Innovative Uses of Wood in Product Design

I’ve been noticing more and more wood creeping into the realm of consumer electronics and fashion, in products where plastic usually reigns. It’s a welcome arrival, especially because it suggests that designers are successfully challenging industry ‘defaults’ in terms of material choices. Here are three wooden products that have caught my attention recently.

Back in 2006, I remember seeing a concept phone that had a wooden plywood end grain effect veneer on the back casing. It was stunning. Unfortunately for consumer electronics, to achieve such a finish in production is prohibitively expensive. Since then more concept phones, taking advantage of wood’s tactile and quality feel, have appeared. The Touch Wood concept and prototype phone from NTT DoCoMo, developed in collaboration with Sharp, Olympus and the More Trees organisation, looks great and utilises the surplus wood generated by the thinning process of forest management. But it unfortunately remains conceptual and therefore out of reach of consumers.

iPad case Innovative Uses of Wood in Product Design

Images: Miniot

Whilst we may have to wait for a mainstream handset with a wooden finish, we can still encase our electronic devices in wood if we so choose. Miniot, a Dutch company, have a range of wooden cases and covers for iPhones and iPads. Their real wood iPad 2 cover provides protection for the screen and also acts as a 3-way stand, thanks to its articulated design. It’s fairly competitive price tag of €50 also proves that wood can compete in the market. Miniot chooses to use wood for its quality finish and because it is a natural, renewable material. As such their wood supply is “obtained from well-managed forests and certified supply”.

Glasses frames Innovative Uses of Wood in Product Design

Images: Herrlicht, Shwood and Boo Vision

Statement glasses are in. Wooden frames certainly help make that statement and I have seen, even tried on, a number of different styles of frames made from wood. The different approaches to overcoming the challenges presented in manufacturing wooden frames gives rise to a refreshing variety of designs:

I noticed Boo Vision‘s bamboo frames in an exhibition at the CMD (Centro Metropolitano de Diseño) in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Laser cut from bamboo sheets the frames have distinctive flat fronts. Bamboo is a great renewable natural material , you can read more about it here.

Designer Andreas Licht’s hand crafted frames are contoured to perfection. Every aspect of the his HerrLicht collection is well designed, even down to the wooden case to keep your specs safe.

And for anyone wanting sunnies, Shwood offers a great selection of styles and finishes of wooden frames. Based in Portland, Oregon, Shwood’s designs use 100% UVA/UVB protection Carl Zeiss lenses and sustainably-harvested wood, sourced from authorized and supervised plantations in different African countries.

Wooden watches Innovative Uses of Wood in Product Design

Images: WeWood

Watches. As instruments of precision engineering, they are not the most obvious place to find Red Wing Celtis, Maple and Guaiaco wood. WeWood‘s timber timepieces are not just striking fashion statements… they are eco-friendly too. Working together with NGO ‘American Forests’, a tree is planted for every single watch bought. Some of their wood is also sourced from remnants that would otherwise be discarded.

Wood is a beautiful material and if from sustainably managed sources it is environmentally friendly too. We generally see wood as a traditional material, used in construction, furniture and craft but married with modern manufacturing techniques it can create striking contemporary designs. Would you buy any of these products? I certainly wood!