Posts Tagged ‘OXO’

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.

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: