Design for Local | UIC

Cece Matot, Co-President of Matot, speaking with University of Illinois, Chicago Industrial Design students

Cece Matot, Co-President of Matot, speaking with University of Illinois, Chicago Industrial Design students

Cece Matot, Co-President of Matot, speaking with University of Illinois, Chicago Industrial Design students

Coming out of our Women in Metals Jam October 13th, 2016, industrial design students from the University of Illinois, Chicago developed ideas that were started at the event. Using our Design for Local curriculum, they explored our partner manufacturer, Matot's, excess capabilities and current markets- creating a range of elegant sheet metal designs within the hotel, restaurant and hospital markets.

Through this process, they learned how to design a marketable solution within local manufacturing constraints and work with a local manufacturer. The designs you see below were all developed in a quick 2.5 weeks led by professor, TJ O'Keefe.

Interested in learning more about this project and the students who were involved? Visit our Design for Local page on UIC Sheet Metal Concepts here.

Women in Metals Jam | Chicago


What do you know about Women in Manufacturing and Innovation? We explored this concept at our October 13th Jam at ICNC, a small business incubator and manufacturer network on Chicago's near west side. This stimulating Design Jam featured women- owned manufacturer, Matot, a Chicago-based manufacturer that has produced dumbwaiters for generations.  We also invited Irene Sherr of Chicago Metro Metal Consortium (CMMC) and Nuha Nazy of Z-Axis Factory to talk about the state of women in manufacturing.  Nuha also highlighted how Z-Axis Factory, a women-owned manufacturing co-working space in the Pilsen neighborhood in Chicago is helping product innovators produce in small batch productions.

Our manufacturer, Matot, is a local commercial dumbwaiter manufacturer who has been in Chicago since 1888. Originally starting making ice boxes, they shifted to dumbwaiters as consumers’ needs changed. Now they are again looking to new products to utilize downtime on their machines. Our virtual tour video explains more about their capabilities and was shared with the  designers, students, makers and manufacturers who participated in this Jam.

Our Jam began with 3 buckets for attendees to design around -- hotel furniture, hospital fixtures and autonomous vehicles (aka the 21st-century dumbwaiter). Over a delicious Pork and Mindy’s meal, teams frantically generated ideas over the next 1.5 hours. The final presentation was very exciting revealing ideas such as emotionally supportive lighting in hospitals; internal package delivery within a building; standardized drone delivery boxes; and what I would describe as an entertaining tie-rack-style machine for a hotel bar.

What comes next? University of Illinois at Chicago students are developing these ideas further to address the market, need and manufacturability. Stay tuned!

Manufacturing Day: Austin College and Career Academy Residency

Thanks to our Chicago Community Trust Acting Up Awards Grant, we were able to bring our Design and Manufacturing Residency to the high school students at Austin College and Career Academy. Manufacturing Day is a big deal at ACCA as they are one of the last CPS schools teaching a full manufacturing curriculum. This education is provided through Manufacturing Connect, a program of Manufacturing Renaissance.

The DesignHouse team and mentors presented over 20 students with a full program focusing on manufacturing, including careers in manufacturing, and Design Thinking. Through engaging activities, students explored what it means to design a product: - What does the design say about the way it works? Who is it for? Our partner, Skill Scout (an innovative manufacturing job connector) provided a dynamic presentation about modern-day careers in manufacturing, including what it is really like to work in a factory and the skill sets needed to get a good paying job. Design and Manufacturing are becoming more linked and so these conversations help students better understand career opportunities at each stage of the product creation process.

Taking the students through the Jam process, we explored how they could design new lighting concepts out of sheet metal. Design Mentors took students through ideation and prototyping to help them understand how to come up with creative ideas then narrow them down into actionable concepts that solve real problems. Finally, each student group presented their ideas to the entire group.

It was very exciting to see how engaged the students were in the Design Thinking sheet metal challenge. One girl said, “I wish this was happening for real!”

We are excited to bring our Design and Manufacturing Residency to more high school students in the coming year.

