiple images to tell the whole story.  A visual product narrative traces the thought process that went into development through a series of renderings.

Like other forms of storytelling, there’s an art to good product narratives.  Some examples can be found at the website of the New York industrial design consultancy Pensa.  Rather than showcasing single shots of finished designs for such household brands such OXO, Bic, and Samsung, Pensa presents a series of slides that show why the innovations make for better products.

Here’s a few tips for clear and persuasive product narratives:

1. Get real

There’s a good reason firms are getting more creative with photo-real rendering output. Now there’s a lot more of it.

“A few years ago, the processing time used to be a limiting factor because if it took four hours per image, then forget it,” explains Pensa principal and co-founder Marco Perry.

“To show 16 to 20 concepts or multiple views would take forever.  With the new technology, anybody in the office can literally just drop the CAD in, take a snapshot, change the view, and then grab another one.  It makes rendering a non-event.  As a result, we now generate a lot more images and have higher quality presentations.”

Pensa employs an application called KeyShot by software maker Luxion, considered the pioneer in the new high-speed automated rendering.  Designers can generate entire photo realistic scene in a matter of seconds.

KeyShot’s high-resolution imagery provides the viewer more details than hand-produced sketches and generally leaves less open to interpretation in client discussions.

2. Place the object in context

Showing your product in its intended setting can give an immediate sense of what it does and how it’s used.

CGI applications now make it easy to render the product seamlessly into a photographic back plate with the same lighting effects.

An alternative method is to model just a few familiar 3D objects that subtly suggest the environment.  In Pensa’s renderings for packaging on Mr. Longarm’s stain applications, the model of the fence provides enough context without the distraction of too much background.

3. Demonstrate user actions


Innovation in products means users will do things differently. Where appropriate, include the user interaction with the proposed product.

In Pensa’s presentations, this is achieved with just a simple outline of a hand gesture or a standing figure.

The loose representational drawings on top of renderings convey the scale of products and their ergonomics while keeping  the spotlight on the product image.

4. Use Narrative Economy


Anytime you set up a rendering view or storyboard sequence you have to consider narrative economy.  A scriptwriter’s term, it represents the strategy of communicating more important story details in a shorter time interval.

Consider Pensa’s proposal for DC+/ethernet shelf.  Other objects — a ring of keys and a couple smart phones — communicate the functional features (it cordlessly charges phones, has hooks).  The doorknob behind it gives several contextual clues economically.  It establishes the shelf’s height without having to show the entire wall.  The viewer also gets a quick impression of what kind of wall it is, and therefore what kind of room it is.

The combination of these minimal elements makes the viewer imagine the whole scenario – the shelf is where you throw the contents of your pockets when you enter a home or office.

5. Speak to a wide audience


Consider your audience might get larger than the few industry representatives you are talking with now. The narrative might soon make its way to specialists in other departments —  from engineering to retail sales —  who’ll have their own set of questions.

Good imagery travels fast in large organizations, Perry says.

Make your narrative clear enough for even the layman can understand to allow newcomers into the conversation.  And include enough description to anticipate the concerns of both the manufacturer and the marketer.

Changing majors

Perry says everyone on his staff can render their own work, which makes visual storytelling a group effort.

“Rendering in the past required you to have the skills of both a photographer and a computer expert,” says Perry. “Because it’s now so fast and easy to make images, it removes the bottleneck that comes from having one particular staff member who is an expert at rendering and lighting schemes.”

Automated rendering may have eliminated the need for the equivalent of a scientific degree in order to get realistic shots.   At the same time, the technology may be introducing a requirement for a more literary-minded skill set in designers  – borrowed from cinematic direction, graphic design, and comic book art – to order to spin the most dramatic and impactful stories of their ideas.

See more of Pensa’s recent product narratives.
or browse through some other creative renderings.

Written by Brett Duesing, Obleo Design Media.  A version of this article appeared in DEVELOP3D Winter 2011.


A new approach to modeling instruction at PolyPlane

The best way to learn 3D modeling?   Forget about the software.

