Making life a little easier

Making life a little easier

Since moving into our beautiful new office, we've put a fair bit of effort into making it feel like home.  With everything in the office being new, and lots of fresh faces wandering about, we've put a fair bit of effort into trying to make everything easy to find. As a member of a local hackerspace, I have access to tools that can help make this office awesome, and I've tried to use these wherever I can.

Our first step on moving in was making sure that we can all figure out where people sit, and make it easy to learn each other's names. We settled on some classy, yet playful, laser-cut wooden names.  For designing these, I settled on using the font 'Chowderhead'.  It's got nice big serifs, making it easier to make the letters join up in multiple spots to keep the final shape as strong as possible.  I often have to offset and rotate the letters to get them to join, but in general, this works well with the playful tone of the names, and ends up looking pretty good. I use 76pt characters in Illustrator, convert to outlines, arrange the letters, and then make ample use of Illustrator's path tools to make a single unified shape for cutting, and lines between the letters for etching.  I take these shapes to the 60W CO2 laser cutter, cut them out of 3mm baltic birch plywood, varnish them with three coats of spray varnish and epoxy a 5mm rare earth magnet to the back. These stick to thumbtacks on the backs of peoples desks. Our new hires seem to enjoy the fact that they’ve had a name tag custom designed for them.

I've also used this same technique to make other signs for the office, including 'Do Not Disturb' hanging signs for the meeting room doorknobs.

We also wanted to make sure that things like garbages and recycling, cutlery drawers, and other things around the office were easy to find. The tool for the job here was a vinyl cutter. I found appropriate images on the internet, or if they did not exist, designed them. Then I would convert the images to vector designs using Illustrator's image trace tool, and cut the designs using a KNK Zing vinyl cutter.

By this time, I'd gotten a reputation for making things, so it wasn't a surprise when our office manager, asked me to make a clean sign and a dirty sign for the dishwasher, so that people could tell with a glance if it was clean or dirty. My immediate thought was "why have two signs, when you can have one?", and so I started playing with ideas. What I settled on, in the end, was a rotating magnet design where one way up would read "Clean", rotate 180º, it would read "Dirty". The result looks like magic, but in reality, it's a very simple concept with a slightly less simple build process:


Essentially, the two different words are printed on a zig-zag surface, with the parts of one word facing one way, and the parts of the other word facing the other way. By spinning the sign, you expose the other set of surfaces to the viewer. I was happy enough with the result that I decided that night to share it on Reddit as an animated gif. 7 hours later, I woke up to a couple of hipchat notifications from co-workers letting me know that it was the top post on Reddit. 7 thousand up-votes, over 3 million views, and hundreds of supportive comments. We may have the most famous dishwasher ever!

For those who might be interested in building one of these themselves, I made an Imgur album detailing the build process.

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