Form Library

Product Design, Form Giving, Education   •   How can a set of objects teach young designers about the semantics behind an object's form?


The Purpose of the Library

This kit of forms is designed to serve as a catalyst for queries, discussion, craft, and creation.

The library is a curated collection of reference material: it is meant to be experienced, felt, and organized to learn more about the forms' nature and semantic meaning. The goal is to promote explorative play in the product design realm; the potent emotional response to and meaning of form are concepts integral to good industrial design, and through tinkering, these objects help budding designers reveal these subtleties.

As the world becomes more digital, room for formal education in the design curriculum has been harder to find. Design's role in practice has expanded, leaving less room for deep exploration into semantic associations. This kit exposes design students to the value of formal subtlety. It was a pleasure to work on this project with Benal Johnson and Jake Scherlis.

How it Works

Three transformations, cut, pinch, and sweep, are altered in typological ways to demonstrate the broad capability of form. Each transformation set includes three points of amplitude, three points of softness, two points of position, and an inverse to the original transformation.

Accompanying these three sets of nine is a supplementary set of eight combination blocks, demonstrating the forms produced when the three original tranformations are stacked. This set includes a control block, three duplicate amplitude 2 blocks, three blocks each demonstrating combinations of two transformations, and finally a block demonstrating all three.



We began our process with extensive research into stakeholder positions and opinions. Through interviews with recruiters, business owners, faculty, administration, students, and graduates, we fleshed out the feelings of each party and how their incentives create a system of give and take. 


We ultimately restricted our primary stakeholders group to parties with direct influence on the classroom setting: students, administration, and industry.

Ultimately, we concluded that the changing role of design in industry has incentivized universities to expose students to these new applications of the practice. Schools, motivated to improve student job prospects and career success, are at a crossroads: with only four years of time with students. How do these programs showcase a broader, growing practice? are pieces of the curriculum replaced? reduced?

As a group, we all believe that the more traditional design foundation has helped us digest and interpret newer industry territory and recognized the importance of this exposure to cutting-edge design. Instead of proposing a reduction of curriculum space for that aspect of the practice, we rather chose to create a tool that would increase students' exposure to the value of formal sensitivity and catalyze education in this part of the curriculum.

Concept Development

We began our process prototyping physical forms that elicited specific emotion. Beginning with simple opposites, peaceful and aggressive, we individually created examples and discussed our cumulative collection as a group. We also fabricated forms driven by fabrication method, material, and dynamic motion.

Before long, we realized we needed standardization of basic form dimension to facilitate more productive conversations surrounding the emotional response to each individual block. The forms became easier to compare and contrast, but still lacked an overarching framework.

At a mid-semester critique, we received ample feedback which helped frame the natural interest in the objects inside a larger problem space. It was at this point we organized the forms as groups of alterations to basic transformations of the control block. We also worked through the logistics of sharing information about the kit, creating visual materials to convey our intentions and reserving permanent space in the CMU SoD 3D Lab where the tool can be displayed.


Final forms were SLA printed, sanded, and primed. This makes them precise and easily replaceable by the School of Design when blocks are inevitably lost. 

In Conclusion

The form library is permanently installed in its location in the sophomore industrial design studio in the School of Design 3D Lab. Matt Zywica, professor during the first semester of product-specific design, has asked us if he could use our tool in his curriculum. Mark Baskinger, another professor, has asked his second semester juniors to study the project and use it as a resource in their work.