For the moment anyway.  That’s part of the philosophy at PolyPlane, a new instructional site that emphasizes the broader concepts of 3D graphics before delving into the dashboard of a particular CAD application.

PolyPlane“People just starting out in 3D modeling are forced to wrap their brains around a lot of unfamiliar concepts all at the same time,” says Gabriel Mathews, principal of Portland’s Con Cor Design Group and author of the video series.  “At the outset, stepping back and understanding the process of modeling in general actually makes learning an application a lot less frustrating.”

The first series of free videos at – called “pre-flight” – gives the overall lay of the land (or grid, in this case) for students before they even get into the cockpit of a modeling application.  Each three-to-four-minute lesson focuses on a basic concept in the problem of generating 3D geometry.

“We try to build an overall framework of modeling for the newcomer.  We don’t want to just define the term but show why it’s important and how it works in the big picture,” explains Mathews.   “Once you have this sort of schema in mind, it makes it much easier to take command of the software when you do finally approach it, because you know what you need and what to look for.  After a short time on PolyPlane you can really pick up any kind of modeling application.”

This can include engineering packages, like SolidWorks or Pro/E, curvilinear NURBs-based applications like Rhinoceros or Alias or tools for animators or artists like 3DStudio Max, Blender, or Maya.  Having more prior knowledge about the basic tenets of 3D can also help students make smart choices about which software are most in line with their interests, Mathews says.

Sketch To Model video course from

Modeling school bite by bite

Mathews was inspired to launch PolyPlane by a friend’s successful instruction site for 2D graphics called CTRLPaint, which uses short video illustrations and friendly narration to introduce new techniques piecemeal.  He thought a similar approach would work to cut through the complexities of 3D curves, meshes, and surfaces.

Mathews says there are dozens of other sites with modeling tips as well as tutorials put out by software developers, but he finds that too often the offerings expect the viewer to already have a background familiarity that amateurs usually lack.

“You get something that is 45 minutes long and loaded with acronyms and technical jargon,” he says.  “Any outsider is not going to know what a UVW map is.  It’s discouraging when you slog through a long tutorial and only grasp 50% of what’s being said.  And if the instruction is too centered on the software of a particular brand, it also tends to assume the viewer has a working knowledge of modeling already.”

In contrast, each short PolyPlane video explains in simple terms and clear illustrations another piece of the puzzle.  Visitors to the pre-flight series can accumulate a solid background of the principals in a few spare moments during the week, without opening up a modeler app.

“A lot of modeling is problem solving, more of a mental maneuver, like how to break up the object you want to make into more basic geometry, for instance.  Your modeler is not going to do for you, it’s something you learn to visualize,” says Mathews.

“Each video you wind up learning another little bead of wisdom:  how to control a camera view, why NURRBs are important, what does it matter to set up an origin point a particular way.  As you get into modeling in whatever platform, all these rules of thumb eventually become second nature to you and you don’t really even think about it.  But when you are starting out they can become the roadblocks in understanding the software.”Polyplane 3D modeling tutorialWatch and Learn: PolyPlane employs visual aids to show the conceptual underpinnings of modeling actions.

Test Flights

Learning by doing eventually is part of the ride, too.  PolyPlane has longer 2-hour series – called “sketch-to-model” – which put the principals to work in a practical, step-by-step modeling project.   Here it is helpful to follow along in a modeling application, Mathews says, but it doesn’t much matter which application; the user can adapt the general PolyPlane techniques to whatever platform.

Mathews says that many designers tend to switch applications at some point in their education or careers, so it helps to be open-minded at the beginning anyway.  He himself initially took a college course that taught AutoDesk products, then discovered Rhinoceros and taught himself the application with the help of his previous instruction.

“People tend to gravitate to a system eventually that becomes their favorite tool.”  For cost-conscious students, Mathews says a free sample version of Rhino or Google SketchUp works for the more intensive PolyPlane exercises.  Students can get a solid foundation with the pre-flight and the tutorial projects during a month of free trial.  After that, students can purchase the software for relatively low cost.

“I chose the Rhino environment in the video examples because it is what I am most fluent in and it tends to be the most affordable paid software.  It’s true that Google sketch up is free but the complete loaded version of the software is $499.  Rhino is around $1000 but if you are a student it is $199, so it turns out to give the most bang for the buck.”

Regardless of the software choice for students, Polyplane aims to create the most economical instruction method in terms of time.  “Whether you have to learn 3D modeling for school or on your own, we think PolyPlane will get you up to speed the fastest,” says Mathews.

PolyPlane plans new free videos every week throughout 2012, more advanced projects, and other design resources for the beginner.  Check out other video lessons at


Turning on Smart Ideas with KeyShot

The originators of OXO unlock the emotional power of digital rendering

How have recent advancements in visualization impacted international product development houses like Smart Design?  The award-winning firm, known for its reinventions of the commonplace like OXO kitchenware, now relies on raytracing for the exchange of visual ideas. According to John Jacobsen, Senior Design Specialist in Smart’s New York studio, changes in the profession due to technology are happening on three levels:

1. Designers get immediate visual feedback on their designs

Up until a few years ago, a digital rendering of a 3D model was a few days’ project in itself.  But in the new generation of raytracing tools, a photo-quality scene generates in just a few seconds.

Use of the new tools in the internal review at Smart can be seen in the revamp of one of the firm’s most commercially successful products. Over the last decade, the OXO line of utensils has become an essential of the modern kitchen.

Art in the everyday: “A spoon or a fork might be considered very mundane. They’re objects we might take for granted. But from a 3D point of view, they actually can be quite interesting forms and sometimes challenging to craft. There is a lot of art to the process,” says Jacobsen. (rendering in KeyShot, image: Smart Design)

The biggest difference between the redesign now and the original ten years ago, is that designers can now better see the possibilities.

“Now very early on in our process we looking at completely finished images of the product,” says Jacobsen, who uses Luxion’s KeyShot application.  “The digital tools bring a new latitude.  We’re able to explore different variations and push the boundaries in a free way.”

Jacobsen cites the idea of thin-slicing in Malcolm Gladwell’s popular book, Blink! A trained eye makes remarkably good assessments with just a thin slice of visual information. The realism of the rendering preview — complete with final materials, colors, and finishes — allows designers to judge the product holistically.

How do I look? Previews in KeyShot raytracing show designers the play of light on different geometries and finishes, like the reflective sheens on the new toddler flatware set, OXO TOT. (rendering in KeyShot, image: Smart Design)

2. Clients clearly see the options

“In a client meeting, I present my initial model and image, but I am in real time adjusting materials and adding some texture, adding some color, or even quickly adding a pattern to the surface.  I may not even know how I’m going to go about it at the outset, but I can extemporize.  I can make a change, get a reaction, then make new adjustments based on that.”

Jacobsen says that clients are now getting more accustomed to the technology.  There used to be a concern about introducing photorealistic examples too early on in the preliminary discussion.  The client might wrongly assume the design is complete and not open to changes.   But that’s not likely to happen, Jacobsen explains.

“Now that clients can see real-time changes in an application like KeyShot, they understand how fluid the technology is.  They perceive the visualizations as more of a game.  A rendered model is not final, but instead something we can play with.”

High-speed raytracing with is now rivaling tradition hand sketching for spontaneity in the conference room.  “Some people say:  pen and paper  — there’s nothing more fluid than that.  But the hardware and software are converging to this point where the response is so immediate.  The technology becomes transparent and you’re simply communicating your ideas.”

Loose conceptual sketches still have their role in designer’s processes, Jacobsen says, but they have their limitations as well.

“A sketch is a bit like poetry.  Readers can make several different interpretations,” he says.  “Various interpretations might be okay for poetry.  For product design, probably not.  The reality is that clients need more certainties and less abstractions in order to have the confidence to make decisions.”

Utensiltarian: The iconic OXO utensil line is getting a design overall after more than ten years. “Essentially this new redesign is more minimal and pure in form relative to the original set which was more generous in both form and material,” says John Jacobsen. The redesign takes in account changing consumer sensibilities which favor more efficient, lighter-weight forms. (rendering in KeyShot, image: Smart Design)

3. Visuals sell the idea outside the design process

The term among industrial designers and product photographers for a favorable product portrayal is beauty shot. Developers of KeyShot seem to have set up the rendering environment to generate beauty shots almost by default.  Accurate materials, studio lighting, and soft shadows on pure backgrounds seem to generateautomagically.  Drag a few materials onto the surfaces, and a simple engineering model suddenly exudes the glamor of a glossy magazine ad.

Couching new concepts in the same commercial sheen familiar in advertising and product packaging extends the purpose of rendering from just visualization to that of persuasion.

“I’ve seen it with our business.  In the very early stages our clients are asking for a certain kind of imagery so that they can sell the idea internally in their company, or that they can communicate the idea to outside stakeholders,” says Jacobsen. “They might just want their sales team to know the next thing they’re going to be selling.  They might show it to a buyer at Target to get an early commitment.  The physical product’s not ready yet, but they can start to set the stage.”

As an industrial designer, Jacobsen’s focus is the concept.  Especially at Smart Design, the focus is on how people use products and improving their everyday experience.  But to get to that point, people have to buy it first.  Most of that decision-making – whether you’re a retail buyer or just a customer — rests on the visual.

“Visual information just has this emotional power that overshadows anything abstract you can say about a product.  The image is what people come away with and remember later,” says Jacobsen.  So it’s no surprise clients are starting to use renderings to prime the pump of potential sales.

“That has become sort of the new thing.  We really didn’t consider imagery as its own deliverable in the past, but the fidelity of the images that we produce now and the speed with which we can produce them makes it a very viable request.  It works for everyone.  If I can get the client and their team excited, it helps them to get their buyers excited, and it makes my efforts even more successful. Not only that, I may even get some feedback from the buyer, so it plays a real pivotal role in the design and development of the product and on many levels,” says Jacobsen.

“At the end of the day, an application like KeyShot is an incredible tool.  We designers don’t talk about it that way as it’s a part of our job, but when you sit back and reflect about the role it’s playing, that’s not unrealistic statement.”

A version of this article was printed in CADalyst.

About Smart Design
Smart Design creates informed and inspired design for people and memorable brands for clients.  The award-winning Smart Design team has been turning insight and innovation into successful consumer experiences for over 25 years. Smart Design’s approach integrates product development, interactive experiences, brand communication, and strategic insights to ensure winning design solutions.  Smart Design’s consistent results are delivered by its multi-disciplinary, international staff working in teams across offices in New York, San Francisco, and Barcelona.  For more information, please visit:

About Luxion

For more information about Luxion KeyShot for photorealistic 3D rendering, please visit:

Universal Changes


For Smart Design, better rendering makes for better products

by Brett Duesing

Few product designers have a more conscious emphasis on process than the New York/San-Francisco/Barcelona consultants of Smart Design.  The progenitors of the “universal design” movement in the 1980s, Smart Design today starts each project with extensive research into every aspect of product life, including its ergonomic use, brand identity, and on-the-shelf appeal.  Smart Design maintains a close dialogue with its clients to find an innovative and exacting solution for a new market opportunity, whether it is a sophisticated handheld device or simple household tool.

“Our job is to design, not necessarily to render.  We’re not a graphics house.  We’re not an advertising agency.  We’re a product development consultancy.  High-quality renderings aren’t our final deliverable,” says John Jacobsen, Senior Design Engineer at Smart Design.  “But 3D rendering is an important piece of the puzzle for us.  It helps us sell initial concepts; it helps us communicate; and it helps us build our clients’ confidence in the design progress.”

Smart Design is an example of how advanced rendering is being used not to make a final product look better, but to make a better final product.

Products friendly to everybody

Smart Design was founded nearly 25 years ago, corresponding with the rise of its first and most closely connected client, OXO, a manufacturer of kitchen gadgets, cleaning tools, and other household items.  Together, the companies earned the first widespread commercial success using the concept of universal design.  In theory, the central challenge in universal design is to create a product that can be used by a wide diversity of users – young or old, abled or disabled — without much increase in production cost.

