piles of trash bottles coloured grey and blue



Sustainability has rightly grown from a fringe idea about being ‘green’ to being a positive movement affecting all areas of our lives.

Within its wider definition of ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’, the idea of sustainability has expanded to also consider outcomes that are environmentally, socially and financially responsible for the world as a whole.

Given the enormity of this and the range of values and competing positions which could be considered within this definition, sustainable design is not an easy objective to fully resolve.

However, the scale of the challenge shouldn’t be an excuse as to not try. Whilst total sustainability may be a near-impossible dream, it is possible and readily achievable to do things better than we have in the past and to improve our world’s sustainability through good design.

Design: Problem or Solution

Most designers, at their core, want to improve the world. But design and new product development are activities within our wider and imperfect world, so at times, and especially in the past, designers have been part of the problem and not the solution.

New products can bring true benefits to people; people individually, people within companies or collectively within a society. For example, advances in diagnostic and therapeutic devices have improved health outcomes and the quality of life for most people in developed countries. There are countless other everyday examples. Although less noble, products like cordless kettles, multi-geared bicycles or quick-drying footwear are products that improve our daily lives through good design.

As well benefiting consumers, the very development and manufacture of products can also bring overall wealth and meaning to societies as witnessed in places such as Japan, Singapore and Eastern Europe- just to name a few.

But design, along with corporate, marketing and economic agendas, continues to be used as an agent for meaningless change, pandering to developed societies’ insecurities and selfishness. Like the societies in which it operates, elements of design have become tools for wasteful consumption.

In these ways design is a contributor to the problem of sustainability. But for us, design that is exclusive, indulgent and aesthetically-driven is contrary to our core values and our view of design.

Good design = Green design

For some products, up to 80% of a product’s environmental impact is defined during design and engineering stages, so careful design makes sense all round.

Good design principles, and Cobalt’s socially responsible approach can have a substantial, positive impact on a product’s sustainability performance. Some of these principles include:

  • Performance. Functionality and ‘fitness-for-purpose’ are paramount to good design. When a user has their needs met by a well-designed product they are more likely to keep and use the product without replacement or augmentation. In contrast, a product that does not deliver on its implied purpose through poor performance or design is likely to be replaced or discarded prematurely.

  • Simplicity. To us good design seeks to be elegantly simple. A common mantra is ‘less is more’. As a rule we will always seek to develop designs with the minimum number of parts, processes and materials necessary to perform the required functions.
  • Manufacturing. Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DFMA) is another basic design objective we use and equates to easy assembly and disassembly- a prerequisite for effective recycling.

Green design = Mainstream business

It’s no coincidence these principles also make good business in terms of reduced cost of goods, brand-appeal and product quality.

And there’s no doubt ‘sustainability’ is rapidly rising as a purchasing criteria for more and more consumers. Even if businesses don’t believe in the ideals, it simply makes business sense to give the market what it wants; more sustainable alternatives.

Over the next few years there will be a rise in overtly sustainable products, like water-saving plant pots or fair-trade homewares. Already here and growing quickly, sustainability as a product attribute will be absolutely mainstream, much in the same way that ‘quality’ and ‘safety’ have become standard within successful brands rather than an extra bonus

What are we doing about it?

We make it our business to learn, improve and keep trying to improve our response to the challenge of being more sustainable.

New sustainability tools to help guide designs are being developed constantly. Here at Cobalt we use a variety of databases and online tools so that we have current information for:

  • Material properties (recyclability status, energy and water consumption rates)
  • LCA tools to help decide between design alternatives
  • Latest materials and products (low-power LEDs, motors, low-VOC paints)
  • International standards (RHOS2, WEEE)
  • Recycling acceptance and conventions

2016 DIA Awards

2016 DIA Award

Cobalt wins 2016 DIA Award

Cobalt was proudly awarded the prestigious industry prize, the DIA Award, during last week’s Good Design Australia Gala Ceremony. Held in Sydney on 27 May 2016, the Awards night was attended by the leaders of design and innovative industries, and celebrates the best in Australian and international design.

Cobalt was represented at the ceremony by Principal Warwick Brown, and Libby Christmas- one of Cobalt’s Senior Project Leaders.