Design Jam | St. Louis

We had a great time exploring innovations around locally manufacturing with liquid silicone in the Bio Medical industry while being imbedded in the Maritz Innovation by Design Summit. The diverse teams of designers, manufacturers and medical specialists used Design Thinking to ideate around 3 areas; Wheelchair Accessories, Bio Med Wearables and dispensing Kid's Medicine. These rough ideas were then brought to life using Betabox's quick turnaround prototyping capabilities. Please stay tuned to learn how Industrial Design students from Southern Illinois University, lead by Robert Lopez, get to experience the challenges of bringing these ideas to reality by working with local MDS manufacturing

Thank you to the great city of St. Louis, our partner, St. Louis Makes and our sponsors, Objex Design. See what happend during the event with the video below.

Tour + Talk | Matot

Jim Piper and Cece Matot, of Matot, Inc. showing an example of one of their Matot Dumbwaiters in action.

On Wed. September 14th, DesignHouse organized a Tour + Talk at Matot, a local dumbwaiter manufacturer in the Chicagoland area. Matot has been family owned in Chicago since 1888 and is currently operated by two sisters, Cece and Ann. We had about 20 people come out for the tour, including a visitor from a German Economic Development Board.

Contrary to their name, dumbwaiters are complex and customized products. As a full product manufacturer, we were able to see the entire process from stock to package. The tour started watching flat sheets of metal get cut via a Plasma Cutter to each custom size then bent through a Press Brake to take their form. Next parts were taken to the Welders where they started to take shape. The dumbwaiters then get powder coated and outfitted with gears and electronics that fit their ultimate destination- be it a 2 or 18 story hospital, restaurant or hotel.

After the tour we then discussed the business model of manufacturing over lunch. Jim Piper, the Executive Vice President of Matot, gave us insight into the costs associated with manufacturing- “Steel is cheap, what really adds up for the cost of a product is the engineering and labor” sharing with us that parts with less labor (engineering, welding, assembly) can help simplify the design more than size. That being said, Matot has skilled engineers on staff that customize and translate the dumbwaiter designs which could also be an asset to certain small businesses. He also said that Matot's sheet metal tool kit is open for other businesses looking to utilize their capabilties in sheet metal, electronics and engineering. Interested parties can contact Jim to discuss part quotes or longer term partnerships.

The owners, Ann and Cece spoke to their pride in having a family owned business that maintained their production in the U.S. You could see their passion for making products in the factory itself- the space is clean and full of the 100+ years of history behind Matot. 


Design Jam | Pittsburgh 003

On September 8th DesignHouse met in Pittsburgh for our 3rd Jam in the Steel City. Partnering with Catalyst Connection, we brought together designers, entrepreneurs, and manufacturers together at Alphalab Gear to learn about the importance of Designing for Local.

The evening started with Paul Hatch’s Design for Local presentation discussing the trends leading DesignHouse to discover the gap between the standard design process and getting products manufacturing locally. Hatch spoke about a new way to think about it, "Just as the movement for local food has inspired chefs to refine their menus, local manufacturing can inspire product design if we reverse the process and design for local manufacturing."

As a practice for this process, we introduced the group to Cygnus Metal Company, a full service metal machining, fabrication and assembly in Saxonburg, PA. CMC works in a variety of industries- such as transportation, defense or medical- and has the capacity to meet these industry’s complex standards and paperwork. Check out some of their amazing cuts and fabrications below.

Speaking with Jodi Ricketts, CMC's Vice President of Sales and Marketing, before the event, she understood the importance of continuing to bring innovative ideas into their heavily complicated business to stay ahead. "I told my manager, we need to be a part of this." she told us. Seeing that there was an opportunity to expand their manufacturing into the medical industry but also wanting to explore new, less comfortable opportunities, we Jammed around 3 topics: wheelchair accessories, lighting, and IOT storage.  Teams chose one of these areas and ideated around CMC’s manufacturing capabilities through the Design Thinking process. 

At the end of the evening each team shared their ideas with the group- saw everything from elegant lighting for public walk ways to sensing school lockers and stair climbinb wheelchairs. You can see some of what was captured below. Please follow this blog to see what happens as we work with students from Carnegie Mellon to develop these into concepts!


Acting Up Awards Winners!

We are so excited to announce that DesignHouse's Acting Up Awards proposal was one of 64 chosen by the Chicago Community Trust to receive a grant following our On The Table discussion, Why Not Local?

Congratulations to all the 63 other great proposals throughout the Chicago area! You can see our proposal video here and all the CCT grant winners here

Our proposal is to partner with Manufacturing Renaissance at CPS school, Austin Multiplex, to provide an introductory lesson on using Design Thinking to create innovation in local manufacturing. While these students are currently imbedded in a great curriculum to learn about careers in manufacturing, they do not yet get the opportunity to understand how design can help them go further as innovative problem solvers in these New Collar careers.

This grant only covers a portion of or costs for programs like these- would you like to help us offer more education on New Collar careers and the value of Design Thinking in manufacturing? We are gracious for any amount of tax deductible donation you are able to make. Donate here today. 

Thank you!


DesignHouse at the White House

June 20th was a big day for us- we were invited to attend THE White House’s From Maker to Manufacturer Stakeholder Event celebrating The National Week of Making with about 60 other doers in the industry. The event was organized by the Office of Science and Technology Policy and we discussed how, collectively, we can get entrepenurers and makers to connect with local manufacturers and help increase manufacturing in the country.

Pictured Lee Willington of UMA, Nicole Heckman of Little Bird Innovation, Matt Anthony of Cincinnati Made, Bob Bland of Manufacture New York, someone I didn't get to meet, Katy Stanton of UMA & Emily Taylor of DesignHouse,  Photo courtesy of UMA

The diversity of presenters was amazing- there were some who were really rethinking manufacturing, for instance Nadya Peed of MIT was working on a doctorate to redesign a machine as we know it into light weight, modular components that could provide a wider variety of tasks and portability (view her presentation here). Nick Pinkston of Plethora- a small batch, quick turn around manufacturer- spoke about how he is creating software to create autodidactic (self teaching) machines, eliminating the need for training. A big player he mentioned in this sector is Bret Victor, who completely rethinks workspaces, check out this video to see what he is up to.

Along side the future thinkers, where also those that deal with connecting makers and manufacturers today. Ubran Manufacturing Alliance helps collaborate Manufacturing groups in 120 cities around the country to keep infusing innovation through education and programs. Greentown Labs and MassMEP, partnered together to research how manufacturers and entrepeners understand and talk to each other. The findings revealed that many start ups do not understand when is the right time to start talking to a manufacturer or how manufacturing business models work- a huge opportunity for DesignHouse to help engage designers on when and how to start those conversations. We also got to personally speak with Matthew Burnett, CEO of Makers Row. They have created a simple, easy to use Alibaba style match making system to connect makers ready to product products and manufacturers, really bridging the gap that we see today between these two groups.

Some of the main hurdles we saw, were the lack of concrete terminology- for instance, what is a Maker? At what point do you become a Manufacturer? Are jobs in these areas White Collar, Blue Collar (or New Collar, as we call it)? How can the US build up manufacturing networks like China does, so that new relationships do not need to be built each time a company changes or grows? How can we get more innovation to happen on the factory floor? This was an exciting chance to hear the latest in what is happening around the country in local manufacturing and see how DesignHouse can help engage the design community in creating innovative ideas for local manufacturing, but also educate the two groups on how best to work together.

Local, by Design: From Fabric Manufacturer to Fabulous Products!

Designers at the Fabrics Jam last September.

DesignHouse Jams lead to great ideas but how do they become products? Often through a partnership between DesignHouse, local manufacturers, universities and their Industrial Design students.

This past year Chicago based IIT students have been hard at work developing ideas that came out of our Jam with Chicago manufacturer, Chicago Protective Apparel.  From the 250 ideas that came out of the DesignHouse Jam, the students developed concepts in the fall and this spring were able to narrow it down to 2 soft goods products under their newly created brand, object.

I went to go see the latest prototypes at their end of the year show at the IIT campus and spoke with one of the students involved throughout the year, Ian O’Donnell. He walked me through the concepts- a smartly designed urban wallet and a backpack designed for the urban freelance live/work lifestyle.