“The pinnacle product that brought this idea to the forefront was OXO Goodgrips Peeler,” explains Jacobsen.  The objective was to make a potato peeler more usable for elderly consumers.  “The OXO design replaced the incumbent peeler, which was basically a bent piece of metal, with an organically curved handle of softer materials. A potato peeler is a pretty mundane, simple product.  Maybe it’s not high design, but very thoughtful, good, innovative design.”oxo_images_844

With the idea of friendliness in mind, Smart Design and OXO essentially re-invented many common tools by carefully studying the task of the tool and understanding its ergonomics.  The success of innovative Smart designs in the 1980s endures today in catalogs-worth of OXO products, and as influences to product development everywhere — especially in the handheld high-tech tools that have become as commonplace as potato peelers.  The curvy aesthetic, a friendly ergonomic feel, and an expanded palette of materials of early OXO designs have now become elements de rigueur.

“Product design in general is getting a lot more sophisticated,” says Jacobsen.  “Clients and customers are getting more specific about how they want a design to look.  You can see this in a lot of areas – cell phones, mp3 players, handheld games, or computer mice.  If you look at the fit and finish of these new products, they are fairly sophisticated in their surfaces.  Designers are pushing the envelope to make things that look better and that are made better.  This includes more attention to the palette of materials, like brushed metals or soft rubber textures.  Throughout the industry, designers are now operating on a level where all these subtleties come into play.”

Real-time feedback

Jacobsen recently added HyperShot into the digital workflow of the San Francisco studio.  HyperShot can take imports from both of Smart Design’s major modeling platforms, Pro/ENGINEER™ and Rhinoceros.  Besides being a far easier application to use, he says, HyperShot has an advantage over old rendering tools because designers do not have to wait hours to see the end result.shell_black_magic_hs50


“The preview out of HyperShot has very high fidelity to what we’ll get when we do render,” explains Jacobsen.  “In fact, you really don’t have to ‘render,’ because HyperShot is always in this continuous rendering process.

“In most other tools historically, you’d get a rough preview, but it’s not really there yet.  You process a rendering, which might take a very long time.  You check it, and have to go back, adjust the settings a bit more, and do it all over again,” he says. “With HyperShot, you can really cut out a lot of those steps.  You get immediate results, minimize the amount of tweaking you have to do, and then move on with the project.”

Smart Design relies on renderings throughout its process, either as internal documents for discussion among team members, or to periodically show the evolution of designs with clients. “Feedback is what we get out of HyperShot.  The program is fast, so our feedback loop is faster,” says Jacobsen.

To gain the client’s green light on important features, Jacobsen can use HyperShot in lieu of PowerPoint in the conference room, or even during an online meeting via Adobe Connect.  HyperShot’s real-time rendering allows Smart Design to do the show live.   The presenter can change the look of the design model instantly, showing different combinations of materials, color schemes, and finishes right in front of the client.

For Smart Design, feedback is the fuel that propels the product development process forward.

“Primarily, good rendering helps us make decisions,” says Jacobsen. “The one thing we’re seeing as the process speeds up due to this very effective and controllable tool, is that we are able to put that time we saved back into our core function, which is design.   We reallocate the time the where it belongs, in the design process.  So in a very real way, Bunkspeed rendering allows to get a higher quality product out the door.”

The power of visual thinking

The careful forethought rooted the tenets of universal design – innovating simple items to include of more groups of customers – paradoxically gives Smart Design the means to specialize.  Recent products like Shell’s Black Magic auto detailing tools contain an attention to style, comfort, and function reminiscent of OXO utensils, but aim at only a narrow lifestyle market.  In this case, the same design elements appeals to the scrutinizing tastes of car tuning enthusiasts.
The lessons from universal design, then, are universal.  A product that looks distinctive, feels good, and works better naturally builds a rapport with its user, which forms a true brand relationship.  The actual shape of the product can create an identity more recognizable and powerful than just a logo on a package.
While tactile qualities and functionality are undeniably important, Jacobsen ranks this visual appeal as paramount, since it the most communicative.  This means that realistic and efficient rendering tools will take on an increasing critical role inside the development process.

“A lot of things we do in life and in commerce involve reasoning in a visual context.  You walk into a store, and you’re gravitated to what you see.  Visualization is the first step in a consumer’s reasoning process,” explains Jacobsen.

“Behind the scenes you need the tools, the process, and the methodology to support that kind of sophistication, and to meet the challenge,” he says. “To visualize that effectively and to really understand the subtlety in these designs, you really have to have the high-end visualization tools, like HyperShot.  It’s not really a choice anymore.”

About Bunkspeed
Bunkspeed is a leading global provider of visualization software and services for design, engineering and marketing. Headquartered in Los Angeles, California, Bunkspeed’s advanced visualization technologies leverage digital engineering assets and contribute to enlightened decision-making in the digital design process. The company’s clients gain a cost-effective way to deliver sales and marketing imagery, and realize significantly reduced product development costs. Bunkspeed’s customers include Nissan, Ford Motor Company, Volvo, Jaguar, Aston Martin, Land Rover, Pininfarina, Mercedes Benz Advanced Design North America and BMW Designworks. For more information on Bunkspeed’s products and services, visit:

About Smart Design
Smart Design creates informed and inspired design for people and memorable brands for clients.  The award-winning Smart Design team has been turning insight and innovation into successful consumer experiences for over 25 years. Smart Design’s approach integrates product development, interactive experiences, brand communication, and strategic insights to ensure winning design solutions.  Smart Design’s consistent results are delivered by its multi-disciplinary, international staff working in teams across offices in New York, San Francisco, and Barcelona.  For more information, please visit:

Boarder Crossing

Office of innovation: Designers of Italy's Bastard brand of snowboarding gear are also steeped in skateboard culture, to such a degree they added a bowl above their flagship headquarters in Milan. Capturing the interest of customers of all types of boarders was the core strategy of its recent RHINO design.

Office of innovation: Designers of Italy's Bastard brand of snowboarding gear are also steeped in skateboard culture, to such a degree they added a bowl above their flagship headquarters in Milan. Capturing the interest of customers of all types of boarders was the core strategy of its recent RHINO design.

Italian innovators design a multi-tool for the waves, slopes, and streets

By Alex Dickey and Brett Duesing

“Snowboarding is very popular on the Alps,” says Max Bonassi snowboard designer at the Milan-based Comvert. “The main difference between Europe and the U.S. is the consistency of the snow. Here we mostly ride on hard pack. Rarely do we get real powder you see in America.”

Comvert has carved out its own path with Bastard, a brand that offers a line of gear specifically designed for Italian conditions. “We produce boards with a longer effective edge, and a bit stiffer than average boards,” he says. “The result is a very fast ride.”

Although the snow might vary across the globe, snowboarding fashion is universal. Boarders on the slopes of Torino go for the same styles as their counterparts in Breckenridge. Since the Comvert released its first board designs in 1994, the Bastard label has steadily grown to include a full catalog of outerwear, street wear, and accessories.

Since its beginnings, snowboarding counter-culture has always traded style influences with the sport’s rebellious half-cousins, skateboarding and surfing. Boarding enthusiasts often change between the sports according to the season, a fact confirmed by a visit to Comvert’s offices. Comvert recently constructed an indoor skate bowl in their headquarters, so employees could skate on their lunch hour.

Comvert enlisted the help of another Milanese firm, Sardi Innovation, to produce a new accessory for Bastard’s new line. CEO and founder, Enrique Luis Sardi, seized on this idea that snowboarders hit the slopes in the winter, surfed in the summer, and skated to work. This persistent crossover inspired Sardi to devise an all-in-one tool designed for all three sports.

Party animal: The many instruments in Bastard's RHINO pocket snow/snow boarding and surfing tool fold up into the shape of a Rhinoceros.

Party animal: The many instruments in Bastard's RHINO pocket tool fold up into the shape of a Rhinoceros.

