Industrial design process

Drake Birmann started with a problem - his mother wasn’t mobile enough in her own apartment. He took to the drawing board and concepted a product that would help her get around the apartment. Learn more about his background, his motive behind this innovation in home mobility and the stages of his design process.

concept industrial design


Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

From 2005-2008 I studied film theory at the University of Western Ontario. Thereafter I returned to Toronto and began a 7-year push to run my own video production company.  I was successful at running my own business, but I was uninspired by a lack of physical, tangible creation – you can’t touch film or video and it frustrated me.

I realized at the age of 30 that I needed to work with my hands in order to be content with my creative output.

I decided to enroll at Humber College for Industrial Design and have spent the last four years rededicating myself to the study of design. I recently graduated and now seek employment. I’m open to a few different pursuits, but aerospace holds the greatest appeal.

cad model product
The final CAD model of AUTEM

When you first started using Shapr3D, what problem were you trying to solve?

Until the second year at Humber I had been a lifelong Mac user, but now we were expected to run SolidWorks on the school’s PC. Navigating Windows while simultaneously learning SolidWorks was often frustrating, especially with a keyboard and mouse. I had to partition my MacBook Air and install Windows just so I could practice modelling at home. To summarize, my problems were,

1) SolidWorks is robust, but clunky and slow when trying to execute an idea quickly (the program’s UX slows the creativity and splits your attention between method and creation),  
2) On a philosophical level, using a mouse and keyboard to “design” is like giving a hammer to a painter to use as a brush – sure it will work, but it was not designed for that use and lacks the nuance and subtlety that a fine brush offers,

Last summer, I watched a tutorial on YouTube of someone using Shapr3D and it was immediately apparent that this would alleviate my frustrations – a lightweight program with minimalist styling, mirrored basic SolidWorks functionality, added stylus and touchscreen to replace keyboard and mouse, and allowed me to operate within a native Mac platform.  I couldn’t have asked for a more bespoke solution.  All I had to do was drop the $2k+ for a new iPad Pro, which is exactly what I did.  The MacBook Air gets no love from me these days.

rendering of product
Promotional material for AUTEM

Tell us about AUTEM. How did you come up with the idea?

Our thesis program encouraged us to first seek out problems encountered in different areas of life, and NOT to focus on the possible solutions. This created an open dialogue to investigating problems that were hitherto invisible to me.  The primary method for investigation was conducted through surveys and interviews to better empathize with people who were willing to share their personal experiences.

The genesis for AUTEM came from a discussion with my 64-year-old mother when she told me that as an older adult who lives alone, the home was becoming more difficult to navigate with each passing year.  This led to the insight that older adults have spent a large portion of their life building up their home equity by paying off their mortgage, only to be told it’s time to move to an assisted living community because they’re no longer safe.  How frustrating that must be!

concepting with pen and paper
Concepting with pen and paper

This insight formed the primary concept of helping older adults maintain and prolong their independence in the very home they worked decades to pay off.  After researching different areas of home-mobility, I struck upon the sub-category of bed-mobility.  The ability to get up without help addresses a key function of daily independent living. I began to think of a stand-up bed as a book-end for my target user: it supports them as they wake up and go to sleep.

concepting with pen and paper
Concepting with pen and paper

How did you start working on the idea?

Our program stressed the importance of sketching before moving to CAD. The rationale behind this thinking is that a

sketch of an idea seems incomplete and allows room for further discussion, whilst a CAD model in its mathematical perfection, comes off as a finished idea, regardless of how many design errors it may contain. In defiance, I found a way to use Shapr3D at every stage of the design process.

To address the ergonomics, I thought it was prudent to first build myself two ergonomic models in Shapr3D.  This was a two-week digression that was not part of the program requirements; I just thought it would be helpful to have them for all future projects if needed.  This is to say that before I had even sketched a bed, I had already used Shapr3D to make ergonomic models for this project.

After some rough sketching of beds on paper to consider essential components and dimensions,

I went right back to Shapr3D to play with the geometry and really see how the size and presence of a fully moving stand-up bed felt. I knew that it was just an iteration of a future idea, but it was more helpful than sketching the same thing from five different angles and guessing if they all made sense. Shapr3D allowed me to create and explore a concept before I was sure of my final design. In fact, I modeled the bed in Shapr3D from scratch three separate times, and each time it was more refined with a stronger personality.

Once the CAD model was finalized, I rebuilt each part with the intention of 3D printing it.  This gave me a fourth CAD design file that looked the same, but each piece could be printed separately and then fit together like lego blocks when it was time to assemble the final model irl.  It worked perfectly – I was pleased with how precise the tolerances fit together.

prototype in concepting phase
Prototype in concepting phase
3D printed parts and the assembly of the 3D prototype

The final renders in KeyShot 8 are mainly to give life to the CAD model for demonstration purposes.  Shapr3D is great for building and tweaking, but for now it lacks realistic lighting and material textures that KeyShot offers.  Furthermore, KeyShot enables animated renders which is an important tool for demonstrating how a mechanical stand-up bed moves.  I was able to test all the movements within Shapr3D effortlessly, but for a final demo, a polished animation was needed.

rendering 3d model shapr3d
Realistic renderings of Shapr3D model

In conclusion, I could not be happier with the way my Shapr3D experience has worked out.

It has taken something that seemed to be a necessary evil (being chained to a PC with Windows, SolidWorks and a mouse), to freely designing on a tablet anywhere I please. I’ve had several designers, including my professors, express awe and amazement as I showed them how effortlessly I can build and model with Shapr3D.  

Check out Drake's website

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