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:
The cooler must be able to carry and keep chilled enough food and drinks for a day at the beach
Address the problem of transportation: across sand, rock, pavement, grass. From 1/2 miles to 2 miles, fully loaded and returned empty
Adress ergonomics of lifting in and out of the car
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
This is a small summary of observations, insights and design specifications that I created from it.
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.
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
After many iterations and tests, the final design is a cooler box on wheels like a small suitcase with a telescopic handle, and the second part is a cooler backpack.
The backpack can be attached to the box and both together be carried like a backpack or rolled like a suitcase. The cooler box can also be used on its own and, with the telescopic handle, rolled like a small suitcase.
The cooler box is designed in Rhino and Grasshopper and I CNC'd it.
The backpack is sewn from cork fabric and is fully functional. I created the pattern based off an ergonomic hiking backpack so that it's comfortable to carry longer distances, even when fully loaded.
To me, the choice of materials is equally important as function, form, color, etc.
Apart from great insulating properties, I looked for additional characteristics:
- temperature resistance (it shouldn't get hot to touch in direct sunlight)
For the main materials I decided on mycelium and cork "fabric".
Mycelium is the root structure of mushroom. The microscopic branches of mycelium, hyphae, grow outwards into 3D space, self-assembling into complex high-performance structures. New companies like NY-based Ecovative produce high-performing materials from agricultural waste and mycelium—creating macro- objects with micro-structure precision that grow in just days. The live mycelium receives agricultural waste as "food". Under the right conditions, the mycelium turns the waste into a material with similar properties as Styrofoam, in just a few days. Like Styrofoam, Mushroom material can be molded into any shape (think of it like Instacast), but unlike it, the mycelium-based foam is 100% natural and compostable, and is made from crop waste bought from farmers, providing them with additional income. Ecovative is currently working on coolers for shipping food products. In their research, the mycelium-based packaging kept the produce cooler for a longer period of time compared to conventional cooling options.
Cork is a natural super-material. It is highly insulating, waterproof, light, and friction-resistant—as well as renewable and sustainable.
The type of cork fabric I chose is lightweight, insulating, waterproof, durable, soft to the touch, hypoallergenic, sustainable, and vegan.
Since I used the Arctic and Antarctic as my inspiration, I wanted to use colors that occur there.
Some ice crystals are symmetrical and have a rhomboid pattern. The Blue Ice cooler box features a subtle version of this pattern found in nature in a type of ice called Ice VII.
Ice structure on physical prototype
Ice structure on 3D model
Molecular structure of
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.