The Clash of Rhinos

Sardi’s idea was a pocket-sized multi-tool that would combine ten mechanical devices for use in snowboarding, skateboarding and surfing. Other sports pocket tools existed, Sardi explains, but their looks were utilitarian rather than phat. To give character to the tool, the Sardi team looked to a bit of zoomorphism:

“We actually considered 60 different animals based on sketches,” says Sardi. The design team settled on the Rhinoceros, giving the guiding principle behind the shapes as well as the product name, the Bastard RHINO Multi-tool. “Once we had the animal idea, the whole design naturally came together. And let’s face it, if you want to make the coolest tool, the rhino is definitely one of the coolest animals.”

At that point, Sardi designers had already engineered the functional metal tool shapes in the 3D surface modeler coincidentally called Rhinoceros. Sardi says the modeling platform was ideal for Comvert’s tool project, as it is for many of his other high-concept designs. Comvert designers (as another coincidence) used the same application to model their snowboarding products and to engineer the curves of its wood-frame skate park.


The NURBS-based environment allowed the team to play with the tool concept on screen, arrange the metal parts into different positions, and define the encasing animal form with smoothly arching curves.

“Its horns, front feet, and back feet are three different open-end wrenches,” explains Sardi. “On its mouth, you plug in the four interchangeable multi-screwdrivers it stores in its stomach, which also contains an ice-or-wax spatula. Its throat opens up to the surf wax comb. Its tail is the keyring clip.” In keeping with the boarder lifestyle, the RHINO’s ears make for a handy beer bottle opener.

“From the business concept to the final design product, the project came together in no time at all,” says Sardi. Ordering the parts into production also went smoothly. The Sardi team could easily export the separate parts for different kinds of production (injected Nylon PA 6.6 copolymer for the casing or 316 stainless steel for the tool heads). Prototypes were made to preview the product with Comvert and its retail buyers.

“When we sent the design to rapid prototyping, it was ready,” says Bonassi. There was no doubt or redesign. We didn’t even make a single change in the Rhino model. The same prototype files were used in final production.”

Changing Geography

The Bastard RHINO is now released through Comvert retail partners through Europe. The toolkit hit a sweet spot, a balance between the practical needs of the sports and the fashion sense of the audience. And the audience for the product is now bigger, mainly because, as Bonassi points out, the tool can hang in shops year round.


“We haven’t done any kind of advertising at all, and still the response just gets better everyday,” he says. “We’re seeing not only magazine and design book features about it, but also hearing about cool stories from customers using their RHINO.”

The multi-tool even made the ADI DESIGN INDEX of the 150 best Italian-designed products in the world.”

As the RHINO gains momentum around the Alps and Mediterranean, it soon may be migrating to the Rockies and California beaches. “Now it’s available in the online stores and the Bastard web site. We are currently studying worldwide store distribution that will take it to North America very soon.”

Sardi is also proud of the recognition, and views the project as an instance of high-minded design turning a simple mechanical idea into a marketing breakthrough.

“The key to success,” says Sardi, “is to keep on innovating non-stop. That’s were the real business is. When the competitors try to copy, you are ready to launch a wholly new product and leave them the wake.”

sardi-innovation-logoAbout Sardi Innovation

At the cutting-edge of entrepreneurial innovation, Sardi is the multi-award-winning firm that businesses turn to for success in developing unique products that strengthen and consolidate their brand image. Clients such as Pirelli, Lavazza, Avio International Group, and McK Aviation have recognized the ability of Sardi Innovation to create real impact in the marketplace. For more information, please visit:


About Comvert S.r.l.

Founded in Milan in 1994 by four skateboarders, Comvert conceives, produces, and distributes gear and clothing for skateboarders and snowboarders under the brand Bastard. Comvert also distributes the brand Electric in Italy. To view Comvert’s quality lines of product, please visit:

rhinologoAbout Rhinoceros
Rhinoceros provides the tools to accurately model your designs ready for rendering, animation, drafting, engineering, analysis, and manufacturing. Rhino can create, edit, analyze, and translate NURBS curves, surfaces, and solids in Windows, without limits on complexity, degree, or size.  To see the many diverse products designed with this affordable 3D tool, and to download a free evaluation version, please visit: