Cobalt: By The Numbers

Cobalt: By The Numbers

Since founding Cobalt, we’ve worked on a huge number and variety of amazing design projects.

So along the way we’ve also amassed a heap of metrics which, in their own way, give an insight into the design process and our approach to product development.

At Cobalt believe that knowledge is vital for excellence and evaluation is critical to improvement. The backbone and central-nervous system of Cobalt’s project and company information resides within our custom database system, Lynx. Within Lynx every number, fact and byte of operational information is stored, and each bit of these can be accessed and analysed in moments.

So what started off as a proper analysis a couple of months ago, has been added to by pulling together some of the more quirky statistics we’ve collected over our first 22 years of design practice. So, if you’re into numbers here are many to enjoy! And for the rest, we hope you have a giggle at some of the more amusing facts we’ve pulled out.


  • Number of Principals: 3
  • Principal/Director changes since foundation: 0
  • Period that Cobalt’s Principals studied Industrial Design together at RMIT University: 1983 to 1987

Project Experience

  • Projects since 1996: 1200+
  • Years of combined product development experience across all staff: 218
  • Number of individual moulded, tooled or manufactured parts designed by Cobalt that were commissioned for production last calendar year: 294
  • Average number of proposed stages per year: 392
  • Average number of client projects actively operating at any one time: 29
  • Total number of clients since 1996: 476

Records & Recognition

  • Design awards and industry prizes won or awarded: 30+
  • Net Promoter Score (2012 survey): 65
  • Highest production volume design: 8,000,000+ KeepCups
  • Cobalt designed the product which has been in longest continuous production – the Icon (Nylex) 35L Slide Top Bin): 1996

Serious Processes & Facilities

  • Individual timesheet records across all staff last calendar year: 9565
  • Typical ratio of tasks in a full new product development (NPD) project:
    • Design and Insights: 26%
    • Engineering and CDP+Alpha prototypes: 46%
    • Resolution: 17%
    • Transfer to Production and Beta prototypes: 7%
    • Marketing Support (Animation): 5%
  • Dollars invested in Cobalt’s prototyping workshop since 2016: $200,000
  • Metres of 3D-Printing filament used inhouse annually: 5000+
  • Hours spent on staff training last calendar year: 2035

Global Focus

  • Proportion of international clients versus Australian clients: 30:70 approx
  • Average number of countries Cobalt crew have lived or travelled in: 12
  • Days Cobalt staff were on site with global suppliers in Asia, 2017: 53

Connected Teamwork

  • Average age of Cobalt’s team members: 34
  • Percent of tertiary educated consulting staff: 100%
  • Languages in addition to English, spoken by Cobalt team members: 6
  • Percent of Cobalt staff who regularly walk, ride or public-transport to work: 63%
  • Total annual meals enjoyed by Cobalt crew at Friday pub lunches: 411
  • Careers supported through internships with Swinburne/other universities: 15

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A new home for innovation, right on our doorstep

Although Melbourne recently lost its record-breaking title as the world’s most liveable city, perhaps a new innovation precinct, being built literally on Cobalt’s doorstep, will help win back the title.

The new Arden innovation precinct will be located at the western-end of North Melbourne. Once complete it will be home to 15,000 new residents and more than 34,000 jobs, most of them in knowledge industries.  The development will have a focus on innovation technology fields including life sciences, health and education sectors.

The development brings together several ‘smart cities’ initiatives, including sustainability, transport, recreational open spaces and accessible housing.  A cornerstone element will be a new underground station located less than 300m from Cobalt’s offices.

The Metro tunnel line will realign Melbourne’s creative landscape, by further connecting this area with the rest of the city and beyond. The new flagship station will directly link Cobalt and the innovation precinct with key university and health precincts, the city and the St Kilda Rd business district.  As well, the new rail line is planned to extend into the direct city to airport rail connection, allowing staff and clients to be speeding to the airport within a moment’s walk from our offices.

As a company built on collaboration and the ideals of socially responsible design, it will be energising to have access to the range of facilities and transport connections of this new precinct as it evolves in front of our eyes.

Regardless of whether Melbourne regains its title as the world’s most liveable city (although being the second most liveable is pretty good too!), with new initiatives like the Arden precinct  and the innovation, creativity and design it will inspire, we’re sure Melbourne will remain a recognised ‘global knowledge city’.

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Cobalt: The Element Behind The Name

Cobalt: the element behind the name

On a recent visit to Canberra, Cobalt took some time off to visit Questacon – Australia’s National Science and Technology Centre. There, among over 200 interactive exhibits, we noticed one in particular: a massive, life sized Periodic Table of Elements. Sitting at the top centre was a glass box showcasing the element that spawned our group’s name – Cobalt.

Cobalt (Co), the 27th element on the periodic table, is found in the earth’s crust usually combined with other mineralsPrimarily, the hardy mineral is usually used in the manufacture of magnetic, high-strength, wear-resistant alloys. Cobalt bonds together with other elements to create alloys used in technology and devices that perform far more strongly than they would using isolated minerals. Interestingly enough, this is similar to the core principles behind Cobalt Design’s integrated team structure – we believe that collaboration and teamwork is what binds everyone at the Cobalt studio together. Individually, we all have our own strengths, but it’s when we come together bound by a project that we can make something that really excels. 

Further comparisons can be drawn between our agency and the mineral from a design sense. Cobalt compounds give off a distinct deep blue colour, the likes of which has been used creatively over generations. Glass, ceramics, inks, paints and varnishes throughout history have used the mineral for decoration and aesthetics. Cobalt isn’t just a part of components that make functional marvels of engineering, it’s a crucial part of what makes them look superb. Just like our agency, cobalt as a mineral integrates itself into the engineering and design world to create products and creations that look as good as they work.

In the modern era, cobalt is the one element that keeps the world turning. It’s in our phones, our laptops, our chargers, our batteries – behind almost every worthwhile invention, Cobalt had a chance to play a pivotal part in making it work and look great. This is exactly the type of approach we here at Cobalt Design take to our projects; relishing the chance to create beautiful, human-centred designs through our collaboration and integrated design teams.

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10 years of keepcup

10 Years of KeepCup

10 Years of KeepCup

For the last decade, the Cobalt-designed KeepCup has changed the way people drink coffee around the world.

Abigail & Jamie Forsyth first approached Cobalt in 2008 looking to develop a new reusable coffee cup. The brother and sister team had a decade of coffee-related insights running their café ‘Bluebag’ in Melbourne, and sought to reduce the use of the thousands of disposable cups they were giving away to customers every week. Reusable cups already existed, but none had captured the hearts and minds of consumers.

Armed with insight, Abigail & Jamie engaged Cobalt to develop what would become the iconic KeepCup. Originally titled Project ‘Infinit’ (given the re-usable nature of the cup), Cobalt finished refining the cup in July 2008. Ten years later, over 8 million KeepCups had been sold, diverting potential billions of disposable cups from landfill across the globe.

Watching the success of the KeepCup over the last 10 years has been professionally satisfying for us at Cobalt. From the Original KeepCup has stemmed further design variants, including the KeepCup Brew, with a tempered soda-lime glass body and sustainable cork band, or the KeepCup LongPlay which features a removable Tritan booster to increase durability, retain temperature and protect the user’s hand from heat.

Here at Cobalt we’ve been proud to share this journey with KeepCup as their design partners for every detail; from the cup’s iconic silhouette to giving technical support through all production steps.

KeepCup has surpassed milestone after milestone in the last ten years, such as being named Melbourne’s Business of the Year in the City of Melbourne’s Business 3000 awards in 2009. Other awards have included the USA Gourmet Product Award, the Australian Eco Buy Award, Most Innovative Product Award from the International Autumn Fair in the UK, as well as a suite of other international victories, commendations, and finalist places. The worldwide success of the KeepCup brand has also opened them up to partnerships with leading brands, like their partnership with Sea Shepherd or the exclusive Star Wars KeepCups.

