Introduction: How to Use the Concept Compass for Open Product Design

About: Conserver millwright by vocation, focused on design/build sustainable solutions. Like most people, I enjoy the simple pleasures in life.

Squaring the Circle for Project Navigation

I want to share a secret with you. It’s an ancient secret that’s been passed down through the ages from one generation to the next. It began with the oldest of human knowledge for the making of tools - and it’s still very, very useful in the present era.

During the middle era, many artist/engineers probably used some form of the Concept Compass, including Leonardo Da Vinci. It’s also very likely the very best workshops of the making guilds also used the Compass in one form or another.

Their secret was called ‘Squaring the Circle’. It wasn’t an end in itself. Instead, it was a means to learn by doing. It required one to pay attention to the details in a measure of work, resulting in an end product of very high, and almost timeless, quality.

Why am I revealing the secret?

No secret lasts forever. It’s time to share it so others can pursue Open Product Design.

Innovation happens everywhere and one can use the Concept Compass towards showcasing craftsmanship skills here on Instructables.

One can also discover more applications of the Compass in the soon to be released book ‘Elements of Open Product Design’.

Before revealing the secret, foundation stones must be provided to build the Compass upon.  

Step 1: Shapes of the Designing Art

Leave it to Leonardo to hide such a practical tool in plain sight. In the 15th century. Da Vinci applied the three shapes to explore biology, engineering and mathematics. But he did not keep this secret completely to himself.

Instead, he provided a map known as The Vitruvian Man, so that others with keen perception could apply the three shapes towards design. He wasn’t the first to attempt such a map, however, he was the first to carefully craft it’s details - refining it for practical use by others.  

Unfortunately, Leonardo’s squaring of the circle would be distorted by alchemists. By the 17th century, they would misrepresent squaring of the circle.

 To be fair, alchemists were trying to follow a standard set by the making guilds in practicing ‘the mysteries of the art’. In our present era, this is known as manufacturer trade secrets.

Unlike Da Vinci’s carefully crafted map, the alchemist symbol merely displayed the three shapes without real purpose. It would lead the foolhardy to the bane of the occult - or waste a lifetime trying to turn lead into gold.

The real intent of the three shapes is a starting point for outlining a design. Look at the room your in for a moment. Most of the products within are based on the square [or rectangle] shape. In most cases, the square embodies 80% of a product design. Triangles and circles are then stacked or combined with the square in order to refine the product design.

Initially, one begins with the three basic shapes to draw an outline for an open product design. It’s not clearly defined yet - it’s ‘out of focus’. By combining and stacking various shapes to the first outline the design becomes more clearly defined. The design steadily ‘comes into focus’. It’s a process of composition and resolution resulting in a final design.

Similar to Da Vinci’s map, the Concept Compass carefully ‘squares the circle’ for navigating a design towards a useful end product. 

Step 2: Tools of the Designing Art

The most important tools for design are the same as used in the middle era - pencil and paper.
Leonardo probably summed up the application of these tools best:

“Study the science of art. Study the art of science. Develop your senses - especially learn how to see. Realize everything connects to everything else.”

The best way to learn the science of art is by doing. Learning how to sketch and draw can only be accomplished by sketching and drawing. Practice builds skill for developing a design draft. A good site to help develop one’s drawing skills is Drawspace.  

A sketch must be refined into a technical drawing. The art of science is applied to clearly define specifications for transforming a design into a physical object. Specifications can include dimension, tolerance, projection view, part layout, and geometry notes.

Fortunately, one tool has proven to be as easy to use as a word processor in making technical drawings. Google SketchUp makes it very easy to refine a sketched design draft into a technical drawing of the final design. More importantly, one can test 3D models in SketchUp before actually building a product.

Art and science are combined to express the design in the final end product. By applying these tools to shapes, we can begin to connect everything together into the Concept Compass.

[Source of Scribe Picture]    [SketchUp Screen Source: osde8info]  

Step 3: Using the Concept Compass to Design a Concept Compass

An overview of the Tag Method for open product design is applied to the Compass, as follows:

Each cardinal direction represents a step in the OODA cycle.

Cardinal directions are the ‘North, East, South, and West’ points on the Compass. Each point represents a step in the OODA cycle for open product design. OODA stands for Observe, Orientation, Decide, and Act.

Each ordinal direction represents the goals of the design.

Ordinals are the midpoints between the Cardinals. It’s a constant reminder in meeting goals to reduce, reuse, recycle and refine material and energy flows in making a product. It’s also a strategy to keep the design within manufacturing scope.

Each circled number represents the scope of each cycle.

Each cycle asks questions that must be answered by the designer. These questions are:
  1. What is the problem? How does my product solve it?
  2. Can the product solve similar problems?
  3. What aesthetics [visual appearance] do I apply to it?
  4. Does the finished product work as intended?
The compass itself represents components interfaced to one purpose. Three levels of four steps each are nested together to realize the final design.

We’ll use this Compass to build a Compass.  

Step 4: First Cycle

Q: What’s the problem? How does my product solve it?

I need to demonstrate the practical application of the design process. I need to convey learning by doing, so it should be a hand held object. It should communicate reduce, reuse, recycle, and refine strategies. It must convey modularity and stacking of component shapes. I need to build a real Concept Compass.

I’ve already decided it should be a handheld object, but now my research begins for what kind of material it should be made from. Wood seems to be the best choice for the following reasons:

  • Most people have the basic tools readily at hand for woodworking.
  • It conveys a link to the ancient past and timeless knowledge in tool making.
  • It can be easily recycled back into the environment from whence it came.

But what kind of wood is the most sustainable? After searching online, bamboo seems to be the best choice for making the Compass.

Now I need to find a source for bamboo plywood. Bamboo plywood can be expensive, I don’t need a whole sheet to make the compass. So now I needed to search for bamboo ‘splanks’.

Ponoko happens to offer the small planks of bamboo plywood that fit my need. It also provides the opportunity to offer kits for the Compass as well.

The Concept Compass is made of .264”, 3-ply bamboo plywood. To minimize waste, it ‘s made from 7” by 7” splanks offered at Ponoko. If the Compass design is a success then a kit will be provided for others to have a Concept Compass.

The material size has also defined the ‘canvas’ space available for realizing the Compass design.  After some preliminary sketches on paper, I can begin a technical drawing in SketchUp and then create a 3D model. 

[Navigation Compass Source: Grabthar]

Step 5: Second Cycle

Q: Can the product solve similar problems?

The Tag Method of open product design is a four step process. Are there other 4 step processes that can be applied to the Concept Compass?

Other product loop cycles can be applied, including:

P.D.C.A. - stands for the Plan, Do, Check, and Act loop in the Deming method of manufacturing.

A.I.D.A. - stands for the Attention, Interest, Decide, and Act loop in the Vero method of marketing.

The Concept Compass can even be used for the Define, Explain, Predict, and Test loop of the Scientific Method.

This opens up whole new possibilities for using the Concept Compass. One singular tool can be used in the classroom to explain different processes. Or it can be used by individuals, teams, or firms in applying an interdisciplinary approach to problem solving.

Da Vinci was right - everything does connect to everything else.

Different cycle disks can be readily changed out in the Compass to reflect the process focus - from design or manufacturing to marketing of a product. It can even be a means to apply the Scientific Method for problem solving.

A disc represents the four steps of a process loop. Four discs are made, each engraved with the four steps as follows:
  • Product Design - OODA - Observe, Orientation, Decide, and Act.
  • Product Manufacturing - PDCA - Plan, Do, Check, and Act.
  • Product Marketing - AIDA - Attention, Interest, Decide, and Act.
  • Scientific Method - Define, Explain, Predict, and Test. 

Step 6: Third Cycle

Q: What visual appearance is applied to the product?

Hard corners are rounded for a more pleasing, and timeless, appearance.

The top of the compass can be remixed with engraved patterns of the ‘four corners’ by end users. It can be personalized with Arabic, Celtic, Mayan, Persian or other cultural art patterns.

The Compass top will be plain, allowing others to personalize it to their own satisfaction.
(Note: Sounds like the making of a possible future contest on Instructables...)

Rounded corners adds a pleasing accent to the top of the Compass. However, the bottom of the Compass will maintain sharp corners to accent the triangle shape. 

Step 7: Fourth Cycle

Cycle four is a kind of ‘punch list’ to be checked off if a goal of the design has been met. If design goals haven't been reached, then the loop starts over again to further refine the design. In most cases, design goals can be met in four cycles.

Q: Does the finished product work as intended?

  1. Have I met the reduce, reuse, recycle, and refine parameters? Yes.
  2. Has the product reduced waste? Yes
  3. Are the components modular enough for easy repair, reuse, and recycling? Yes
  4. Has the stack interface increased the flexibility of components, without subtracting from the reliability of the end product? Yes.

While each of the questions above have been checked off with a ‘Yes’ answer - the only way to be certain is to actually build and test the Concept Compass in actual use.

The Concept Compass will be built and tested.

I now must carefully prepare the technical drawing for computer aided manufacturing at Ponoko.
Flightsofideas provides a good Instructable on how to do this - which I will follow.

After the first Concept Compass is received, then it can be tested for fit and use. I’ll personalize it with the Croatian Interlace Pattern. If necessary, I’ll further refine the smaller details before it’s released as a kit on Ponoko.

The design is in ‘beta’ until it’s been tested. Once it’s proven and stable, then I can revise and update this Instructable for the release of the kit.  

Step 8: Open Product Design Summary

A short summary of the Tag Method embodied in the Concept Compass:

Observe - scan the environment and gather information for the product design. {Ask the right questions.}

Orientation - converge the gathered information to meet the design parameters of reduce, reuse, recycle, and refine. The parameters place a product in the proper context to carry out the design.

Decide - Consider options and select a path for product refinement.

Act - Carry out the the design. Use the resulting product design knowledge to start the cycle over again. This creates a loop that is repeated at least 4 times.

Each loop asks a different set of questions regarding the product design, as follows:
  • Cycle One - What is the problem? How does my product solve it?
  • Cycle Two - Can the product solve similar problems?
  • Cycle Three - What aesthetics [visual appearance] do I apply to it?
  • Cycle Four - Does the finished product work as intended?

In most cases, the Tag Method ensures open product designers will create a product specification within reasonable manufacturing scope.

Where did the Tag Method get it’s name? This design process is named in honor of Genichi Taguchi. From Wikipedia -

“Taguchi insisted that manufacturers broaden their horizons to consider cost to society. Though the short-term costs may simply be those of non-conformance, any item manufactured away from nominal would result in some loss to the customer or the wider community through early wear-out; difficulties in interfacing with other parts, themselves probably wide of nominal; or the need to build in safety margins.

These losses are externalities and are usually ignored by manufacturers, which are more interested in their private costs than social costs. Such externalities prevent markets from operating efficiently, according to analyses of public economics. Taguchi argued that such losses would inevitably find their way back to the originating corporation (in an effect similar to the tragedy of the commons), and that by working to minimise them, manufacturers would enhance brand reputation, win markets and generate profits.”

It’s from Taguchi’s insightfulness which sets the reduce, reuse, recycle, and refine parameters in open product design.  

Step 9: Let Your Ideas Soar!

The Concept Compass can help anyone refine their ideas into a finished product of timeless craftsmanship.

A 3D SketchUp file is provided for exploring and making your own Compass. Use it for your Instructable projects - especially if your entering a contest.

Which is exactly what I intend to do with this Instructable - by entering it in the 3rd Epilog Challenge.
(I can then engrave my own cultural pattern in the top of the compass - maybe add a personal touch to the triangle base too!)  

I’m looking forward to the seeing the objects you design and make on Instructables. Use the Concept Compass for open product design and let your ideas soar!.  

3rd Epilog Challenge

Participated in the
3rd Epilog Challenge