The Design Institute of Australia (DIA) noted Cobalt as “an exemplary design practice that epitomises the objectives of the DIA Award, namely a company with a substantial record of good design over a number of years, that employs and promotes Australian designers, which aligns with the DIA’s principles.”

As DIA members for over 30 years, Cobalt’s Principals greatly value the honour of receiving this prestigious peer Award, which recognises our teams’ professionalism and outcomes over 20 years of operations.

ASRC Food Justice Truck: Premier's Design Award

Cobalt wins Premiers Design Award

Cobalt Scoops 2015 Premiers Design Awards

Cobalt’s work on the ASRC Food Justice Truck has won the 2015 Victorian Premier’s Design Award, Victoria’s most prestigious design prize. Rounding out a successful night (and year), Cobalt’s Twista, our children’s balance bike, was also shortlisted as a Product Design finalist.

The Food Justice Truck (FJT) was a project conceived by the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) and developed pro-bono by Cobalt. The concepts stemmed from a Design Thinking workshop facilitated by Cobalt, involving designers, ASRC staff and clients as well as community members. Key stakeholders were involved from the outset, resulting in a smooth design and production process that delivered a result exceeding the expectations of all those involved.

The FJT acts as a regular mobile market, selling fresh food to the general public at market prices. Asylum seekers can buy the same produce at a much lower rate, encouraging them to integrate into their new communities and enjoy fresh and healthy food. The truck visits scheduled locations each week, and details of locations and times are updated regularly on Twitter.

Our second award entry, Twista, was shortlisted as well. To be named a finalist in the Premier’s Design Awards reflects the quality of the work that went into this project over a period of about two years.

It was a great evening at Government House and we’re looking forward to being there in years to come (we have some exciting projects in the works, so keep an eye out!).

Keep up with our projects and awards updates on Facebook & Twitter.

Heartsine Defibrillator 12 Years of product development partnership

Heartsine Defibrillators

News on Heartsine Samaritan Defibrillator

Cobalt have proudly developed the range of Heartsine’s heart defibrillators over the course of the last 12 years. Of all the models we have helped develop, the Samaritan PAD has proved a standout product in terms of reliability and longevity. The latest iteration – PAD500P – provides the rescuer with unique feedback on how effective their defibrillation and CPR efforts are, in real time. In 2015 alone, the PAD500P has been used successfully to save ELEVEN lives!

User-centric Interface

Heartsine’s PAD500P heart defibrillator is intended for use by both non-medical users (i.e. bystanders, first-aid providers) and professional rescuers in domestic environments – that is to say, cases where a cardiac arrest happens out-of-hospital.

Defibrillation is relatively straightforward – it’s CPR that’s the hard part. International guidelines for resuscitation (ERC/AHA) place great emphasis on the importance of prompt CPR from bystanders to significantly reduce mortality. Keeping in mind that many people have only a basic understanding of how to perform resuscitation, the 500P has sophisticated software to guide the required force and speed of compressions for the victim. Included directives are “push harder”, “push faster”, “push slower”, or reassurance that they’re performing “good compressions”.

The 500P has been designed with the highly stressed, inexperienced user in mind. The product features a user-friendly voice guidance system and simplified controls that directs the user through the whole process. LEDs and a diagrammatic label also aid in providing a step by step graphical guide that coincides with the vocal instructions.

Designed for Practicality

The PAD500P weighs just 1.1kg (2.4lb) and is up to 56% smaller than other AEDs on the market. When the original 500P was developed nearly ten years ago it was one of the very first defibrillators to be compact enough to be easily used and carried. The small size and weight ensures the product is a front runner in the field today.

It was important to the design that the product incorporated Heartsine’s signature elements that are consistently reflected and refined across Heartsine’s product family. The metaphorical inspiration for the design aesthetic was the unassuming life-ring, a symbol that any rescuer would easily recognise as a life saving device. The TPR overmoulded grip also provides a seal around the product’s diameter, which is successfully watertight, making it useful for situations on docks, boats, or even wet sports fields where a shock may need to be administered.

Design Shaped by Functionality

The unit was designed to be cost friendly for institutions, sporting clubs, schools, SMEs and other areas where this device would normally be unaffordable. The PAD500P’s ‘2-in-1 cartridge’ approach increases accessibility of this life-saving technology by being able to be manufactured at a significantly lower price. It was developed specifically to be intuitive and easy to use so that non-professional rescuers needed only minimal training and management of the defibrillator to use it effectively.

The electrode pads that are applied to the patient’s chest are stored in the base of the unit and are accessed by pulling at the rubber tab and sliding them out. The product also incorporates an integrated handle and quick-release wall mounting for easy-access storage.

GOAL! Concave's best boots to date

Concave 2016

Concave 2016: Stronger, sharper, further

Over sixteen years ago, a man with a wild idea walked through Cobalt’s door. His idea was to put a cupped instep on a football boot to help improve the distance and accuracy of kicks. He figured all the mainstream brands were so focused on the sole and grip, no one had thought about how the boot actually strikes the ball. Like all innovation, it seems obvious in hindsight. Fast-forward to now. With its 2016 range, Concave is ready to kick open Australian and global markets with its most complete and visually impressive range yet.

The launch of the Cobalt designed Concave Quantum2 and Halo football boots, delivers an unprecedented level of choice and ball kicking performance, for players of all levels. The Quantum2 boot’s focus on increasing the power of the kick is now complemented by the newly developed Halo boot that delivers superior ball feel and control in kicking.

Performance refined. Results proven

Concave’s boots give players a kicking ‘sweet spot’ 4 times larger than a traditional football boot. This combined with the unique ‘concave’ shaped upper provides an increase in kicking power of up to 15% and an increase in accuracy of 30%. These are not puffed up marketing claims; these results have been measured and proven in University tests.

According to Deakin University’s biomechanics expert Kevin Netto, “…most performance-enhancing drugs would give a player an edge of around 10 per cent. The Concave boot would give you an advantage of between eight to 15 per cent, legally”.

Years of ongoing development and refinement have been built on user insights and intimately knowing the needs and issues of their customers. From this, Concave has introduced this year the Halo, a boot that delivers a newly a heightened level of ball feel and control needed by high possession ‘mid-field’ players including Australian Rules as they are regularly making short passes by foot that need to be delivered with a high level of accuracy and consistency. Similarly, most soccer players, with the exception of specialist strikers, also prefer a heightened level of ball feel and control.

‘Game evolved’ campaign

Concave have launched their ‘Game evolved’ marketing campaign to promote their exciting new range of products. The campaign comprises video and print ads that depict a future, post-apocalyptic world, where a survivor with a bionic lower body unleashes his passion and power after discovering a ball within the ruins. Robocave’s performance advantage is analogous to the evolved advantage a Concave player will have in today’s pre-apocalyptic, but still ultra-competitive sporting arenas.

The advertisement above will screen on ‘Fox Sports’ and other domestic and international television stations in the first half of 2016.

Latest Designs

For the 2016 range, Cobalt has worked very closely with Concave on product design and development, including the design of a broad range of exciting new colourways.
The launch of the Quantum2 and Halo boots was recently recognised when Concave’s products were awarded as a finalist in the Victorian Premier’s Design Awards in the product design category.

More information: concave.com

Good Design Awards 2015 trophies

Good Design Awards 2015

2015 Good Design Awards Gala

Two different pieces of ground-breaking scientific equipment developed by Cobalt in collaboration with Agilent have won Good Design Awards in 2015. All three of our entries this year were nominated for an award and Brett & Steve from Cobalt attended the gala night in Sydney’s Darling Harbour on behalf of all those involved.

Good Design Australia hold awards every year to celebrate the best of Australia’s designers and the brightest of their products. Four Cobalt designed products were nominated last year, and we’ve been honoured in the years before that for a wide variety of our work.

Our biggest winner for the night was the Agilent 4300 Handheld FTIR Spectrometer (which you can read about here). Not only did it win a Good Design Award in the Medical & Scientific category, its revolutionary potential in the preservation of notable historical sites and artworks won it a Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS) Selection Award, an honour given to only 14 entries. A highly sought after sample unit of the 4300 will be on display in the MASS exhibition for the next year.

The Agilent 5100 ICP-OES was another winner for Cobalt, also scoring a Good Design Award for the incredibly complex system cleverly cased in a compact bench top chassis.

Our third entry, the Food Justice Truck developed with the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC), was nominated under the new “social innovation” category but sadly missed out on the top spot. Nevertheless we are extremely proud of the work we did on the project and how the ASRC use the final product to help vulnerable people in the community who need it most. You can find out more about the Food Justice Truck on twitter.