Something worth far more than the accolades, however, is the way that KeepCup normalised the perception of reusable coffee cups. The proliferation of knock-off & imitations is evidence of the real behavioural change Keepcup’s design has fostered.

We look forward to applying our creativity for another decade to keep KeepCup as an exemplar, sustainable product.

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Cobalt's Award Anthology

Cobalt’s Awards Anthology

Recently two of our projects – the Victoria Police ADT and the Dermapen 4 – were selected as finalists for this year’s Victorian Premier’s Design Awards. This is exciting in itself, but it also gave us a chance to look back on our accomplishments.

Over the years, Cobalt’s work has been recognised through numerous design and industry awards. These include:

On top of these we’ve received dozens more finalist nominations and special mentions local and international panels, as well as other channels like academic books and television news.

Icing on the cake

As much as independent awards are appreciated and validate our team’s professionalism, the ultimate measure of success is the commercial performance of the products we develop for our clients.

And keeping awards in perspective is important for other reasons.  Over the years we’ve learnt that certain projects appeal to design award judges, and others don’t. This doesn’t mean the others are any less worthy – instead, it demonstrates that judging design can be very subjective; so even if a product is successful, judges may overlook it if they don’t recognise or understand its context.

For instance, in 2017 we commenced over 60 projects; the vast majority of which would go to become fully finished products which would be commercially successful for our clients. However, for a myriad of reasons only 2-3 projects are likely to be submitted for an award. Hence we see awards as the icing on the cake, and the product’s commercial success as the real prize.

The Victorian Premier’s Design Awards will be presented at an official ceremony in September. We hope we can take home another trophy for our cabinet, but in the meantime we’re proud to be nominated, and even more excited to be helping the rest of our clients achieve their own product design winner.

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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.

Promotional images courtesy of IXL

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Dr Doser

Dr. Doser: Making medicine measurement manageable

Many parents find measuring syringes supplied with most children’s paracetamol. While under-dosing can simply be ineffective, over-dosing over an extended period of time can lead to severe health problems.

To address this, the Cobalt-designed Dr. Doser makes dosing liquid medicine easier for parents and nurses. The 6ml and 12ml Dr. Doser peripherals can safely administer doses of children’s medicine in 0.5ml and 1ml aliquots respectively, reducing the possibility of providing incorrect doses.

Conventional children’s medicine syringes require the bottle to be overturned over the syringe, and then the syringe plunger is pulled backwards to the desired level. This awkward two-handed method of extracting the medicine is incredibly prone to errors which result in incorrect dosage or wastage. Dr. Doser forms the top of a medicine bottle eliminating the need to overturn it, and can be safely calibrated to dispense the appropriate amount of liquid using only one hand.

Dr. Doser is specifically designed to provide peace of mind through eliminating the variables that would result in incorrect dosage.

Both the 6ml and 12ml variants provide haptic and audible feedback to ensure that the user knows exactly how much liquid they plan to give in a single use. Both variants are child proof for additional safety, and don’t require priming by the end user.

The 12ml Dr. Doser variant also has a unique locking tab, which can securely fasten the dosage system to the neck of the medicine bottle. This compliments the versatility of the 12ml Dr. Doser variant, which is can fit around a medicine bottle regardless of its size.

The dispensing tip has been designed to mimic a child’s pacifier, making it easier for babies and toddlers to automatically latch on to the tip. The finger grip on the top of the dispenser makes dispensing the liquid intuitive and simple – once the child has latched on to the nozzle instinctively, one simple press is all it takes to get exactly the right dose of medicine to the child.

While Dr. Doser is primarily designed for children’s medicine, the potential applications for the product could extend to beverage/alcohol dispensing, agricultural chemicals, laboratory reagents, large paints or pigment producers, as well as hospital/pharmacy/aged care dispensaries. It’s a simple idea with a wide range of applications that are just waiting to be put to good use. Watch this space!

For more specific details, visit the official Dr. Doser website.

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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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