This project was accepted to Dutch Design Week 2023.
Biosphere Solar is a Dutch solar startup which aims to make circular and fair solar panels the norm in the PV industry.
As the creative director, I led the design efforts, translating our core values of circularity, fairness & open source culture to tangible product directions.
Leading product design & timeline
Defining product directions with user research & strategy
Product Styling & Visualization
Core of my work at Biosphere consisted of defining the product vision for the Solar Development Kit (dev-kit for short), a DIY micro solar panel for indoor use.
On a sunny day, when hung on a window facing the outdoors, the dev kit can charge a phone.
Designed to be built, traded, taken apart, used and reused, dev kit lives and grows with its caretaker.
First of its kind, the dev kit is assembled by the user at home. As the maker gets familiar with key components of the dev kit, they can repair, upgrade or redesign parts of it as their needs and preferences change.
The design of the dev kit is rooted in the interactions the maker will have with and in relation to it. To inform product features and requirements, I first conducted internal and intuitive research to establish the product context, visualizing what I expect product features to be and the lifestyle the user would have around it.
To design a circular product, life around it should be cyclical. For the dev kit, the maker goes through cycles of building, using, maintaining and upgrading the product. To enable these interactions the dev kit had to be repairable, customizable, and hackable.
One of the key purposes of the dev kit is to allow people to connect with solar technology and each other through building and maintaining their own energy-producing device. Modularity in this case is a key enabler of personalization, where people can build extensions around a basic, functional core product.
The makers are encouraged to share their modifications and hacks with each other to grow the solar knowledge base.
HOW DO WE MAKE A DIY KIT FIT HOW PEOPLE LIVE?
The dev kit is positioned to serve "nooby makers", people who have interest in building things, and spend their free time on various personal projects with fellow makers.
I conversed in depth with a small number of members our target group. Collecting findings on their interests, values, wishes and priorities, I built a vivid persona to inform product direction.
As a designer, I find it a personal point of interest to focus on user values and personality, and try to distill and embody these fuzzy and abstract pieces of information in a concrete physical product.
I focused on motives that drive our target group to make and what this process looks like for them. The final persona is nuanced and detailed as it is rooted in fundamental psychological workings of a small group of people, but the insights that emerge are scalable.
the making process
HOW DO WE ENVISION THE DEV KIT?
Defining the vision for the dev kit was an intuitive analysis balancing the user needs, business requirements, features inherent to solar products. This resulted in "rules" for the dev kit:
is an invitation for creating the future
user feels they can shape the product (and by extension, solar)
sustainability is embodied in the process
assembly process makes the user feel proud and satisfied
evokes state of flow
“ the development kit aids in the creation of solar futures by bringing the nooby makers closer to solar technology through a feeling of confidence and ownership in making their own functional solar PV modules “
Considering the context and the values of the target group, I defined a vision for how a maker should interact with the dev kit. I find this the bridging element between the fuzzy personal information and physical product features. The interaction vision is how people should feel when they are building, using, or standing in the same room as the dev kit. In this instance it is:
“Putting your bare feet on the grass”
From here on, I interfaced with the product design team to inform conceptual aspects such as product materials, features, and scale. This process was a balance of sketching to search for product forms and features, visualizing the resulting product directions in realistic renders and prototyping.
The dev kit is designed to be self-assembled following an instruction manual. We tested the usability of the dev kit in workshops in the Delft Maker Faire and the IDEA League Conference in Politecnico Milano to iterate on the design.
CIRCULAR PRODUCT DESIGN
Repairability and recyclability are at the core of circular product design. Unlike conventional PV modules, in the dev kit we avoid adhesives by using a removable seal to shelter the solar cells from moisture and dust. This makes it possible to take the module apart to service a broken solar cell, or upgrade the design at a later time.
The solar cells are held together by 3D printed parts, for which CAD files are openly provided online. A disassembly map shows the ease of "hackability", no part requires too much work to get to, all assembly steps are reversible.
With this design, it becomes possible to seperate the solar cells and recycle at end of life.
The dev kit is accepted to Dutch Design Week 2023 where we will unveil the final design in October.