The event was attended by over 700 people involved in Australia’s design scene and it was great to see friends and clients receive awards for their outstanding work in the field. Most notably, KeepCup won a Best in Category award for their new website, which allows users to track their contribution to saving the environment with their Cobalt designed reusable coffee cups.

Thank you to Australia’s close knit and world class design scene for a great night, as well as the Good Design Awards for recognizing the quality of Cobalt’s work.

New Cobalt Offices CGI Render

Cobalt Studio v3

Since earlier this year Cobalt has been implementing an update to our studio level. The new fit-out and upgrade will improve team layout and communications as well as incorporating new facilities and technologies. Once finished it will be the biggest upgrade to our facilities since moving into our building in 2005.

Whilst we are well versed to being the designer, being both designer AND client at the same time was a new experience. But with great input from the end-users (our own team), numerous mock-ups, CAD models and CGIs we have ended up with a fantastic outcome. The renovation is still in progress as we need to do the works around ongoing projects, with the final Stage 2 being planned for completion during the Christmas and January 2015 period.

Key elements of the design include:

  • Integrated AV facilities in the conference room
  • Desks arranged in islands to increase project team interactions
  • All workstations upgraded to twin screens mounted on Zgo monitor arms
  • Dedicated and flexible ProjectSpace featuring pin-up wall, and a secondary AV projector for interactive project team meetings. This area will have mobile storage plinths and drawing boards to allow us to create extra large areas for occasional events, including industry functions and student lectures.
  • New large format Wacom tablet monitors for digital sketching, bring total of these to 7
  • Relocation of our 2 rapid prototyping 3D printers
  • Mezzanine storage space for accessible project and sample archiving
  • New first floor reception area, and semi-partitioned offices for Principals.

The other objective of course was that the new office had to feel and look right for us. A studio is a place where spontaneous creativity as well as detailed and focussed analysis has to co-exist every day. Our team end up spending a huge part of their waking hours in this place, so we think getting this right is worth every effort it takes.

We look forward to having you drop in to see the new fit-out, especially when it is fully completed in the new year. In the meantime, here is a preview of CG-images created by Graeme Marshall, one of our Design team members.

KeepCup receives US Good Design Award

US Good Design Award

US Good Design Award

The Cobalt designed KeepCup; the little cup that is positively transforming behaviours worldwide, has won a 2014 GOOD DESIGN™ Award for Design Excellence.

The award for Design Excellence was made by the Chicago Athenaeum’s Museum of Architecture and Design and The European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies to the Cobalt designed, KeepCup Brew.

Founded in Chicago in 1950, GOOD DESIGN remains the oldest and the world’s most recognised program for design excellence.

For 2014, the Museum received submissions from several thousand of the world’s leading manufacturers and design firms from around the world representing the most important and influential corporations worldwide from over 48 countries.

In October, the jury met in New York and Los Angeles and selected product designs and graphics from over 36 nations worthy of the prestigious GOOD DESIGN™ Award for their Design Excellence. Award winners were announced on 14 December 2014.

KeepCup Brew includes a tempered cafe-quality glass, an all new twin-seal lid and a sustainable and incredibly insulative cork band. This, together with their original models, have helped create the re-usable urban coffee cup category, and effected transformative behaviours in markets across the world.

Click here to order your own KeepCup Brew.

Design Integration for Business

Design Integration for Business

Design to Business (D2B) Integration is a structured audit, planning and mentoring programme which helps companies build design into their business activities in order to become more innovative and achieve sustained competitiveness and growth, especially through export opportunities.

The programme does this by allowing participating firms to build their own capabilities in design management, making design central and integrated within their business. Cobalt was one of the first Australian consultancies involved in the programme, with Managing Director Steve Martinuzzo being an Auditor since it was first piloted in Victoria in 2011.

D2B Integration is yet another successful New Zealand export, that Australians are making their own. It originated from the highly successful ‘Better by Design’ programme developed over 10 years ago by a small group of senior Kiwi design and business practitioners who decided business needed more support in understanding how to use design. Since then the programme has been tuned and run several times in Australia at both state and Commonwealth levels.

Straight from the CEO’s mouth

Other similar programmes, such as Britain’s Design Leadership Programme also focus on making design an integral part of business and supercharging their drive for innovation and user centred offerings. Like these, most of the NZ and Australian companies who have participated in the programme have benefited, and some have had truly astonishing successes. Consequently the CEOs of these organisations end up becoming the biggest advocates of the programme, and champion design thinking throughout their organisations. Some of these stories include:

Phil & Teds: Baby Buggies, NZ. CEO Campbell Gower credits the programme for providing clarity that allowed them to align their brand and product design. The result: a 10-fold increase in turnover in less than 5yrs.

Centor: Windows and Door Systems, Qld. After Nigel Spork undertook the D2B programme (called Ulysses in Qld) he transformed his financially crippled family business into a booming global leader by embracing new product development and truly understanding the end user of their products. They have since been recognised by multiple business and product awards and launching its products in the US and UK to international acclaim.

Branach Ladders: Specialised Ladders, Victoria. CEO Mike Walsh credits the programme’s audit and on-going mentoring with committing the company to serious technical research and energising company with a vision of what they could become.

According to Steve Martinuzzo, the audit and plan phases include a series of interviews with the client’s senior management and key personnel over four days. The audit team consists of three highly experienced professionals; a business analyst, a product designer and a brand designer. The process is not for the faint hearted with participants challenged to have their culture, strategy, product, process and brand aligned as well as bullishly aimed at being the best in the world in the business they choose to operate.

The result is a plan to address and build on the key issues, challenges and opportunities from which the company can build from. To support and build capabilities with the key people within the organisation, the programme offers 12 months of mentoring where regular input from an appointed mentor and structured workshops guide the company toward truly embedding new thinking and capabilities within their own team and processes.

Firms which qualify for the Victorian funded programme receive audit and mentoring services valued at approximately $80,000, whilst only investing $9,000.

“Unlike other programmes I’ve seen, D2B works by embedding a strong design philosophy throughout the entire company, starting with its senior management team. It’s not about designers telling them what to do, it’s about the business building their own capabilities themselves” says Steve. “Once positive results of this integrated approach start to be realised the internal appetite for innovation and user-centred products really flourish. For companies with courage, D2B can be the kickstart they need to transform their focus to be world’s best in their chosen space”.

For more information or to apply for the D2B Integration programme contact:

Leonard Carrillo
Design to Business Program Manager

Why some clients hide their designer's contributions

Crediting Designers

Why aren’t product designers as valued as other creatives?

Above are three designers; Kristian Eke, Jan Puranen and Oskar Juhlin. And in our cover-pic we also feature another experienced designer, Ehlén Johansson. If they worked for some clients their identities and very existence would indeed be hidden. But fortunately for them they all work for IKEA, who in real life publically acknowledge their designers, and defintely show their faces unpixellated.

IKEA is one of a number of smart and confident companies who proudly credit their designers; throughout their business, in store, on the product packaging and even moulded into the products themselves. Their designers help make IKEA the huge success that it continues to be. So why do some companies airbrush their designers out of the picture?

If you hire an architect to design your home; or a professional photographer to do a formal family portrait, you would happily share this fact with your friends. Maybe even brag about it. And if you commissioned an architect to design your business’s head office, or used a leading graphic designer for your companies impressive new branding you wouldn’t be shy about sharing these associations. Afterall, it can only reflect well on an individual or business when you use a creative professional or firm that is at the top of their field.

However one creative area where this doesn’t always happen is in the field of product design. For every IKEA, there are still too many companies that fail to properly credit their product designers’ involvement.

Other exemplar companies (and industries) that proudly acknowledge the designers that assist in creating their products include:

  • Swiss telephone company, SwissVoice who name their designers throughout their marketing and even on the product packaging.
  • Ikea is a classic example of the former, and in general the furniture design sector is very good at this.
  • Closer to home, long term Cobalt clients such as Concave and Spears Pacific embrace this concept.

Whilst companies who do this are very diverse, they share some attributes of being confident in their customers to appreciate that their product’s design was a broad team effort.  There may also be a cultural element, in that in general the role and independence of ‘designer’ and ‘client’ seems to be more defined by Europeans.

We all used to be ad hoc about attributing credit to the author of something insightfully written, or the photographer responsible for a great picture. So, hopefully one day the norm and the business sense will be open about, and celebrate, our product designers too.