An Obsession with Well-Designed Objects

Karthik Subramaniam
3 min readMay 27, 2017

Sustainable energy use will be the next quantum leap in consumer technologies. As people continue to purchase devices that need power (phones, tablets, laptops, even cars), they will find themselves either in search of new power sources and charging methods or they may be less excited to leave their houses from fear of losing power and losing contact with digital societies. Thus, the search for this next power method needs to begin now.

Just over a two years ago, a team of three others and myself wanted to address this need for power and took it upon ourselves to create a working model of what a possible future could look like. To us, the most popular form of energy capture and use was solar power, and solar energy has always fascinated me in its complexity and growing use cases. However, creating a charger for iPhone that used energy from the sun was (relatively) simple; what we wanted to do was push this product to be was something that acted as both a charger and a physical support system for the iPhone — a dock. This goal was primarily driven by my obsession with well-designed objects that could balance form and function, and started a five month process from inception to finished product.

It was already established that this PowerDock had to provide power to a device, so the primary driving force for the first month of development was the visual look, the form that would compliment the function. Because our panel of choice was only decided halfway through this month, the first two weeks of conceptual work allowed the group to produce some truly crazy ideas. The first concept I created was meant to resemble a very alien piece of technology that was still familiar to a user and intuitive to use (contrary to initial belief, it is possible to make a dock completely confusing to understand) and also stand as an homage to the design of the iMac G3. Let’s take a look at this concept below.

The first image is a concept of what the working product should look like, created using a free-flowing scribble tool on Keynote. You’ll see that it’s fairly compact, with the front perfectly sculpted to the thickness of an iPhone 6. As indicated by the front view in the second image, the phone would be both supported and held securely by constraints on the front and back of the device; the sides would be intentionally left open to allow users to easily fit and remove their phones.

Another interesting touch is that the dock would place the phone at a 9º decline, a great angle that allows for visibility of the display and comfort of use. The body of the dock would then slope down while the bottom would curve upwards to meet at a curved point. Near the bottom of this confluence is the solar panel, indicated by the blue square in the concepts.

The dock itself was curved for two reasons: first, the tilt away from the phone would theoretically result in greater solar panel exposure to the sun than the panel resting in a level state. Furthermore, the curved nature of the dock would make it easier to hold by hand, as the parabolic shape would conform better to the natural form of a hand cupping an object.

Looking back at the project, I am still incredibly interested as to how this design could have turned out, and it is possibly one of my favorites because of how unique it was.

Click here for the next entry in this series.

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Karthik Subramaniam

I’m an empathy-driven UI/UX designer who focuses on accessibility, well-being, and joy. Check out my work at www.karthiks.xyz