The wallet has a clever, super slim design that helps the user easily slide frequently used cards out. It is also made of material that allows card readers to read the card without the user taking it in and out- both great for riding public transit.

The backpack is targeted toward the freelance worker. It is divided into two compartments, one for personal items and another for work and includes special features in each compartment making essential items easy to grab.

Both products are part of the object brand, created by the students to tie the urban accessories together and make them part of a larger lifestyle. To help visualize this brand, the team created a logo,  graphic style and completed the presentation with a website, portable kiosk for the products and a slick promotional video.

We discussed some of the lessons the team learned as part of the DesignHouse Process of designing for local manufacturing.

“I was a little surprised that local manufacturing still exists” says Ian, “I’ve been designing digitally so far and I never realized how long it takes to machine, prototype and iterate ideas. It’s a long process.”

For instance, students created 6 prototypes of their backpack design, and estimate that they still have 3 more to go. During the process they also realized the detailed backpack stitching was not the best fit for Chicago Protective Apparel’s heavy duty equipment. CPA recommended they speak with Bearse, another local soft goods manufacturing, and that partnership is helping to develop the final product. Going through the process of iterations, working directly with the manufacturer and improving the design is time consuming, but the students have learned so much about what it takes to bring a product to life beyond the concept.

The next step is to actually launch the brand, which the students plan on doing during the upcoming Fall semester. With this next challenge, they will learn how to market and promote their new brand while experiencing the process of having a full production of products made locally. Interested in what happens next? Stay tuned!


Why Not Local? #onthetable

On May 10th DesignHouse collaborated with the Chicago Community Trust’s #onthetable event- a city wide day of conversations around various topics that affect our communities. Our event was called Why Not Local and we set out to discuss where there are opportunities and challenges to produce products locally.

We had a talented group amongst us including, Mike Holzer of North Branch Works, Joe Parisi, founder of GuardLlama, Haven Allen of World Business Chicago, Zach Kaplan founder of Inventables, Bill Fienup of Catalyze Chicago, Andy Rojecki, professor at UIC, Heidi Sheppard of NEA, Lorri Cornett an entrepreneur and the DesignHouse team.

We covered a lot of ground around the plusses and minuses of local manufacturing. Companies like ProtoMold are making it easier to connect designers with prototypes but their pricing doesn’t make sense for production. Production overseas was more affordable but lacked the opportunity for oversight and financing cash flow, which is a big risk. Many of the success stories came from combinations of local and overseas manufacturing or assembly- someone even told of a story where a local manufacturer was getting tooling made in China then brought it onshore to mold!

Much of the challenge to finding a local manufacturer centered around the culture gap- the entrepreneurs of the group were used to getting to solutions quickly and digitally, but found manufacturers didn’t always speak the same language. This also came through in the skills gap- many young people don’t want to get into manufacturing careers leaving it hard for manufacturers to replace their aging Baby Boomer workforce. A more youthful workforce could help bridge these manufacturers into the future to better connect to new product designers and create digital innovations- more competitive.

What does the future hold for local manufacturing? Based on this conversation, it seems like the best success stories are a blend. Unique combinations of local and offshore are happening, combining that with the latest technology means that everyone is going to have to keep up.

Where do you see local manufacturing headed?

Reshoring: An Interview with Safepole

I recently reached out to Cari Ugent, founder of Safepole as I heard she had moved her manufacturing from overseas to Chicago and wanted to know more. But before I get into that, I have to tell you a bit about her business because it has a great story.

A few years back, Cari was hospitalized for a severe illness and had to be continuously connected to an IV Pole. The unbalanced weight of the pole made it difficult to do even the most basic tasks and she wondered if others had the same problem. As a journalist, her first instinct was to start interviewing the nurses and doctors at the hospital- it turned out they had similar experiences. They told stories of poles holding medication bags or precious blood tipping over or even poles not making it into the elevator with patients. She decided something had to be done and founded Safepole, with the goal of improving patient and nurse safety and quality of life.

When first starting out, Cari had all her parts sourced from Korea. As is the case with many start ups producing overseas, she ran into challenges- parts were delivered with errors and communication was difficult and led to high unexpected costs for her business. It was through a connection at DesignHouse that Cari was able to experiment with manufacturing in the US.

