Introduction: The Hive Project

About: Designer at IDEO

Each year I enjoy initiating a project for the purpose of personal development. I often use it low risk way to explore new mediums, materials or a subject matter that I know nothing about. I allow myself to experiment, deviate, start over and of course fail occasionally.

This year I chose to pursue learning more about the common honeybee.

Step 1: Research

I decided to research the common honeybee and see if there is a possible design solution to potentially improve the current state of declining bee populations. I started at the top with the commercial bee industry and discovered a troubled honey industry plagued by thin profit margins and forced to compromise their bees health.

As I worked my way down the chain I discovered a growing population of passionate people who love the environmental and social aspects of keeping bees. What I found interesting after speaking to casual beekeepers is the social component of beekeeping and how word of mouth is the primary source of information. The sharing of information, tools, and even bees are incredibly important and have become a type of social currency.

Perhaps the most interesting thing that I discovered is how many people have come to get their bees. Just as hives split in nature to grow their species, people seem to be following suit by making a habit of giving half of their hive to a different friend each year. Even a small project starting with just 10 hives could potentially duplicate to well over 10,000 hives after 10 years. This was the foundation of my design exploration.

Step 2: Inspiration

Watching bees for the first few times is quite a magical experience and i wanted to preserve and enhance that. Its similar to a campfire in that you could watch it for quite a while and not lose interest. The bees would obviously prefer if you don’t disrupt their home so I needed a way to allow people to interact without disturbance.

Safety is always a concern and bee equipment can be annoying so I built in a viewing window to allow people to feel as though they are interacting with the hive from a save distance. It also benefits the hive as it would reduce the number of times beginning beekeepers would feel the need to go in and make sure everything is going well.

The shape being parabolic reduces the amount of energy required to heat the nucleus while improving ventilation. It also eliminates most problems with unnecessary bacteria growth making the bees more resilient.

I also took into consideration the skill level of new beekeepers. The core is modular and doubles as a transport device while individual frames can eaily be removed and transplanted into another hive. This makes the process of starting a beehive or splitting a hive easy and with minimal disruption.

Step 3: Digital to Analog

I began by working backwards from the parabolic shape and found a way to get 3 identicle panels to interlock perfectly and form a sealed chamber. I knew I’d eventually need 3 seperate moulds to make it work properly but for now my budget could afford one.

I wanted to explore the possibilities of every medium. Wood was always the best case scenario but bioplastics provided an easy and affordable option as well. I moved forward under the assumption that I would be able to find an appropriate material at a later time

At this point I decieded to go with the cheapest, easiest, and most accessible medium that i could do all the manual labor for. Fiberglass provided that really well but presents problems with its strenth and rigidity. I knew nothing about it at the beginning but figured out the process as i went along.

I decided on a wood texture for the first one so it wouldn’t stand out as bad in a wooded environment. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a thermoform big enough for the viewing window but was more interested in function.

Step 4: Practice

The bees had no problems aclimating to their new home and have had very few problems. It wil be interesting to see what happens in a few months time when the nucleus is bigger and needing more space. This will require a slightly greater amount of maintainence than traditional hives but only a slight inconvenience.

Step 5: V2.0

At the beginning of the process I felt it was important to preserve natural that have little to no environmental impact. For the nurture hives I decided to go back to the traditional hives and preserve what makes them so functional. I wanted to use all the equipment that you would use with traditional hives, so existing beekeepers would be able to simply put their bees in a new frame with minimal disruption.

I maintained the modularity of traditional hives but made it hang so it would fit almost anywhere and wouldn’t require any lawn space. This also reduces moisture and cold from the ground. I maintained the looking window from the Nature hive so users would be able to enjoy the bees without disrupting them. Its really easy to lose track or forget tools so it features a top and bottom tool shelf with a friction fit sliding door.

In addition to wood being a perfect insulator for the hive, its also very easy to fabricate with afoordable tools. It requires minimal labor and hardware making it simple and affordable to produce. It is designed with house exteriors in mind so feels appropriate in front of any style home or apartment.

Step 6: Augmentation

One of the main goals I set out to do is make beekeeping as simple as possible. Through the process of beekeeping there are ample opportunities to make digital tools to enhance the social and commercial component of beekeeping. Interconnected hives would also provide a great way to help people prepare for and combat problems such as viruses or adverse weather.

Since beekeeping is inherently communal, a social tool would feel appropriate and enhance the communal experience. New beekeepers tend to have a lot of questions so this would help them get the information they need that is appropriate to their location and from someone who has likely had the same problem. This sharing of information creates a bit of a social currency while also being an effective tool.

Data could potentially be valuable to the acadamic or research community but I feel its greatest service is to the hive owners themselves. The idea of gamification adds a level of interaction and understanding that current beekeeping lacks. Even smaller features like maintaince reminders or notes provide a valuable service to even the most advanced beekepers

Step 7: Case Study

Heres a case study for those who'd like to learn more.

Step 8: