IXL Fresco Aurora

An outdoor appliance like no other

The Fresco Aurora is an elegant outdoor heater which combines radiant heating with mood and task lighting to create a unique product. Its inbuilt dual 1000W carbon fibre medium wave IR heat lamps generate enough heat to keep outdoor diners perfectly comfortable, even on cool winter nights, while the inbuilt coloured mood lighting allows users to set an atmosphere for different occasions.

IXL have been leaders in home appliances for over 150 years. The challenge for the Fresco Aurora was aspirational; it needed to stand out from IXL’s back-catalogue of appliances and reinvigorate the brand.

Cobalt was brought on board to design the exterior form of the heater. We needed to accommodate technical requirements into a chic, aesthetically pleasing form to compliment a variety of outdoor environments.

“There’s no denying the benefits of ’smarthome’ products are fuelling people’s interest in this category. And now this tech-driven approach has been applied to outdoor appliances,” says Cobalt Principal Steve Martinuzzo.

“With alfresco areas and outdoor entertaining being such a huge trend in Australia, the IXL Fresco Aurora was designed for comfort, performance and ease of control.”

The Fresco Aurora was also designed to be lightweight and heat resistant. Lighting systems are often prone to overheating – a concern that’s amplified when the lighting system doubles as an outdoor heater. By utilising heat resistant materials and ambient infrared heating, IXL ensured the Fresco Aurora can safely operate passively without fault.

The weight of the unit was also designed to be as minimal as possible. The colour-varying LED light strips illuminate on both sides of the appliance’s triangular form, giving a complete ambient atmosphere in an outdoor dining area. As a result, the appliance could only be roof mounted, as opposed to alternative appliances which could be mounted on walls as well. This fact came with its own set of problems and challenges, all of which Cobalt worked tirelessly to solve.

The end result is an outdoor entertaining appliance like no other. The Aurora’s sleek design and ambient functionality doesn’t just transform an outdoor space into a cosy, ambient dining experience; it’s pushed IXL’s appliance line into the modern era through innovative features and human-centred design.

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Cobalt Design Boost Your Business

Boost Your Business

Boost Your Business with Cobalt Design

Cobalt is pleased to announce that we’ve been selected as a Registered Service Provider within the Boost Your Business initiative.

‘Boost Your Business’ is a Victorian Government program supporting Victorian businesses to become more productive, employ more people, improve market access and profitability.

The initiative provides Victorian small to medium sized businesses with  ‘vouchers’ or blocks of funding which can be put towards specialised services from registered providers in the areas of marketing, intellectual property management, research & development, business processing – and most excitingly product development.

This means that if your business is eligible to receive a Voucher from the Victorian Government, you can put that funding towards accessing Cobalt’s 20+ years of industry expertise in product development.

Using the funding you can work towards:

  • Progressing the commercialisation of a product
  • Funding product design activities
  • Small volume production
  • Product testing, validation, prototyping and verification
  • Conduct research and development activities

The program is open to Victorian-based businesses with a registered ABN, and have either 20-200 staff OR an annual turnover greater than $1.5M. The vouchers can range up to $50,000, on a dollar for dollar basis – a considerable boost for a business on the rise.

Naturally, as with any government program, terms, conditions and criteria apply, which you can read more about on their website here. In summary; if you’re a small business looking for product design excellence, Cobalt can help (along with a boost courtesy of the Victorian Government).

Interested? Then be quick! The second round of voucher offers ends on Friday the 13th of June. Get started with LaunchPad, or give us a call on (03) 9320 2230 so we can help give you the boost you need.

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Getting Your Hands Dirty: The Practical Side of Design

Getting Your Hands Dirty – The Practical Side of Design

Getting Your Hands Dirty – the Practical Side of Design

The world of design has changed dramatically in the last few decades. Once, design studios were filled with drafting tables and cork pin boards. Nowadays, you’re more likely to find Cintiq tablet monitors atop open plan desks, manned by smaller, more integrated teams. And instead of today’s precisely-accurate prototypes – 3D printed in hours, it previously took weeks to hand make models and in comparison these were a poor facsimile of the final design. As times change, so too do the ways we design and create – but has the practical, hands-on element of design been lost to time?

Robert Pataki, Melbourne-born designer of the world’s first PowerBoard says there’s not enough emphasis on “getting your hands dirty,” in the design world. Over the years, funding cuts to university workshops and an influx of design students has changed the way designers have learned to operate – putting more emphasis on the virtual elements of a product rather than being grounded on its physical constraints, materials or production processes. Kate Bisset-Johnson, senior lecturer in Industrial Design at Swinburne adds to this, claiming that students have become “seduced” by Computer Aided Design (CAD), which can trick you into believing the ultimate product will work, because CAD looks so finished and complete.

Take, for instance, touchscreens in modern cars. In theory, they’re aesthetically clean, technically advanced and allow you to precisely control all of your car’s functions from one point.

However, in practice these systems require direct attention and multiple inputs to perform any task. For example, in older cars selecting heating or music was as clear and simple as turning a knob or pressing a single button – a far cry from navigating through today’s multi-level menu options to turn the fan up or down.

While you’re driving a car, this is counter-intuitive, not to mention potentially deadly. Obviously, the designers of these early touchscreens were more enamoured with the technology than truly improving the user experience.

At Cobalt, we know the practical, and not the theoretical or digital, has to be at the core of every design. Safety, simplicity, and ease-of-use are paramount to the user experience. You could spend days and days of looking at a design through a computer screen – and while it may look fantastic, that doesn’t mean it’s going to perform well – if at all.

According to Warwick Brown, one of Cobalt’s Principals, “the importance of the three Ps (physical, practical and production) within the design process is paramount. Good theories have to work in tandem with tangible evidence, and we’ve spent over twenty years balancing these two over every project.” Both Cobalt’s designers and our engineers are in our prototyping workshop as often as each other, creating an integrated team which produce great product outcomes. Simply put – we know how to get our hands dirty and make products that work as good as they look.

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LaunchPad: Your idea starts here

Here at Cobalt, we have over 20 years of experience undertaking projects of all kinds. We’ve created exciting products in the fields of sports, consumer goods, research & development and even automotive design. We don’t just know how to make good stuff, we know how to run successful projects- and it all starts with the initial brief.

We’re excited to finally announce our latest project: Launchpad. Launchpad is an interactive questionnaire for potential clients (like you), to tell us all about your idea in an organised, targeted way. Are you an individual or an organisation? Is your product an improvement on an existing item or a new idea? Are you planning to manufacture and sell the product yourself, or licence it to an established company?

Launchpad not only saves you time and energy in pitching your idea, it’s designed to give us exactly the information we need to know precisely how we can best help bring your project to life. The information you provide helps us to form the backbone of a creative brief, and lets us know what tasks are necessary for the project. We get an idea of the grand scheme of your project; where your idea is at right now, and how you see it coming to life – or rather, how we can help you bring it to life.

If you’re on the fence thinking “it can’t really be THAT simple,” try it out for yourself. Simply follow the on-screen prompts to tell us all about your big idea, and we’ll show you just how we can make your vision a reality.

(Consulting Cobalt about your idea will not compromise any future IP applications. You can safely discuss your idea under the protection of our Confidentiality Policy).

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The 2018 Good Design Awards

A night to remember

The Good Design Awards is the design world’s night of nights, bringing together top Australian and international design talent to celebrate world leading designs. The event showcases successful projects across fields such as architecture, communication, digital, engineering and many more. It’s like The Oscars, except the prize is given to the people who made a really cool product and not multi-millionaire Hollywood superstars.

Cobalt was thrilled to be judged Best in Class in the Product: Automotive & Transport category for our work on Victoria Police’s third-generation Alcohol and Drug Testing (ADT) vehicle. Previous winners have included the Tesla Model X and the Mazda MX-5, but it was the ADT’s exceptional safety features, workflow considerations & improvements on previous iterations that secured Cobalt’s accolade.

The jury for the awards noted the design gives “the public confidence in the police presence at any major incident, or testing site,” and that, “the Alcohol and Drug Testing vehicle meets, and in places exceeds, the original project brief in terms of local design and material content, cost and delivery timing,”

Alongside the Best in Class achievement, Cobalt also received a Good Design Award® for the Dermapen 4, which was recently revealed to the world at the AWMC Anti-Aging Conference.

This isn’t Cobalt’s first outing to the Good Design Awards – last year we brought home a Good Design Award for the Maton Guitar Case, and before that the Concave Boot kicked the exact same goal. Other Good Design Award winning products include the Agilent 4300 Handheld FTIR Spectrometer and the 5100 ICP-OES Spectrometer in years prior.

Bringing together the best of the best

The Good Design Awards is a prestigious event for Australian designers. The GDA is recognised by the World Design Organization as Australia’s peak international design program. GDA accolades are a unique point of difference for design agencies in a crowded market, thanks to the rigorous judging process of actual products rather than images or concepts.

The event was held on the 17th of May at the iconic Sydney Opera House, where Cobalt principal Jack Magree proudly accepted the award, representing our group along with Mark Matthews-Frederick, Libby Christmas, Graeme Marshall and Marcus Krigsman. It was a wonderful night full of celebration, networking and admiration of our fellow designers- and of course, there was the afterparty, too.

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Cobalt's Staff Values

Cobalt: Teamwork Unplugged

Cobalt Teamwork Unplugged

A couple of years back, Cobalt undertook a programme with Leading Teams. The process was tremendously inspiring, not surprising, given that whole books have been written about the results Leading Teams have achieved at the highest corporate and elite sports levels.

So a couple of years on, we feel we have enough perspective to give a brief overview of our motivation and outcomes in undertaking our own Leading Teams programme.

For our group, the Leading Teams programme has helped us be our best; professionally and collectively. For our clients and suppliers we hope these have flowed through to better project outcomes. But, recognising internal philosophies can be difficult to see from the outside. We’d like to share these statements (tenets) which we at Cobalt have collectively subscribed to.


Trademarks which define us

Our shared values (Trademarks) are Innovation, Professionalism and Passion. We apply these across our business, and within any role; from Admin to Design to Engineering.

Real support

Meeting deadlines, “Technical challenges,” Engaging with clients and high-pressure situations. Everyone at Cobalt works to support each other and share the load in these peak periods. Actions like cutting some slack, a cup of tea or an offer to stay back late are great examples of our team’s support. At Cobalt, there’s no ‘them’ or ‘me’; there is only ‘us.’

Think “team”; value feedback

Cobalt’s strength lies in our people and each project team. Thinking in teams means valuing and respecting everyone, maintaining solid working relationships and having the right conversations with the right people at the right time. Feedback is given and received positively and maturely, ensuring that the team is putting their best foot forward for the project’s success.

Service the client

Cobalt has one purpose— we exist for our clients. On a company-wide level, we value our client’s needs and wants, being professional, friendly and helpful at all times under every circumstance.

Set your own strategies

Multitasking and managing incoming demands/information is the nature of our business. Being individually organised gives every team member the flexibility to ensure that they and others can get their jobs done. On many tasks Principals or Project Leaders will outline what we need on client projects. At an individual level everyone needs to manage how, when and what is done to achieve these tasks.


We should all expect to go to work and enjoy the experience. Being valued and respected is the standard at Cobalt. We show value and respect by taking care of our own responsibilities, not taking others for granted, being helpful and approachable, being polite and never losing your cool.


While our tenets may seem like obvious factors to consider in any good creative team, it takes conviction and balance to maintain these as aspirations people can rely upon. Every member of our team takes these to heart for in the countless actions, decisions, and steps toward the completion of each client project we undertake. They are what have driven us over our twenty-two years of design practice.

Cobalt is more than just a faceless creative development group — we’re a team. We’re always ready to improve, and we’re ready for any challenge that comes our way.

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KeepCup vs KeepCopy- Is Imitation the Highest Form of Flattery?

Good design has the potential to change behaviours, disrupt established markets or create entirely new ones. When Cobalt started working with KeepCup 10 years ago, we could only dream that it would resonate as much as it has, and launch a whole new product category of barista-standard reusable cups.

However, with success comes others who are bound to take notice.

KeepCup certainly didn’t invent the concept of a reusable cup, but our design and KeepCup’s unwavering drive definitely made it ‘cool’ to bring your own reusable cup to a cafe.

Before Cobalt designed the KeepCup, the few reusable cups the few that existed looked more suited to a picnic than something you’d walk into work with. Once it was clear KeepCup had tapped an unmet need, it wasn’t long before similar products appeared on the market.

Last year, KeepCup called-out coffee giant Gloria Jean’s for copying.
Cobalt developed the original KeepCup Brew, the first ever reusable coffee cup with a commercial quality tempered glass body, natural cork band and overmoulded lid. Gloria Jean, instead of investing in their own design or innovation, took the questionable route of releasing a product that was a dead ringer for KeepCup’s.

A Fight for (Intellectual Property) Rights

KeepCup’s managing director Abigail Forsyth told Broadsheet, “The case boiled down to conduct which causes confusion in the minds of consumers, exploiting the reputation of KeepCup’s products and market presence to take sales. It’s a classic ‘piggybacking’ case.”

Fortunately on this occasion, justice prevailed and Gloria Jean’s removed their ‘KeepCopy’ from sale. But unfortunately, others have and will continue to follow in their footsteps.

In any market, competition is important- it prevents monopoly, and encourages competitors to provide the best product and value to the market. However, when competition involves blatant copying, there are no long-term winners.

Sure, consumers may be attracted by a lower price, but all races to the bottom eventually result in quality so poor, and innovation so thin that consumers are left dissatisfied.

To be clear, Cobalt supports competition including genuine benchmarking where the best products are analysed so they can be improved upon.  And that’s the difference; good design demands real improvement and uniqueness, which is diametrically opposed to a cheap ‘rip-off’ approach.

Despite the boom in this new category, KeepCup is happy to share the market, as long as their competitors aren’t directly plagiarising their products. Back in 2012, KeepCup’s founder Abigail Forsyth told Dumbo Feather magazine, “what KeepCup is about is getting people to stop using disposable coffee cups, so it’s fantastic if anyone makes a product who can help with that”

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Cobalt Case Study: Helping Move Designers Towards Diplomas

Nelson Product Design & Technology Textbook

A Cobalt Case Study: Moving Designers Towards Diplomas

Here at Cobalt, we believe design should improve the world we live in. We do this in many ways; sustainable practices, socially responsible design, and using our technical know-how to solve practical problems.

We also believe that educating future generations to be design-aware is crucial to a better tomorrow. With this in mind, we were thrilled to be asked to contribute to the principal VCE text book on product design & technology.

For those outside of Victoria (or even outside of Australia), VCE (Victorian Certificate of Education) is the certificate which students receive on completion of their secondary education. Year 11 and 12 students must pass their VCE classes to receive their final scores for their secondary education- which is where textbooks become especially important.

The textbook (Nelson Product Design and Technology, for VCE units 1-4, 4th Edition) was written by Jill Livett and Jacinta O’Leary and published for the start of the 2018 academic year. The book is a comprehensive collection of information and exercises for VCE students studying Product Design, covering topics such as design thinking, sustainable design, materials and the design process. On top of this, the book also features a case study on Cobalt Design.

Cobalt’s contribution includes the importance of teamwork, design briefs, discovering user needs, and transitioning from design through to engineering and production. Whilst these are all areas discussed elsewhere in the textbook, Cobalt’s 20 years of real world experience provided tangible examples to all these concepts.

The textbook also includes a specific look at the design process Cobalt used to design the latest KeepCup- the KeepCup Brew, describing how it progressed from initial sketches to a final glass and cork product. This case-study covers more detailed elements such as divergent thinking, iterative prototyping and even the thought process behind the specific materials used in the product, to give students insights to inspire and accelerate their studies.

Cobalt Principal Steve Martinuzzo was also asked about his personal experiences including what he liked about designing products. “I like working as part of a team, and seeing our staff grow and be their best” he said, “I get real satisfaction in finding a new approach that makes an everyday product or process a little easier- or even more enjoyable- to use”

The textbook is now the prescribed text book for VCE Product Design & Technology classes, and is available for purchase for upcoming students- or for anyone with a keen interest in the fascinating world of design.

Nelson Product Design & Technology VCE Units 1-4 4th Edition is published by Cengage Learning Australia

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2017 Year in Review

2017- Cobalt’s Year in Review

2017 has been a big year, full of laughter, tears, and a brand new version of Photoshop which our design team is all over right now. Here at Cobalt, it’s been a big year for us too- we’ve grown, taken on more projects than ever and finalized projects that have been years in the making. Like the end of every design project, it’s always good to take a look back on the year that happened and evaluate your progress.

This year alone we’ve taken on 62 new projects, ranging from long-term partnerships to shorter workshops and even a pro-bono project for the Peter McCallum Cancer Centre. Alongside this, we’ve wrapped up 38 projects; finalising designs and shipping off prototypes ready for mass production. It’s safe to say that everyone from our design, engineering and admin teams has been busier than ever, and we have them to thank for this year’s grand success.

We’ve had the opportunity to work with so many amazing clients in the past year. We’ve reconvened with returning clients like HeartSine Technologies and V-Core, working on improving existing projects or starting new ventures together. Alongside these returning faces, we’ve made so many more connections with brand new clients like MOG laboratories, the Gentle Roller Company and Drue Vickery, paving the way for new projects and inspiring brand new creations.

In 2017 the Cobalt family has grown, welcoming Kate Bednarz as Project Leader, who joins to the Design team having worked in a manufacturing company for the last 8 years. Ethan Catt also joins us as a Media and Communications intern, ready to manage Cobalt’s social media, website and socially responsible design blog ‘Less by Design.’ This article you’re reading right now? I- uh, I mean “He,” wrote it. You’re welcome.

So thank you to all our wonderful clients, suppliers, contractors and staff for working with us this year. And here’s to an even brighter 2018 for all.

This year, we at Cobalt are feeling humble and reflective. We’d like to take a moment to thank all of our wonderful clients for giving us one of our most successful years, and we’d like to thank all of our wonderful designers, engineers and admin team for making all this success possible.

Happy holidays!

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Hanging Around- 15 Years of the Tarzan Grip

Still Hanging Around- 15 Years of the Tarzan Grip

Melbourne’s tram network is one of the world’s biggest. From the severly-70’s Z-Class , the vintage W-Class, and the modern E-Class, trams play a lead role in Melbourne being named the world’s most liveable city for a record 7 consecutive years. What’s more, the iconic ‘Tarzan Grip,’ designed by Cobalt, has cemented itself as an iconic part of the network that keeps Melbourne moving.

Most people will never have thought about the green ‘anchors’ dangling from the roof of most Melbourne’s trams. We don’t blame them; thinking about handles and the passenger experience is a particular job and one that we at Cobalt relish. In the case of these distinctive handles, they started from a thought had hatched almost 20 years ago…

In 1999, Yarra Trams engaged Cobalt to redesign the interiors of the then newly privatised tram network. At this time, passengers had sturdy brown Bakelite handles, or actual leather straps to hang onto during peak hours. Not content with just a different look or colour, we knew we could design something that improved passenger convenience and safety.

As usual we started by observing real users to discover unmet needs. At peak hours or after popular events like MCG football finals or concerts, there were simply not enough places for all of the standing passengers to safely hold onto, causing an uncomfortable and potentially dangerous situation.  This was our inspiration – a handle that can be held by two passengers at once, doubling passenger safety and convenience in one iconic stroke.

Before being introduced into refurbished trams in 2002, the ‘Tarzan Grip’ went through rigorous design and engineering to make the concept a real and reliable product. We reviewed and refined everything from the grip’s size, shape and strength – we even built a load test rig, applying weights to replicate the most reckless schoolboys acting out their very own ‘Tarzan’ scenes, and twisting it over 10,000 times to mechanically simulate the most extreme conditions.

It’s often difficult to see, but even something as simple as a tram handle has hours of thought, design and engineering knowhow behind it to make it the best it can be. And in the end, it’s worth it- the Tarzan Handle has become one of the most recognisable features of the Yarra Trams fleet; its success keeping it in continuous service for over 15 years.

Transcending its utility the Tarzan tram handle has become part of Melburnian’s everyday icons, being featured in major exhibitions at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) and Museum Victoria.

Something to think about next time you’re hanging around on a Melbourne tram.

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