DesignHouse connected Cari with Skol, a sheet metal manufacturer in Chicago, who was able to collaborate with and redesign her most expensive part, the base. Originally the base was weighted with separate weights that had to be sourced, purchased and drilled into the base. Working with Skol, they redesigned the base into one simple part that was heavy enough to be its own weight, making the part as cost effective as Korea in the process. Though the part cost was similar, by moving this manufacturing to Chicago Cari was able to save money by spending less time managing the quality control and sourcing parts for her product. She has since moved the production of all Safepole parts to the Chicagoland area and is proud to say Safepole is fully US made.

We love this story because it dispels the myth that manufacturing overseas is always cheaper. There are many costs that go into producing products and factoring time, collaboration and design can affect the ultimate cost of your end product. Do you have a similar story about manufacturing locally that you would like to share? We’d love to hear it. Email us!

Like what we do? Join our matching contribution campaign or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

Metals at Marwen

Connecting Local Manufacturing to Design with Chicago Public School Middle Schoolers

It was a full house this past Thursday as DesignHouse partnered with Chicago Metro Metals Consortium to bring our DesignHouse Jam to middle school students at Marwen. During Chicago Public School’s spring break, 27 middle school students joined with mentors and DesignHouse staff to connect manufacturing with design. The excitement Marwen students provided was intoxicating, fueling great ideating around metals that can be produced locally.

During the Metals at Marwen Jam, DesignHouse focused on designing art supply products that could be manufactured in sheet metal. Marwin alumni, Akilah Halley, Marwen teachers and DesignnHouse staff kicked off the design session by introducing  Design Thinking and opening students’ minds to unconstrained ideating before choosing a path to move forward. It quickly became clear the students were much better at this part than most adults! Mentors then taught students about Sheet Metal manufacturing and led them through the DesignHouse process. Towards the end, students used paper and tin sheets, as it has similar constraints, to take their designs to concept stage! 

It was amazing to see what the students came up with in such a short amount of time- minimalist art tool holders, rotating palettes, art templates, just to name a few. In the debrief after the session, students and mentors alike were fascinated by the ideas they designed and how easy it was to  think about manufacturing first.

We wanted to say a big thank you to Chicago Metro Metals Consortium for sponsoring this event and Marwen for hosting. Both helped us achieve our mission of revitalizing local manufacturing through design and making the next generation more aware of the future of local manufacturing. 

Like what we do? Join our matching contribution campaign by clicking here!


Videos with a Cause

Thanks to SF Made and to the attendees of our sucessful SF Jam April 7th at Tech Shop! DesignHouse is honored to collaborate with groups like SF Made, Britehub and Manex to make this happen.

Have you seen the great videos that came out of our San Francisco Jam? These are the results of our partnership with the talented folks at The Working GroupTWG has been making a difference for many years with its focus on Not in our Town and other media outreach around the areas of workplace issues. DesignHouse hopes to contribute through "Made In Your Town", by getting the critical ingredients of education for meaningful working in design and manufacturing. The loss of our middle class, in some part because of the loss of local manufacturing jobs, has created pockets of unemployment and frustration in communities throughout the U.S. Our mission is to help revitalize our local manufacturing through design and design thinking, building back a bridge for designers and entrepreneurs to produce their products locally. The videos you see here help promote local manufacturing to designers and our continuing Jams let them experience designing for local first hand.

Let us know what you think of the videos!


Artistic CNC Manufacturer mashes with high end Circuit Board maker

How does a small manufacturing shop with complex cutting capabilities connect to a manufacturer of IoT circuit boards? We will be answering this at our upcoming San Francisco Jam April 7th, 6-8:30pm. This event will be held at Tech Shop San Francisco - 926 Howard Street, 3rd Fl in conjunction with SF MadeBritehub and Manex.

The Jam will feature Lucid Machine Art, a small CNC manufacturer with the capability to do organic, complex cuts in wood, plastics and foams. One of their specialties is an amazing 5 axis router, which you will see in action via video at this event! We will be mashing Lucid with SNA Electronics, a local PCBA manufacturer founded in 1996 who creates complex circuit boards for the medical, aerospace and IoT industries. We will also let you know about some of our partner's favorite manufacturers in the area; the do it all metal shop Standard Metal Products, Pagoda Arts and their precision laser cutting as well as Fathom Rapid Prototyping, the masters of 3D Printing.

If you wish to attend and have not signed up yet, RSVP HERE. Registration is $10.

Design House mashes printable electronics with performance textiles

Pittsburgh Jam • March 31st @ CMU Integrated Innovation Institute

What could you do with a printable force sensor and sewn lycra? This is one of the questions that will be posed on March 31 at the Design House Pittsburgh Mashup in partnership with Catalyst Connection. Occurring the evening before the IDSA Central District Conference, designers from all over Western Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan will have a chance at presenting their ideas for wearable meets high tech printed electronics. 

We will be mashing two women owned manufacturers in the Pittsburgh area. One is Butler Technologies, a 25+ year old company specializing in membrane switches, graphic overlays, dials, flex circuits, silicone rubber keypads and all sorts of high tech interfacings. The other is Aero Tech Designs, making high end cycling gear - worn by Lance Armstrong back in the day - from reflective materials, foams and high tech fabrics. What crazy ideas will come out of this? Attend our Jam to find out!

If you wish to attend and have not signed up yet, RSVP HERE. Registration is free.


A Reflection on Reveal • Skol Manufacturing

A look at the factory floor

It is almost springtime in Chicago, the sun is out and we are starting to peel off the layers. Gayle and I took this warm weather opportunity to bike over to one of the local manufacturers in Chicago--Skol Manufacturing Co in the Ravenswood district. We visited with owner Ray Skol and his son Rhett to learn what effect the Design House Jam and the Reveal Frame project had on local manufacturing.

 You can tell Ray is a man focused on his customers. His family founded Skol 70 years ago. As he chatted with us he kept going back to a large stack of paperwork that represented how much work it takes to keep his business going. He is proud of how Skol has weathered the shift to manufacturing overseas. In Skol’s case that means many of their bread and butter lighting fixtures are produced in China instead of locally in the Chicago plant.

However in recent years they have seen some of this work returning to their shop. Made in the USA is an added value for some of his clients and others prefer the ability to do smaller, staggered runs of product. “We are service focused” says Ray, “we have to be. If you need a last minute change that would be very hard to do in China.” 

Looking over at the mini fridge topped with a variety of Reveal Frames filled with pictures of young Skols, we asked Ray & Rhett how this Design House project affected business. “It hasn’t." was his initial response, but as he kept talking we realized it had made a difference in some meaningful ways. One of his biggest takeaways was crowdfunding: “I had never heard of Kickstarter before this.” Since manufacturers generally have to purchase material and create product way before seeing any payment, a model where a manufacturer can get paid before making a cut into steel was a big change for the local manufacturing purchase process.

The frame also got Ray thinking (design thinking?!) about a promotional plastic cell phone holder he received from his bank. “We could make these out of metal- just like the frame, add our logo and ship them flat to promote our business. That would be easy.”

 Another benefit was from the networking with Design House, which lead to a connection with entrepreneur Cari Ugent and the opportunity to produce her innovative product, Safepole.

 Whether through smaller batch runs, pre-sales, design thinking, and new runs, the DesignHouse model continues to grow and provide value for the local manufacturing communities.

More stories to come!

VA Tech intern, Chris Kitchen, takes the DesignHouse Design Jam to high school.

In October, building on what he learned as an Intern at DesignHouse in Chicago, VA Tech's Chris Kitchen conducted a Design Jam with a group of high school freshmen Humanities students at Monacan High School near Richmond, Virginia.

The one-day workshop had as a mission statement to expose students to design and design thinking in a way that empowers the students to take advantage of their own creativity. 

Chris focused on the key concepts of materials & processes, rapid ideation/prototyping, active problem solving and creative confidence

After learning about the sand casting process and its applications, the class divided into 6 teams for research & ideation with Chris mentoring and provide industrial design support.

Each group then had a chance to present their top three ideas.  This was the first of what we hope to be many successful [email protected] collaborations.