The Trellis Project
Open Source, Participatory Design
September 2017 - Ongoing
what is it?
The Trellis is a modular jig system. Simple and cheap to build with tools that are readily available at most Makerspaces, it allows aspiring smiths bend and form steel without needing to invest in an anvil.
The Trellis is based off of a regular grid. Thanks to this, any project sequence completed on it can be shared online with anyone else. People can build and share the same things even if they don’t speak the same language and live on totally different continents. Inclusion in an online community empowers users, encouraging them to begin learning an art often viewed as difficult to break into.
Why is it?
I've been blacksmithing for about six years, and throughout that time I've noticed more and more that people are very interested in learning how to forge. However, many of them never begin - even many Makerspaces don't make the leap to creating a rudimentary blacksmith's shop.
I really enjoy teaching people about how to use a forge, and I've noticed that several of the people whom I've introduced to blacksmith's work have gone on to make it a much more regular experience in their lives. So, I began this project with the question "How might we help people overcome their initial reluctance to give forging a try?"
My Process - 2D Work
I began with a series of sketches. These included laying out the steps for the sorts of projects that I might make using my forge, storyboards of the use of my forge in different contexts, and thoughts about how to make the experience of forging more accessible to people who may not have much of a space to practice or budget to spend on a shop. I also created moodboards to help tease out the feeling I wanted this project to evoke.
My Process - Working with users
As I created personas to gain a better understanding of who I wanted this project to appeal to, I narrowed down my user base to the Maker community - creative, experimental people with varying degrees of technical skill.
I've been a member of Vancouver's Maker community for several years and have taught forging classes at a local Hackspace for a while now. Deciding that this represented an invaluable source of information, I began offering free classes in exchange for user testing. During these tests I treated my own traditional style of forging as a "competitor", walking people through various projects to get a feel for what they felt were the pros and cons of the learning and using the craft in a traditional manner.
My Process - synthesis of research
Based on my user research I came to understand that the reason people were hesitant to begin forging had a lot to do with the cost of starting up, the perceived unavailability of necessary tools and shop space, worries about the level of strength needed to create projects, and worries about tackling a steep learning curve without guidance.
I began looking into other methods of forming metal, as well as the smallest, simplest and most affordable blacksmith's forges I could find. I combined all of this research into several different forms - portable forges, kits with most of the heavy work done that could be completed using a simple forge and simple tools, small jewelry forges that could be used to create delicate pieces. . .but the strongest idea to come out of this ideation was the Trellis.
My Process - Low-fidelity Prototyping
I entered an intensive prototyping phase here, making extensive use of the CNC machine to turn out a number of experimental pieces of varying fidelity. Prototype, test, ideate, prototype, test, and so on was the order of the day.
I worked primarily with my peers at Emily Carr to make certain that the prototype that I landed on was easy to use. Other than ease of use, it was important to me that people would be able to build and modify the Trellis on their own, using the plans I provided as a starting point.
To this end I created a jig that could easily be CNC'd out of plywood and used to mark out the regular grid which is the thing tying all of the Trellis creations together.
I mostly worked with metal, plywood, MDF, and heated plexiglass in this phase.
My Process - Mid-Fidelity Prototyping
As the design began to crystallize, I started working more on finer details - the exact placement system for the grid to follow, the shape and size of the rulers and how to distinguish them from one another, the best way to attach the Trellis to a sturdy surface when preparing to bend, the strongest, most accessible way to make the disks, etc.
I also started doing more work on the different kinds of projects that could be done on the Trellis - hooks, chandeliers, wall sconces, chains, potholders, and similar household items were the most common appearances.
My Process - High-Fidelity Prototyping
At this point I had a physical piece that I could begin to finalize. My priority now was to build a sexy-looking version of what I already had, and to totally document the process of both making it and using it so that other people would be able to build the same thing.
After I finished up my build and got all of my footage, I put it into a pair of Instructables. Both of them were featured on the main page the day that they were uploaded. I also took the Trellis over to a few of the people I had done my original user testing with, and got some very positive feedback from them.
Displaying the Trellis
To show the Trellis in our graduation show I built a special table intended to be reminiscent of a workbench. I CNC'd a mock Trellis into one side of the table, and included several wooden disks alongside it. To stand in for the hot steel I built a pair of grey silicon rods with a strand of wire in their cores. Visitors were able to bend the rods as if they were pieces of steel, creating and combining different shapes on the mock Trellis.
You can check out the Trellis for yourself at: