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© 2019 created by MARA LEHMANN


School project in the 1st year of Industrial Design, Academy of Art University, California

Year: March-May 2018

Project context: This assignment during Product Design I class was to redesign beach coolers based on the following design requirements: 

  1. The cooler must be able to carry and keep chilled enough food and drinks for a day at the beach

  2. Address the problem of transportation: across sand, rock, pavement, grass. From 1/2 miles to 2 miles, fully loaded and returned empty

  3. Adress ergonomics of lifting in and out of the car

  4. Should be durable and last several years


A sustainable, modular beach cooler for every-day use

During product and user research I uncovered two main issues: the beach coolers are too heavy and too big to carry, and the materials used are most often not sustainable.


Therefore I had two goals: 1) find sustainable, insulating materials, with the same or better properties than what’s conventionally used and 2) make it easy to transport, suitable for multiple purposes and an every-day object


I chose to make a modular cooler: a cooler box on wheels which can be attached to a cooler backpack. 


The material for the cooler box is sustainable, natural and biodegradable grown from mycelium. Tests show that the insulating properties are better than styrofoam! 

The backpack is made of cork fabric (the kind that doesn’t use any harmful adhesives), plus one compartment with shredded mycelium lining / filling. 

Selection of observations and insights

I conducted 25 interviews and

10 observations in the field

Ideation development and a selection of sketches

I was inspired by the pole's cool temperatures and based on the user interviews I sketched modular coolers which in the beginning were arctic and antarctic animal shaped.

I later abandoned the animal shapes, but developed the arctic inspiration into the use of ice crystals as the form and icebergs as the color palette.

Product details

From the interviews and observations I made when talking to beach cooler users, as well as looking at the existing products on the market, I decided to give my solution the following properties: 

- modular cooler for more freedom in terms of volume and space

- make it an everyday object, also for non-food items

- lightweight and easy to carry, also for smaller people

- make it sustainable and food-safe

I therefore designed a modular cooler: a box on wheels like a small suitcase with a telescopic handle, and the second part as a cooler backpack.

The backpack can be attached to the box and be carried like a backpack or rolled like a suitcase. 

The cooler box is designed in Rhino and Grasshopper and CNC'd it.

The backpack is sewn from cork fabric and is fully functional. I created the pattern based off an ergonomic hiking backpack.


To me, the choice of materials is equally important as function, form, color, etc. 

Apart from great insulating properties, I looked for additional characteristics: 

- sustainability

- durability

- temperature resistance (it shouldn't get hot to touch in direct sunlight) 

and for the main materials I ended up choosing mycelium and cork

Form and color

Some ice crystals are symmetrical and have a hexagonal pattern. The Blue Ice cooler box features a subtle version of this pattern found in nature. 

The color is inspired by floating icebergs. 

Meltwater: Turquoise

Iceberg: White

Ocean: Dark blue

Thoughts on Development

Insulating and non-insulating compartment ​

The main pack’s two compartments could be developed as follows: One intended as an insulated cooler compartment and the other as a regular backpack compartment without insulation, except the natural insulating properties of the cork.

The insulated compartment would be towards the back panel of the pack, and the interior of the back panel itself would be made from mycelium- based foam, which has the dual advantage that it can be shaped for ergonomic fit, and has strong insulating properties.

The other outer walls in this compartment (the front halves of the side walls of the pack), as well as the dividing (inner) wall between the two compartments, would have an insulating layer of shredded mycelium- based material between the outer cork shell and the inner lining. This would make them supple as opposed to the rigid back panel made from mycelium-based foam grown in a mold. The inner lining in both compartments would be made from a water-repellent fabric. The non- insulated compartment would have only this lining directly attached to the outer cork shell.