Design by Nature

Karthik Subramaniam
4 min readMay 27, 2017

This entry is part of an ongoing series. Check out the previous entry here.

The PowerDock is a device that derives energy from nature. Therefore, its design needed to be derived from nature. Every day, the sun gives us power from above. In the same vein, the solar panel would give the iPhone power…from above.

Many designs were quickly sketched out with the form factor of the panel in mind, but this time, the panel would rest on a platform on top of the device.

Seen above, initial concepts were boxy and hard-edged. This didn’t scream friendly or usable; it exuded the same personality of an old coffee machine. As for functionality, the supporting beam being in such close proximity to the device gave very little room for people people with larger hands to actually use the device comfortably.

Thus, the design was revised to take more cues from nature. So much of our lives rely on arcs and the beauty within them: the Earth, wheels, eyes. The solar panel would be connected to the base of the dock, where the phone would rest, with a flowing, smooth arc.

This single curve screamed playfulness and the entire body resembled a smiling face; the curve also acted as a handle so that the entire dock could be carried on hand comfortably. The panel can be seen in blue on the top level. Though the width of this level was based on the dimensions of the panel, the height of the device, and therefore the overall footprint, would be dictated by the height of the phone, making the product manageable.

The design was further revised so that the body would be comprised of two components (the entire body and then a separate back cover to conceal the electronics) rather than four pieces (a top level, bottom level, “spine” to connect both pieces, and a back cover).

The image on the left shows a view of the product as seen from a view that a user would when interacting with it. On the right is a view demonstrating what the product would look like when viewed from an interior axis. Most notable is the varying widths of the levels, one guided by the panel, the other by the phone. This difference ultimately would not make it to the final product.

Of course, no product can just stay in the conceptual art form; the group needed a dimensional proof of concept to proceed with confidence. You can see all of the dimensions above, and also view what I think is the coolest x-ray view the group used.

With the details provided, it became clear how intricately arranged the leads and rectifier would be within the spine. Indentations were also provided for the soldering job beneath the panel and for the various plastic pieces that housed the Lighting cable. The back cover would actually slide on and off by pulling the plastic downwards from the top of the product.

The decision to place the panel above the phone was not at all wholly spiritual. This choice had a great function: the panel housing area, slightly protruding past where the phone rested, would provide a great source of shade so that the display could still be seen clearly and the aluminum body of the device would not get hot.

Click here for the next, final entry in this series.



Karthik Subramaniam

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